Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tony, Tony, Tony!

The Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday and for the first time ever, I have seen several of the nominated shows. I was in NYC a few weeks ago and in a whirlwind week, J-bone and I saw eight shows. Before this, the most I could help for would be a show that originated in Los Angeles before making its way to Broadway, such as Sunset Boulevard (1995) or Ragtime (1998).

Of course, the demand for Book of Mormon was so high, those tickets had to be kissed goodbye (and with tickets being over $150 apiece, I preferred the half-price offers at TKTS). Mormon walked away with the most nominations of the year with fourteen, only one less than the record held by The Producers (2001) and Billy Elliot: The Musical (2009). The show has received rave reviews, even from usually caustic critics from The New York Times and The New Yorker. It is guaranteed to walk off with a handful of awards. Other nominated shows, such as Kander and Ebb's controversial The Scottsboro Boys (the show is staged as a minstrel show) and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (nominated in the Best Book category) have already closed. Other shows, such as Catch Me if You Can and Sister Act, do not appear to have the widespread support of critics, who cite these shows as being far more lightweight than the powerhouse comedy of Mormon.

The second-most nominated musical of the year was the revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes. Sutton Foster, who heads this new production, embodies the standard narrative of the girl hoping for Broadway stardom. I know this show far too well since J-bone directed it at his high school this year. In 2000, she was pulled from being the understudy for Thoroughly Modern Millie to become its star. She went on to win the Tony and over the course of the next decade has been nominated four more times. In Anything Goes, she plays Reno Sweeney, the evangelical nightclub singer, with a penchant for booze, good-looking men and God. Her sassy portrayal even dwarfs those of earlier Reno's, the incomparable Ethel Merman (who originated the role in 1934) and Patti Lupone (who headed a revival at Lincoln Center in the 1980's). She seems to have a lock in perhaps the weakest category of the year. With only four nominees for Best Actress in a Musical (thus snubbing Sherri Renee Scott, who starred in the disastrous and closed Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Foster will beat out past-winners such as Donna Murphy and Beth Leavel, and newcomer Patina Miller in the adaptation of Sister Act for the stage.

Only two revivals hit the boards this season, and it seems that Anything Goes will triumph. How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying hoped to capitalize on two cultural events: the success of the 1960's era fashion craze, inaugurated with Mad Men, and the Harry Potter phenomenon, with Harry himself (the elvish Daniel Radcliffe) starring in this production. Radcliffe's voice has litle power and range but he is suitable for the part, but a supporting cast headed by Night Court's John Larroquette and Tammy Blanchard make the show shine (both received nominations, while Radcliffe did not). The staging of the show is quite impressive, with a massive set (designed by Derek McLane who also designed Anything Goes and nominated for the latter) and quirky costumes. Anything Goes succeeded, however, on a more steadfast cast and choreography that has put every other show on Broadway this year to shame. 

The Best Revival of a Play seems to be far more competitive, with Al Pacino's Merchant of Venice going up against solid and well-reviewed productions of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which won the Best Play award in 1994. It is surprising that Driving Miss Daisy was not placed in this category, since it was a commercial success this season, and was actually the first Broadway appearance of Alfred Uhry's play (it was Off-Broadway in its 1988 incarnation). Only Vanessa Redgrave received a nomination, not even equally talented peroformances from James Earl Jones or Boyd Gaines. Redgrave, however, will most likely lose to Oscar-winner Frances McDormand, who is starring in David Lindsay-Abaire's new play, Good People (Lindsay-Abaire won the Pulitzer for Rabbit Hole in 2002). Best Play seems to be a close race between the British War Horse by Nick Stafford, about a boy and his horse during World War I (sure to win Best Set Design for creatign a magical puppet horse on stage); and The MotherF**ker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis, about a pair of fiery Puerto Rican lovers and their toxic relationship.

The Tony Awards air on CBS on Sunday, June 12. Who's coming by to watch?

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