Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Best Play and Musical

This is it. Without question the two most coveted awards in any given Broadway season are the Tonys for Best Play and Best Musical. Why? In addition to the validation they provide, no other awards have such a measurable and immediate effect on a show's financial fortunes and future life. Winning Best Musical a couple years back turned A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder from a struggling show into a bonafide hit, one which has since turned a profit and is currently touring the country. A win in either of the below categories also greatly increases interest in any potential tours and regional productions, which is where a lot of the shows make the majority of their money.

Both races have pretty clear front runners at this point, but I will still use my patented combination of personal opinion and industry buzz to do my best to predict the winners. And since the Tonys are not infallible (in no way is The Music Man a better show than West Side Story, which it beat in the Best Musical race of 1958), if I disagree with the likely winner I will be sure to say so in the comments.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Play

The ensemble of The Humans, one of the rare Broadway plays to open without a major star to help drive ticket sales.

Nominees: Eclipsed, The Father, The Humans, King Charles III

Fun fact about this year's Tony-nominated playwrights: all are making their Broadway debuts, and all are under 40 years old. Whoever wins will be starting their Broadway career on quite a high, which is certain to make for some extra emotional soundbites throughout the night. 

The general consensus is that Stephen Karam's The Humans will be the big winner here, a sentiment that's difficult to argue against. Karam's work has been acclaimed since his first Off-Broadway play as part of Roundabout Underground, a program specifically designed to groom up and coming playwrights, and although relatively young Karam is already quite respected among the New York theatrical community. The Humans was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year, increasing its profile and chances at the big award.

But I wouldn't completely rule out Eclipsed, an expertly crafted show that arrived just as the topic of diversity in entertainment reached a fever pitch. Written, directed, and starring women of color, the harrowing Liberian Civil War drama is a shining example of what can happen when people of different backgrounds are allowed to create theatre. I personally don't think it will manage to overtake The Humans, but it certainly has a better chance than The Father (which has primarily been lauded for Frank Langella's performance) or the long-closed King Charles III.

Will & Should Win: The Humans

Best Musical

Hamilton, a little show no one has heard of, looks poised to become this year's Tony-winning Best Musical

Nominees: Bright Star, Hamilton, School of Rock, Shuffle Along, Waitress

Let's be honest, there's really nothing to discuss here. Hamilton has had this award in the bag since it announced plans for a Broadway transfers last spring. And ignoring all the hype surrounding the cultural juggernaut, I must say the show earns this and every other award it has won by virtue of being one of the smartest, tightest pieces of musical theatre writing of the past 20 years. The show's much discussed rap and hip hop score isn't just good in the context of Broadway; it stands with some of the best of the music industry, as evidence by the huge number of musical celebrities that have seen and enjoyed the production and the cast album's unprecedented rise to the top of the Billboard rap charts. And given the huge amount of material the show has to cover (the complete life of one of our country's Founding Fathers), the narrative's ability to remain crystal clear while still providing endless texture and enough depth to reward repeated viewings is all the more impressive.

I think the biggest question is how the Best Musical nominations (and accompanying telecast performances) affect the other shows in this category. School of Rock and Waitress don't appear to need much help, with both having sold extremely well since opening. Shuffle Along is certainly an ambitious piece of musical theatre, and the fact that it has been selling so well and achieved such critical acclaim makes it appear the history based musical has a long life ahead of it. The show that could use a boost the most is the struggling Bright Star, which has been very forthcoming about the financial investments its high profile writers have made to keep the show afloat through the Tony broadcast. Hopefully a solid musical performance during the ceremony will boost the show's ticket sales enough to keep it open through the summer.

