Thursday, May 26, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Direction and Choreography

Tony season is upon us, and all of Broadway is buzzing with excitement in preparation for the industry's big night. While speculation on winners seems more muted this year due to the presumed dominance of Hamilton, the fact of the matter is we had a very strong season with a lot of Tony-worthy work. Combined with Tony voters' recent penchant for spreading the wealth (you have to go back to the 2012 ceremony to find a single production that took home more than 5 awards), it's entirely possible Lin-Manuel Miranda's juggernaut loses a couple races. Not to mention the play categories, which Hamilton can't win and are fairly competitive this year.

As always, I will do my best to predict the winners in the direction, production, and acting categories. And since who will win does not always match up with who deserves to win, I will make sure to point out any discrepancies in my analysis.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Direction of a Play

Mark Strong (center) and the cast of A View from the Bridge.

Nominees: Rupert Gould, King Charles III; Jonathan Kent, Long Day's Journey Into Night; Joe Mantello, The Humans; Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed; Ivo Van Hove, A View from the Bridge

It's an incredibly competitive season when it comes to the directing races, and although it sounds cliche this year it truly is an honor just to be nominated. Tony voters don't have an easy decision to make when it comes to Best Direction of a Play, as this season in particular saw a number of bold directorial concepts driving some of the best reviewed works of the season.

I am a bit puzzled by Jonathan Kent's inclusion here, as his directorial choices for Long Day's Journey Into Night were at the heart of what didn't work for me in that revival (namely, the inconsistent acting styles and poorly conceived blocking). I think he can be ruled out of the running, as can Rupert Gould, mostly due to the fact that King Charles III has been closed long enough it appears to have faded from most people's memory. Liesl Tommy has done some absolutely lovely and subtle work on Eclipsed, but I fear she probably didn't put enough of her own personal stamp on the show to win, because whether it's fair or not the Tonys have a tendency to recognize flashier nominees. 

Which would also seem to rule out two-time Tony-winner Joe Mantello for the understated The Humans, but that production is one of the best reviewed plays of the season and a win for Mantello could be viewed as acknowledge of his work on it and the well respected Blackbird. There are few directors who can coax honest, complex performances out of their actors like Mantello, an exceedingly rare skill everyone in the industry recognizes and admires. But I ultimately think Tony voters will reward avante garde director Ivo van Hove, who afters years of working abroad and Off-Broadway burst onto the Great White Way this season with two incredibly well received revivals of Arthur Miller classics. Giving van Hove the prize allows voters to recognize the work he's done on both A View from the Bridge and the currently running The Crucible, the culmination of a season of boundary pushing work from the Belgian director.

Will & Should Win: Ivan van Hove, A View from the Bridge

Best Director of a Musical

The cast of the little musical that could, Hamilton.

Nominees: Michael Arden, Spring Awakening; John Doyle, The Color Purple; Scott Ellis, She Loves Me; Thomas Kail, Hamilton; George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along

Wow. The strength of this year's Best Director of a Musical nominees is just astounding. While many people expect Thomas Kail to take this award for his fascinating, fluid staging of Broadway's latest blockbuster, I suspect the actual vote will be a lot closer than expected, and if there's going to be a surprise on Tony night this category might be it. 

Scott Ellis' production of She Loves Me is practically perfect, one of the best representations of that musical gem we're ever likely to see, and his light but assured hand was essential in achieving that level of quality. John Doyle completely reconceived The Color Purple from the ground up, reclaiming it in the eyes of many critics who were underwhelmed by the original production. I have a couple of nitpicks with Doyle's directorial choices, but overall it is an outstanding production that could not have happened without him. And I'm even more impressed with Michael Arden's work on Spring Awakening; his use of American Sign Language didn't feel like a gimmick, but actually added new layers of meaning and beauty to a piece which became as much about the alienation of the deaf characters from the rest of society as it did about angsty teens singing rock songs.

But in the end, I do think Hamilton will prevail, and it's hard to argue with that outcome. The show is one of the single most electrifying evenings of theatre I've ever experienced, and the show's narrative clarity and theatrical effectiveness comes as much from Kail's staging as it does from Lin-Manuel Miranda's words and music.

Will & Should Win: Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Special Shout Out: Scott Ellis, She Loves Me

Best Choreography

Leslie Odom, Jr. and the cast of Hamilton performing "The Room Where It Happens."

Nominees: Andy Blankenbeuhler, Hamilton; Savion Glover, Shuffle Along; Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof; Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea; Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet

Can I just say how refreshing it is to see such strong nominees in this category? There was a period a few years ago where we were lucky if one musical a season produced Tony-worthy choreography, but ever since Newsies there has been a steady increase in the number of dance heavy shows on Broadway and I couldn't be happier. All of the nominated choreographers have distinctive, exciting styles that created some of the most memorable production numbers of the season.

That said, this is really a two horse race between Andy Blankenbeuhler and Savion Glover, as both men have created a bevy of inventive, pulse pounding routines for their respective shows. Glover's tap choreography is integral to almost all of the most effective moments in Shuffle Along, including the roof raising opening number and the edge of your seat tap battle in the middle of the show's second act. Blankenbeuhler's dancers barely stop moving throughout the entirety of Hamilton's three hour runtime, and for the first time in the previous Tony-winner's career I didn't find the effect distracting. I also adored his lyrical, abstract take on the show's climatic duel between Hamilton and Burr, one of the most beautiful and moving moments in the entire show. As both Blankenbeuhler and Glover already have Tony Awards it's hard to say either one is due, and while I have a *slight* preference for Glover's tap dancing I suspect Hamilton's momentum will bring Blankenbeuhler his second career win.

Will Win: Andy Blankenbeuhler, Hamilton
Should Win: Savior Glover, Shuffle Along

Let me know who you're rooting for in the comments, and be sure to check back soon for further Tony predictions. In the meantime, don't forget to check out my previous commentary below:

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to see if Ivo Van Hove makes the transition to film someday. He sounds like he could be another David Lynch or Terrence Malick.