Monday, March 30, 2015

Should've Won the Tony

I love the Tony Awards. Tony Sunday is basically a national holiday to me, and every year I devote dozens of blog posts to analyzing the various races and predicting likely winners. As I point out every year, the person or production that wins the Tony is not always the most deserving, but the right combination of merit, proper positioning, and backstage politics. As with any artistic award (Oscars, Emmys, etc.) we're all at least subconsciously aware of these other factors, and in the grand scheme of things winning doesn't necessarily matter or affect career opportunities. But even knowing all that, the fact remains that Tonys are the most prestigious award in the industry, and it is just irksome when they get things wrong!

Below are a few of the more egregious oversights in the Tony Awards' 66 year history, people and productions that really deserved to win that damn spinning statuette. I want to make very clear that I am not saying the actual winner in each of these races was undeserving. Of all the Tony winning performances and productions I've been lucky enough to witness, I would be hard-pressed to name one that I thought was unforgivably awful. But if I could magically go back in time and alter the outcome of past Tony races, these nominees would be on the top of my list.

West Side Story for Best Musical (1958)

The original cast of the landmark 1957 musical West Side Story, arguably one of the most famous and beloved stage shows in existence.

Actual Winner: The Music Man

Meredith Wilson's The Music Man has many passionate fans, although I am not among them. In each of the many productions I've seen, I've always found Wilson's magnum opus to be a slight work, overlong and lacking in charm, but I will concede that I am in the clear minority and maybe I'm missing something. However, I bet all but the most diehard Music Man fans would hesitate to say the show is unequivocally better than the Arthur Laurence-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim masterpiece, one of the most important and beloved shows in the entire musical theatre cannon. West Side Story rewrote the rules for what a musical could do, the types of issues it could tackle, and integrated dance into the story better than almost any musical before or since. Almost 60 years after its premiere, it still resonates with audiences around the world as a towering achievement in dramatic storytelling.

Ragtime for Best Musical (1998)

Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell in the near-legendary original Broadway production of Ragtime.

Actual Winner: The Lion King

To be fair, I understand why Tony voters chose The Lion King for Best Musical. Julie Taymor's eye-popping production is one of the seminal artistic achievements of the past 20 years, despite a pedestrian book and songs that range from stellar ("Circle of Life") to painful ("Chow Down"). Ragtime justifiably won Best Book and Score, which meant the only way to honor The Lion King as a whole was to give the show a Best Musical trophy. But just because I understand why the production won doesn't mean I have to agree, because Ragtime is a near-perfect show that also boasts one of the all-time great original casts. In addition to being unabashedly gorgeous musically, the show's observations about race, human nature, and the enduring spirit of the American dream make it a much richer piece that continually reveals new nuances during each subsequent production. The Lion King without Taymor's staging is just the animated film needlessly padded out; Ragtime is a moving and insightful piece no matter who is at the helm, and that is why it deserved a Best Musical win.

Kelli O'Hara in The Bridges of Madison County for Best Actress in a Musical (2014)

Kelli O'Hara in the sublime, underappreciated The Bridges of Madison County.

Actual Winner: Jessie Mueller for Beautiful

Jessie Mueller is a lovely individual who has continually proven herself both talented and versatile; she deserves a long and fruitful career filled with accolades, including a Tony Award or two. That said, she *stole* Kelli O'Hara's long deserved Best Actress statuette for what is sure to go down as one the golden-voiced soprano's greatest performances, Francesca in Jason Robert Brown's The Bridges of Madison County. Setting aside the fact that it is absolutely ludicrous the multitalented O'Hara is still Tony-less after five nominations in the past decade, her transcendent work in this sweeping musical drama was the kind of performance legends are made of. When people look back at her career many years from now, this will be the performance people won't believe she didn't win for, in the same way many people just assume Bernadette Peters won for Sunday in the Park with George (Peters lost to Chita Rivera in The Rink). The one small piece of solace to be found in this situation is that O'Hara publicly stated that if she couldn't win, she was rooting for Mueller.

Danny Burstein in Follies for Best Actor in a Musical (2012)

Danny Burstein during the transcendent "Loveland Sequence" during the most recent Broadway revival of Follies.

Actual Winner: Steve Kazee for Once

Like with O'Hara, the fact that Danny Burstein doesn't already have a Tony Award is one of the great oversights of the Tony Awards' past ten years. One of our greatest character actors, Burstein is equally at home in musicals and plays, whether they are comedic or dramatic, and Follies is arguably the greatest showcase he has ever had. Burstein took the least interesting of Sondheim's four leads and made him a fascinatingly complex and tragic character who remains unable to impress the one woman he truly loves. Burstein's performance was largely on the fringes during the musical's first act, but the one-two punch of "The Right Girl" and "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" in Act II was revelatory for both the character and the production. Steve Kazee was perfectly charming (if a bit shout-y) as the lovelorn Guy in Once, but his performance was ultimately a lot less interesting and layered than Burstein's superlative work.

While I've got plenty more beef to pick with the Tony committee, my blood's starting to boil, so perhaps I should take a break for now. As stated in the intro, none of this is meant to imply that the actual winners were bad (although I really do hate The Music Man), just that the mentioned productions and performers were ultimately more deserving of Broadway's highest honor.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have a part 2 of this coming anytime soon?