Will & Should Win: Hamilton

And that concludes my predictions for the 2016 Tony Awards! Tonight we'll find out how well or poorly I did, and check back early next week for my thoughts on the results and this Broadway season in general. Until then, feel free to agree or disagree with my predictions in the comments, and check out the links below for the rest of my Tony coverage.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Revival

The 2016 Tony Awards will be handed out in just over 24 hours, and my annual predictions have finally reached the production categories. These are the biggest awards of the night, as a win in one of these categories can have a massive effect on a show's box office fortunes. Shows that were struggling to find audiences prior to the Tony Awards often become sold out hits after winning, and while it cannot be proven I'd wager that most shows which win Best Revival run longer than they would have otherwise (unless the winner was already closed when the awards are handed out).

As always, I will use a combination of gut feelings and industry buzz to predict the most likely winners in each category. And if I disagree with the likely winner, I will be sure to point out which show I think is more deserving of Broadway's highest honor in my comments.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Revival of a Play

Mark Strong and the cast of A View from the Bridge

Nominees: Blackbird, The Crucible, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Noises Off, A View from the Bridge

There are some very solid productions in this category, but I have trouble imagining the majority of them actually winning. While well reviewed, I think the subject matter of Blackbird (a victim of child molestation confronting the man who abused her 15 years later) is off-putting to enough voters that they will shy away from voting it Best Revival. And while The Crucible has been doing well with both critics and audiences, it is clearly the lesser of this season's two Arthur Miller revivals in most people's minds.

I absolutely adored Noises Off, and if the show was still running I think it would be a real contender to win. Anyone who has attempted comedy knows how hard it is, and the ensemble of this revival pulled off the show's physical comedy and quirky ensemble work effortlessly. But Noised Off closed back in March, being replaced at the American Airlines Theatre by the much weightier Long Day's Journey Into Night. I personally found Noises Off to be the more successful production, but if a Roundabout play wins this category it will likely be Night, which just feels like a more important and award-worthy play. 

Ultimately though, I think director Ivo van Hove's avant garde production of A View from the Bridge will take this prize. Despite being closed for months, it is a production that absolutely wowed the industry this past winter thanks to its daring directorial concept and design approach. The production was so fresh and new that many critics were taken by surprise by plot points and moments of stage business that have always been in the oft-revived show. This is a production I suspect will be remembered for years to come, and will win both on its own merits and as a way to honor Ivo van Hove's impressive year of work.

Will Win: A View from the Bridge
Should Win: Noises Off

Best Revival of a Musical

Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti share a picture-perfect embrace during Roundabout's standout She Loves Me.

This is an outstanding category, as a convincing case could be made for any one of these shows taking home the Best Musical Revival prize. Of the four, I'd say Fiddler is the "weakest," but even then it has a towering performance by Danny Burstein and a freshly illuminating take on well-known material to its credit. It is also currently running, which probably makes it more competitive than Spring Awakening despite the latter being a much more interesting and artistically daring endeavor. Unlike some, I am not enamored with Spring Awakening as a show, but I did love Deaf West's endlessly fascinating production, which incorporated both spoken English and American Sign Language into the performance. I know a lot of industry folks were deeply moved by Awakening, and if any closed production could manage to triumph over three currently running shows it would probably be this one.

But The Color Purple and She Loves Me are both exceptional, and the current front runners. Working in The Color Purple's favor is its completely reconceived approach to the material and a sensational, likely Tony-winning performance by leading lady Cynthia Erivo. This staging caused a lot of critics to reassess The Color Purple as a piece of theatrical writing after dismissing the original production as overwrought, the hallmark of a good revival. But I do have some reservations about a couple of John Doyle's directorial choices and several of the supporting performances, while I struggle to find even one negative thing to say about the absolutely exquisite She Loves Me. Roundabouts sparkling revival is pretty much perfect, a gem of a musical romance that is one of the most transporting evenings in the theatre I've had all year. Heading into Tony season, The Color Purple was the clear favorite in this category, and may well still win, but She Loves Me has been steadily gaining steam to the point where I honestly think it will emerge as one of the happiest surprises of the night.

