Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 Tony Predictions: Best Choreography and Direction

Now that the 2013 Tony nominations have been announced and we’ve all had time to process who’s in the running for Broadway’s biggest honor, it’s time to get down to my favorite part of the awards season: wild speculation about the eventual winners!  Okay, maybe not “wild,” as I really do try to have an informed opinion about these things, but the simple truth of the matter is I can’t see every nominated show and sometimes have to base my predictions on media buzz and second-hand info. 

Like last year, I’ll be writing a series of articles giving detailed analysis of the major Tony races, along with predictions of who will win in each category.  And if I think another nominee is more deserving than the probable winner, I’ll be sure to point that out too.  Unlike last year, you can also look forward to a roundtable podcast discussion in early June where the entire panel will chime in on who they think will win each of the Big 12 (production and acting) categories.  And with all of that said, let’s look at the nominees for Best Choreography and Best Direction!

Best Chorography

Billy Porter and the cast of the high kicking musical Kinky Boots
Nominees:  Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On; Peter Darling, Matilda the Musical; Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots; Chet Walker, Pippin

This year saw Broadway choreography move away from dance in the traditional sense, which makes predicting the winner in this category more difficult than usual.  Andy Blankenbuehler’s cheerleading routines for Bring It On were easily the musical’s highlight, but the fact that the show closed months ago combined with the lack of traditional dance moves will probably keep him out of serious contention.  And while Pippin features the most visually arresting musical numbers of the Broadway season, my gut tells me that Tony voters credit Diane Paulus and Gypsy Snider for its success more than choreographer Chet Walker.

Like many races this season, the category will probably come down to Kinky Boots and Matilda.  Boots is hardly Jerry Mitchell’s best work from a purely choreographic standpoint, but voters may feel like the well-respected director/choreographer is long overdue for a second Tony Award; despite six career nominations in this category, he’s only won once.  A win for Mitchell also allows the voters to recognize his contributions to this season’s most nominated musical while freeing up the Best Director statuette for someone else.  Although Matilda’s Peter Darling has won this award before, my gut tells me that despite his show’s rapturous critical reception Kinky Boots is going to be the big winner on Tony Sunday, including in this category.

Should Win:  Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On
Will Win:  Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots


Best Direction of a Play

Pam MacKinnon's knockout production of the classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Nominees:  Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Bartlett Sher, Golden Boy; George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy

With the exception of Vanya and Sonia’s Nicholas Martin, every member of this category is a repeat nominee.  I think that kind of pedigree will keep Martin out of serious contention, especially given the Tony voters’ bias against comedic plays.  And while Lucky Guy is one of the biggest financial successes of the spring, I’m sensing that the theatrical community at large is starting to feel that their nostalgia for the late Nora Ephron led to a decent play being praised more than it actually merits, which will hurt George C. Wolfe’s chances.

Both Bartlett Sher and Pam MacKinnon managed to pull of the deceptively hard task to making old plays feel fresh without betraying their original intent or layering on a directorial concept that seems inorganic and contrived.  The critical hosannas that greeted both plays were deafening, and in this case I think the Tony voters will opt to recognize MacKinnon over Sher.  Virginia Woolf is a play that industry folks have studied and seen produced countless times; the fact that MacKinnon managed to find something fresh in this oft-produced work, coupled with her ability to coax four absolutely incredible performances out of her actors, practically demands she receive Broadway’s highest honor.

Will & Should Win:  Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best Direction of a Musical
With Pippin, director Diane Paulus has managed to top her own lofty standards.
Nominees:  Scott Ellis, The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots; Diane Paulus, Pippin; Matthew Warcus, Matilda

I won’t mince words here:  a win by anyone other than Diane Paulus would be criminal here.  More than any other nominee, Paulus has put such a distinctive stamp on her show that separating the two is nigh-impossible.  She is simply one of the best directors working today, able to apply exciting new concepts to shows most would have written off as hopelessly dated without violating the spirit and artistic vision of the original.  Her Pippin is magical, thanks largely to her insistence on the addition of the circus elements and razor sharp direction that goes a long way towards disguising the show’s narrative flaws.  Factor in the fact that she was also responsible for the Tony-winning Hair and Porgy and Bess, and Paulus is long overdue for some Tony love.

Thankfully, I don’t think any of the other directors really have a chance of dethroning her.  Scott Ellis performed the neat trick of taking a terrible show and making it eminently entertaining, but as the only show not currently running his Drood is at a distinct disadvantage.  And despite several Broadway outings as director, Jerry Mitchell is still viewed primarily as a choreographer and is unlikely to score an upset.  Tony voters’ affection for Matilda’s Matthew Warcus has cooled considerably from its heyday several seasons ago, and while he is Paulus’ biggest competition I just can’t imagine him overthrowing the reigning Queen of the Broadway Musical.

Will & Should Win:  Diane Paulus, Pippin

That’s all for now.  Check back soon for my picks for Best Book and Score!

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