Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Tony Predictions: Direction and Choreography

The 2015 Tony Awards are less than 3 weeks away, and all of Broadway is buzzing with speculation over who will be victorious come June 7th. Predicting Tony winners just so happens to be one of my favorite pastimes, and so I'm continuing my coverage of this year's ceremony by doing my best to select the people and productions most likely to walk away with that spinning statuette on Tony Sunday. Of course, the people who *will* win are not always the people who *deserve* to win, so I will also make sure to point out when I think the probable winner doesn't match up with the most deserving person/production. I've already discussed the musical writing awards, so now we move on to the people who tell the actors where to go and what to do: the directors and choreographers.

Best Direction of a Play

Tony nominee Alex Sharp (r) and Enid Graham in a scene from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Nominees: Stephen Daldry, Skylight; Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Scott Ellis, You Can't Take It With You; Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall Parts I & II; Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Hand to God

"It's a honor just to be nominated" sounds horribly cliche, but anyone in this category not named Marianne Elliott should definitely remember such tried and true advice come Broadway's big night. Elliott has helmed the most visually stunning play in several seasons, and much of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time's dazzle comes specifically from her staging rather than from the equally impressive production design (which is virtually guaranteed to win some Tonys on its own). Not only that, but Elliott somehow managed to keep her bold and daring staging in service of the story rather than letting it overwhelm the narrative, something a lesser director would surely struggle with.

The other productions in this category have been mostly praised for their top-notch acting, something the director definitely helps mold but is ultimately the creation of the performer (no matter how good a director Hand to God's Moritz von Stuelpnagel may be, you can't teach just anyone to do what Steven Boyer does in that show). Unfortunately for Stephen Daldry, Scott Ellis, and Jeremy Herrin, you have a put a pretty distinct directorial stamp on a show to be a true Tony contender, and their strengths this season lie primarily in getting out of the material's way rather than imposing their will upon it. This is Elliott's award to lose.

Will and Should Win: Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Best Direction of a Musical

The Bechdel family, the enigmatic clan at the certain of Off-Broadway transfer (and 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist) Fun Home.
Nominees: Sam Gold, Fun Home; Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!; John Rando, On the Town; Bartlett Sher, The King and I; Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Now this is a tight race, and one that could conceivably go to any of the five highly deserving nominees. I'm going to go ahead and rule out both Casey Nicholaw and Christopher Wheeldon, as I suspect that should voters want to honor either gentleman they will do so in the Best Choreography category while using this race to recognize someone who is not a double nominee. And while I having nothing but respect for John Rando's refreshing, exuberant work on what many considered a hopelessly dated show, I don't think the On the Town director has a very good shot at winning such a competitive category.

Which leaves Sam Gold and Bartlett Sher, who are so neck and neck that you might as well toss a coin to determine the winner. Both helmed universally acclaimed spring productions that are still fresh in everyone's minds, and both shows owe a large part of their success to their excellent direction. The oft-performed King and I could easily have seemed tired and/or dated, but as Sher did with South Pacific several seasons ago the Tony-winning director has stripped any hint of artifice from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and allowed us to see the show afresh. Meanwhile, Gold has done absolutely extraordinary things with Fun Home, reimagining his Off-Broadway staging so completely that you would swear the entire piece was originally conceived and produced in the round. Gold has also guided his small cast to universally excellent performances that stick with you long after the final curtain, with several of his actors up for Tony Awards themselves.

Personally, I would vote for Sher, because ultimately The King and I affected and engaged me in a way Fun Home did not. Despite the many admirable elements of the Off-Broadway transfer, I couldn't connect with the characters on an emotional level even though their lives and concerns more closely mirrored my own experiences than Anna Leonowens' trip to Siam. However, I will fully admit that I seem to be in the minority regarding Fun Home's emotional effectiveness, which I think will ultimately be enough to give Gold the edge.

Will Win: Sam Gold, Fun Home
Should Win: Bartlett Sher, The King and I

Best Choreography

Tony nominees Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild in one of many pas de deuxs they share in An American in Paris.

Nominees: Joshua Bergasse, On the Town; Christopher Gattelli, The King and I; Scott Graham and Stephen Hoggart, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!; Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

This is where I expect Tony voters will acknowledge all of Christopher Wheeldon's work on An American in Paris, one of the season's biggest surprises. Even disregarding its status as the most nominated musical of the season, by all accounts Paris is an enormous dance show with incredibly demanding choreography that is expertly realized by Wheeldon's top notch dancers. It's refreshing to see a new musical that places such an emphasis on dance, an art form that has been distressingly sparse on Broadway in recent years.

The downside to Wheeldon's likely win is that it doesn't leave room for acknowledgement of Joshua Bergasse's incredible choreography for On the Town. Most producers and directors would have trimmed or even cut at least some of the massive dance numbers when reviving On the Town for modern audiences, but thanks to Bergasse the revival's dancing is its strongest suit. Playful yet precise, Bergasse's dances call to mind the inventive whimsy of multiple Tony-winner Susan Stroman, and hopefully this Broadway newcomer will stick around for many years to come.

Bergasse is also the only legitimate threat to Wheeldon; previous winner Casey Nicholaw's Something Rotten! seems to be suffering from a bit of backlash (it didn't win a single Outer Critic's Circle Award despite having more nominations than any other production), and The King and I just doesn't have enough choreography for Christopher Gattelli to legitimately compete with shows literally overflowing with dance. And giving the Best Choreography Tony to a play in a season which saw such a high volume of traditional dancing is so unlikely that it hardly merits discussion.

Will and Should Win: Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris
Who I'd Like to Win Anyway: Joshua Beragsse, On the Town

Keep checking back in the coming weeks for more Tony predictions (updates hopefully every Monday and Friday). In my next post I'll delve into the acting awards, and until then you can read all of my previous Tony predictions below:

Tony Nominee React
Best Book and Score

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