Will & Should Win: She Loves Me

Agree or disagree? Let me know! And don't forget to check out the rest of my 2016 Tony coverage below.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Best Actress

The Tony Awards are almost here, and although I'm *slightly* behind on my prediction articles I am determined to get the rest of them out before Broadway's big night. It's time to tackle the last of the acting races, Best Actress in a Play and Best Actress in a Musical.

As always, I will use a combination of personal experience and popular opinion to determine who is most likely to walk away a winner Sunday night. And should the person most likely to win not match who I think is more deserving to win, I will be sure to point it out in my analysis.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Actress in a Play

Jessica Lange in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Nominees: Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night; Laurie Metcalf, Misery; Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed; Sophie Okonedo, The Crucible; Michelle Williams, Blackbird

An eclectic mix of performances are represented in this year's Best Actress in a Play category, although it looks increasingly likely that Oscar and Emmy-winner Jessica Lange will end June 12th one step closer to a coveted EGOT (that's an Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony sweep for those of you who don't know). While I personally found the way Lange was directed to be problematic, there's no denying that her morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone is often a force of nature. It helps that the role is also one of the all-time great acting challenges in American drama, and that the currently running Long Day's Journey Into Night is the most recent of all the nominated productions.

I can't really imagine a scenario where one of the other actresses manages to wrest this award away from Lange. Metcalf was probably the only saving grace of the critically lambasted Misery, but I suspect most Tony voters have long since forgotten that Stephen King adaptation. Sophie Okonedo managed one of the most surprising Tony wins in recent memory when she won a Featured Actress Tony for A Raisin in the Sun two years ago, but I don't think the English actress will manage such an unexpected victory this time around. And while Lupita Nyong'o and Michelle Williams both earned strong notices in Eclipsed and Blackbird respectively, it doesn't appear that they inspire the same kind of passion among voters as Lange does.

Will Win: Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Should Win: Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed

Best Actress in a Musical

Cynthia Erivo is here to stay with her star-making performance in The Color Purple.

Nominees: Laura Benanti, She Loves Me; Carmen Cusack, Bright Star; Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple; Jessie Mueller, Waitress; Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Let's be honest: this award is probably already being engraved with Cynthia Erivo's name. She is simply sensational as the much maligned Miss Celie in John Doyle's stripped down version of The Color Purple, giving the kind of diva performance that is the stuff of theatrical legend. Everyone I have talked to, from theatre geeks to those who went to see The Color Purple primarily for Jennifer Hudson, has been absolutely floored by Erivo's powerhouse performance and roof-rattling voice. And when was the last time an actress routinely commanded a mid-show standing ovation the way Erivo does during her 11 o'clock anthem "I'm Here?" I'd say not since Patti LuPone's "Rose's Turn" in the 2008 Gypsy, which I consider the single greatest musical theatre performance I have ever seen.

The other actresses are all incredibly talented, and in another year would be fiercely competitive. Laura Benanti is perfection in She Loves Me, with the role of perfumerie clerk Amalia Balash seemingly tailor made for her comedic chops and golden soprano. Phillipa Soo immediately impressed me during her Off-Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and is equally amazing as the emotional rock upon which Hamilton is built. I haven't seen Jessie Mueller in Waitress, but I have yet to see the Tony-winner give a bad performance, and by all accounts Carmen Cusack is one of the best things about this season's Little Show That Could, Bright Star. Yet Erivo has the combination of talent and incandescent star wattage that only comes about once in a blue moon, and will surely be awarded Broadway's highest honor because of it. (I mean, just listen to this performance from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and tell me you don't want to give Erivo every award imaginable.)

Do you think this year's Best Actress races are as locked down as I do, or do you expect someone else's name to be called Sunday night? Let me know in the comments, and don't miss out on the rest of my 2016 Tony coverage below:

Monday, June 6, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Best Actor

The Tony Awards are less than a week away, so it's time to really ramp up our prediction articles here at Broadway, Etc. The remaining categories are arguably the most prestigious, with the Best Actor/Actress and production categories having the greatest effect on both individual shows and entire careers. Winning a Tony in one of the leading performance categories definitely opens up a host of career opportunities, and can turn a relative unknown into a bankable star capable of opening a big budget production on name recognition alone.

Although etiquette typically dictates "ladies first," we're actually going to start with the Best Actor candidates, as the two Best Actress categories tend to be more eagerly anticipated by the theatrical community. Which takes nothing away from the incredible achievements of this year's nominated men, who have delivered some truly stunning performances over the past 12 months. As always, I will use a combination of personal observation and gut feeling to determine the most likely winner, and if that person doesn't align with who I would personally vote for I will make sure to point it out in my analysis.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Actor in a Play

Frank Langella in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Father

Nominees: Gabriel Bryne, Long Day's Journey Into Night; Jeff Daniels, Blackbird; Frank Langella, The Father; Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III; Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge

The further into awards season we get, the more Frank Langella appears to have a lock on this award. The three-time Tony-winner has received virtually every Best Actor award in existence for his universally praised performance as an aging man dealing with the onset of dementia, a feat even more impressive when you consider that many critics weren't exactly enthralled with The Father as a play. 

Looking at the rest of the nominees, I don't really see any viable challenges. Tim Pigott-Smith's acclaimed turn in the title role of King Charles III seems like ages ago, as the show closed before most of the other nominated productions even opened. Jeff Daniels certainly earned his share of critical accolades for bringing a large measure of humanity to a former child molester, but the overriding feeling towards Blackbird seems to be one of respect rather than outright enjoyment. When push comes to shove, most Tony voters go with the show/performance that excites them the most, something that rarely comes from a production they don't feel passionately about. Gabriel Bryne does brilliantly subtle work as patriarch James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, but has been largely overshadowed in people's minds by costar Jessica Lange. If anyone is going to give Langella a run for his money, it's Mark Strong for the critically beloved A View from the Bridge, but that show is probably too long gone for Strong to be truly competitive.

Will & Should Win: Frank Langella, The Father

Best Actor in a Musical

Aaron Burr, sir: Leslie Odom, Jr. in Hamilton.

Nominees: Alex Brightman, School of Rock; Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof; Zachary Levi, She Loves Me; Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton; Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

This is actually one of the most competitive, unpredictable races of the night. I feel fairly confident in ruling out first-time nominee Alex Brightman, mostly due to the strength of his competition rather than any fault in the actor's by all accounts fantastic performance. And while I and many others absolutely *adored* Zachary Levi's pitch perfect work in Roundabout's fantastic She Loves Me revival, the TV star turned Tony Award-nominee also feels like an extreme long shot to win.

Many people seem to think being the creative genius behind this season's presumptive Best Musical Hamilton makes Lin-Manuel Miranda likely to win this award, but I actually think it hurts his chances at a Best Actor victory. Tony voters know he will be walking away with several writing awards Sunday night, and therefore will likely opt to spread the wealth around in this category. Also, with all due respect to Miranda, his is a very good performance competing against several extraordinary ones, and if he were to win here it would be a case of hype overriding merit.

I think this race will ultimately boil down to Leslie Odom, Jr.'s fascinating Aaron Burr versus Danny Burstein's transfixing Tevye. Burstein has been a staple of the Broadway community and the Tony Awards for the better part of a decade, with many (myself included) feeling he is long overdue for his first win after five previous nominations. Six proved to be the magic number for Kelli O'Hara, who finally won the Tony for her work in The King and I last year, and I can easily see a similar outcome here (complete with the accompanying standing ovation). Yet Leslie Odom, Jr. is delivering a star making performance in megahit Hamilton, and the momentum behind that show cannot be underestimated. Further helping Odom, Jr.'s case is the fact that Hamilton is much more universally beloved than the latest incarnation of Fiddler, which despite strong critical notices doesn't seem to inspire much passion in anyone describing it.

My gut says that Odom, Jr. just barely wins this award, but my gut also said Kristin Chenoweth would win last year. And if I'm being totally honest, I would probably vote for him too if forced to choose. Hamilton allows Odom, Jr.'s performance to be exciting in a way the somewhat staid Fiddler doesn't allow Burstein's to be, and I think that will ultimately give Odom, Jr. the edge in the night's closest race.

Will & Should Win: Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Extremely Close Second: Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Who are you rooting for in the hotly contested Best Actor in a Musical category? Think any of the play nominees can seriously challenge Frank Langella? Let me know in the comments, and check back throughout the week for the rest of my Tony predictions. And in the meantime, catch up on my previous coverage below:

Thursday, June 2, 2016

2016 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Featured Actress

The 2016 Tony Awards get closer every day, and we are now deep into my annual prediction article series. Having already tackled some of the behind the scenes races and the Featured Actors, today the hardworking Featured Actresses get their time in the spotlight. As always, I will do my best to predict who is the most likely to win, and if I feel another individual is more deserving than the likely winner I will make sure to point them out. Read on to find out my thoughts on some of this year's most exciting races!

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow!

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Megan Hilty and her plate of sardines in Roundabout's Noises Off.

Nominees: Pascale Armand, Eclipsed; Megan Hilty, Noises Off; Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans; Andrea Martin, Noises Off; Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

This category is stacked with some amazing talent, to the point where it would be difficult to argue against any of the nominated actresses winning. When you have a category where two-time Tony-winner Andrea Martin appears to be the least competitive entrant, you know you are dealing with some amazing performances.

Personally, my money is on Megan Hilty, who took the same general outline that helped Annaleigh Ashford win this category last year (quirky oddball character in an ensemble farce) and turned it up to 11, resulting in one of the most consistently side-splitting performances I've ever seen. Every single gesture and inflection of Hilty's was perfectly calibrated for maximum comedic effect, and I don't think a performer has generated a higher number of belly laughs on Broadway since the original company of The Book of Mormon. Both Pascale Armand and Saycon Sengbloh are excellent in Eclipsed, and I would be genuinely happy for either actress to win, but I suspect this is a case where vote splitting actually will make both performers less competitive than they would be if either had been nominated on their own. And while I suspect many people have a deep respect for Jayne Houdyshell's nuanced, naturalistic performance in The Humans, I think Hilty generated more excitement in a role that seems to scream Tony Award.

Will & Should Win: Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Special Mention: Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton

Nominees: Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple; Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton; Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me; Jennifer Simard, Disaster!; Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along

With all due respect to the other nominees, there is a runway favorite in this category, and her name is Renee Elise Goldsberry. The actress is simply sensational as the fiercely independent Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, whether she's encouraging her sisters to "work" during "The Schuyler Sisters" or trying to entice Hamilton away from said work during "Take a Break." And her showstopping, jaw dropping performance of "Satisfied" is absolute perfection, the kind of legendary turn that recalls what it must have been like to witness Audra McDonald sing "Your Daddy's Son" in the original company of Ragtime.

That is not to say the other actresses aren't deserving. Adrienne Warren is a standout during her two big numbers in Shuffle Along, and gains extra points for the role being such a complete 180 from her last Broadway appearance in Bring It On. I have long admired Jane Krakowski for her impeccable comedic timing on the TV shows 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and she demonstrates an unbelievable range of emotion and skill during her supporting turn in Roundabout's enchanting revival of She Loves Me. I will admit to being less taken with Danielle Brooks' somewhat one-note performance in The Color Purple, but the actress is undeniably talented and certainly earned her place among this year's nominees. And while I didn't see Jennifer Simard in Disaster, the video of her final performance making the rounds proves that she was a force to be reckoned with. In another year, any of these women might be a front runner, but this year it is all about Goldsberry.

Will & Should Win: Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Special Mention: Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check back soon for my thoughts and predictions on the Best Actor and Actress races. Plus, catch up on the rest of my 2016 Tony Award coverage by clicking on the links below: