Monday, June 16, 2008

My Tonys score

So, my prediction rate ran about the same as last year, with 19 out of 26 categories correct: best musical, best play, best musical revival, best play revival, all the lead acting categories, three out of four featured actor categories, best score, best direction of both play and musical, choreography, orchestrations and scenic design of a play. Another C minus. The technical categories are the ones that largely killed me this year. Here's where I went wrong:

Best featured actor in a musical:
Repeat after me: I will never make Raul Esparza my pick again, as he caused me a miss in best actor in a musical last year. Still, this was the only category in which my "should win" pick differed from my "will win" pick with the former actually winning. Congratulations to Jim Norton!

Book of a musical:
Well, I assumed they'd give it to "In The Heights," and I was wrong. At least "Passing Strange" got recognition somewhere. And I actually thought Stew's disguise glasses when he was up for best actor were funny, though I guess some thought they were disrespectful.

Scenic design, costumes, lighting and sound design of a musical:
There was a voter favorite this year, but I was wrong to put my chips on "In The Heights." Nay, it was "South Pacific," which won all of these categories. Very sad that it came at the expense of "Sunday in the Park With George," though, which was completely shut out. Side note: scenic design of a musical is the only category I got wrong both this year and last year.

Costume design, lighting and sound design of a play:
"August: Osage County" ruled the night, but not in these categories, contrary to my expectations. A big kudos to "The 39 Steps" for collecting a few Tonys. I withhold my opinion on the costumes in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" until I see them for myself next week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Final Tony predictions

Best Musical:
In The Heights (will win)
Passing Strange (should win)
Honestly, I won't be too upset when "In The Heights" wins best musical on Sunday. It's certainly the show on the list that will have the longest shelf life and absolutely has the superior score. The book, however, is weak, almost to the point of being laughable in some parts. "Passing Strange," though not as accessible--which is why voters will go with "Heights"--is stronger overall. "Xanadu" got its victory in its nomination, and uh, why is "Cry-Baby" on this list again?

Best Play:
August: Osage County (should and will win)
Rock 'n' Roll
The Seafarer
The 39 Steps
This actually is a very strong list. In fact, "The Seafarer" would have been a worthy contender against the ultimately bloated "Coast of Utopia" trilogy that dominated last year. Tracy Letts' "August," however, already deservedly has a Pulitzer behind it and is an utterly thrilling three-and-a-half-hour show, no small feat. Whether it's as strong a show when its peerless cast leaves remains to be seen, but in the big picture, nothing else comes close.

Best Revival of a Musical:
South Pacific (will win)
Sunday in the Park with George (should win)
Again, a strong list, with the exception of the tinny "Grease" revival, there by default. "Gyspy" is wonderful because of its cast and, because, well it's already a darn wonderful show. "Sunday," however, is a beautiful yet flawed show that, through great performances and dazzling visuals, is elevated by Sam Buntrock's production. Still, voters are going to go with the first appearance of "South Pacific" on Broadway in more than half a century. That's not a bad thing, as it's a lovely production.

Best Revival of a Play:
Boeing-Boeing (will win)
The Homecoming
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Macbeth (should win???)
OK, here's where I'm at a disadvantage, as I've not yet seen "Boeing" nor "Liaisons." Based entirely on valued opinions of friends who did see it, I'm certainly looking forward to it, and it very well might be the most deserving show on the list. Out of the two I did see, the easy advantage goes to "Macbeth."

Best Book of a Musical:
Cry-Baby, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
In The Heights, Quiara Alegria (will win)
Passing Strange, Stew
Xanadu, Douglas Carter Beane (should win)
Seriously, yes, I'm pulling for a "Xanadu" Tony. Beane turned what could have been a deplorable mess of a show that debuted in the summer doldrums to a fun, witty, suprise hits with the critics. I've already said my thoughts on "Heights'" book, but voters have a tendency to get sucked up in the zeitgeist.

Best Original Score:
Cry-Baby, David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger
In The Heights, Lin-Manual Miranda (should and will win)
The Little Mermaid, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Passing Strange, Stew and Heidi Rodewald
The less said about Cry-Baby, the better, and the stuff that was added to "The Little Mermaid" for its Broadway run ranged from forgettable to cringe-worthy. While Stew and Rodewald's score deserves praise, Miranda's is the one I'm looking more forward to buying.

Best Lead Actor in a Play:
Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing (will win)
Rufus Sewell, Rock 'n' Roll
Patrick Stewart, Macbeth (should win???)
Again, my lack of seeing "Boeing" impairs my judgment here. It's pretty thrilling to have Rylance on Broadway period, so I was tempted to give him my "should win" anyway. But Stewart's Macbeth was definitely one of the best performances I've seen in a while. Fishburne also was excellent, but his show just didn't have the arc the others did. And Sewell, though also good, is probably long forgotten by voters.

Best Lead Actress in a Play:
Eve Best, The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County (should and will win)
Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton, August: Osage County
What a category! As the ultimate drugged-out mother from hell, this is Dunagan's to lose, and she very well might from her own co-star. In the off chance that they split the vote, expect Best to come swooping in. But that's not going to happen. It's all Dunagan's. Side note -- I'm also truly excited to see what Estelle Parsons does with the role when she replaces Dunagan in a matter of weeks.

Best Lead Actor in a Musical:
Daniel Evans, Sunday In The Park With George (should win)
Lin-Manual Miranda, In The Heights
Stew, Passing Strange
Paulo Szot, South Pacific (will win)
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair
Voters will swoon for Szot's heavenly baritone, even though I thought Evans was the standout of the year. Miranda and particularly Stew both, while fine, are stronger in their writing than their acting, and Wopat is giving a great performance in a mediocre show. No nearly about it; this is Szot's, thought.

Best Lead Actress in a Musical:
Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone, Gypsy (should and will win)
Kelli O'Hara, South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell, Sunday In The Park With George
Yes, the naysayers are already predicting the upset of the night, and of the list, O'Hara seems the best poised to do the unthinkable and topple what some--and I'm not just talking the LuPonatics--already are calling the definitive Rose. Yeah, most of those people weren't old enough to see Ethel Merman, and neither am I. Still, it's not gonna happen. In fact, they should go ahead and give LuPone two Tonys to make up for that whole LaChanze thing a few years ago. This is a sure a thing as Big Brown's Triple Cro.....oooh, not the best analogy.

Best Featured Actor in a Play:
Bobby Cannavale, Mauritius
Raul Esparza, The Homecoming (will win)
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Jim Norton, The Seafarer (should win)
David Pittu, Is He Dead?
Not one of these shows is still around, so the "Tony voters won't remember" rule is mostly out the door, with the exception of Cannavale, who was great but even I barely remember that "Mauritius" was this season. Pittu was good, but considering the lead actor of his show, Norbert Leo Butz--who was better--didn't even get a nod doesn't bod well for him. Sadly, I think the two gents from "The Seafarer" might split their votes, although Norton was easily the best thing on stage at The Booth. That means this finally will probably be Esparza's year. I hated The Homecoming but can also appreciate that his performance is not undeserving, too.

Best Featured Actress in a Play:
Sinead Cusack, Rock 'n' Roll
Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf, November
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls
Rondi Reed, August: Osage County (should??? and will win)
Again, McCormack is my wild card here. Metcalf was funny and much better than her material, but see what I said about Pittu, as the same applies with regard to Nathan Lane's snub. Martha Plimpton, of whom I'm usually a fan, would not have been my pick to honor out of the "Top Girls" ensemble at all, and the show was mostly ignored by the nominators, so her chances are slim. Cusack's performance was strong but not strong enough to overcome the fact that her show is ancient history. That leaves Reed, who was a standout among aces as the tactless hurricane of an aunt who could both ease the tension and deliver a late-show bombshell with aplomb.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical:
Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange
Danny Burstein, South Pacific
Robin De Jesus, In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald, Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy (should and will win)
I wouldn't complain if a Breaker, Burstein or De Jesus upset happened, but Gaines has done wonders with the usual throwaway role of Rose's beleagured and peptic-challenged beau Herbie. As for Fitzgerald, I'm making the prediction that "Young Frankenstein" will be walking home empty-handed. It's not exactly a big gamble.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical:
de'Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Laura Benanti, Gypsy (should and will win)
Andrea Martin, Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz, In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre, South Pacific
Like LuPone and Gaines, Benanti has done wonders with a long-established role and deserves the acclaim for it. Her closest competitor will be Merediz, who does great with the killer number in "Heights."

Best Direction of a Play:
Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County (should and will win)
Matthew Warchus, Boeing-Boeing
Standard Warchus disclaimer. McPherson more than did justice to his own work, but Shapiro's win will be part of the one zeitgeist of the night I'm fully behind. As for Aitken, I'm glad she got nominated. Pity there's not some sort of ensemble award, as "The 39 Steps" certainly deserves something.

Best Direction of a Musical:
Sam Buntrock, Sunday In The Park With George (should win)
Thomas Kail, In The Heights
Arthur Laurents, Gypsy
Bartlett Sher, South Pacific (will win)
This probably was the toughest category for me to predict. Not for me to pick MY winner, mind you, as I've already given my thoughts on Buntrock. But I really don't know what the voters will be thinking. With they give a lifetime achievement to the 90-year-old Laurents for giving up his grudge against LuPone and, for the most part, faithfully recreating what he had already done wonderfully well? Will Kail benefit from straight-ticket voting? No, I think Sher will finally get his enchanted evening this year after two recent misses. How come my only two song references up to this point have been with "South Pacific"?

Best Choreography:
Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby (should win)
Andy Blankenbuehler, In The Heights (will win)
Christopher Gattelli, South Pacific
Dan Knechtges, Xanadu
Damn straight I'm advocating a "Cry-Baby" win. Despite the show's shortcomings, Ashford's choreography was fantastic throughout. It won't win, though. After the stomp-stomp-jump-on-a-chair nonsense from "Spring Awakening" won last year, I'm convinced that this category is not given the consideration it deserves by voters. Still, Blankenbuehler's work is a hundred times better than that and is certainly deserving of the Tony it will get.

Best Orchestrations:
Jason Carr, Sunday In The Park With George
Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, In The Heights (should and will win)
Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange
Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair
Sunday's sparse orchestrations were the weakest aspect of the entire show, and "A Catered Affair" will be ignored here. The contest here is between "Heights" and "Strange," but "Heights" had the nuance and polish that will give it the edge here.

Best Scenic Design of a Play:
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Todd Rosenthal, August: Osage County (should and will win)
Anthony Ward, Macbeth
I almost was tempted to give my nod to McKintosh merely based on the hilarious chase scene he developed, but the towering Oklahoma home of the Westons wins the day, here.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical:
David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday In The Park With George (should and will win)
Anna Louizos, In The Heights
Robin Wagner, Young Frankenstein
Micheal Yeargan, South Pacific
OK, as a resident of Washington Heights, I can say Louizos' design is spot-on, from the unisex hair salon to the spurting hydrants. Wagner's sets are one of the best aspects of "Young Frankenstein." And Yeargan's work is absolutlely lovely. But if anyone besides the Sunday team takes this one home, that will be the travesty of the night. You know, if they actually aired this portion of the awards on television.

Best Costume Design of a Play:
Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac (should win???)
Rob Hoswell, Boeing-Boeing (will win)
Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Gale's costumes were dazzling, but this is the first time I've typed "Cyrano" tonight, so we know what that means. If Christina Applegate could dazzle her boss by creating nifty flight attendant uniforms in "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead," then I'm sure that Hoswell can...OK, I really need to see the darn show.

Best Costume Design of a Musical:
David Farley, Sunday In The Park With George (should and will win)
Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy
Paul Tazewell, In The Heights
Catherine Zuber, South Pacific
Pakledinaz actually made some lovely touches to his costume design for "Gypsy," such as Rose's paint-splattered coat. But Farley's dual role of creating the lush dresses and quirky 80s outfits is the standout in the group.

Best Lighting Design of a Play:
Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps
Howard Harrison, Macbeth (should win)
Donald Holder, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Ann G. Wrightson, August: Osage County (will win)
If Tony voters should deviate from their straight-ticket voting for August, this should be the one, for Harrison's crackling design for the fascist landscape in the Macbeth revival. They won't, though.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical:
Ken Billingon, Sunday In The Park With George
Howell Blinkley, In The Heights
Donald Holder, South Pacific
Natasha Katz, The Little Mermaid
Blinkley and Holder are both deserving, but remember: In design, it's color AND light, not color OR light. Oh, and as for Katz, she should just be glad to be part of their world. Boom! Two non-South Pacific song references.

Best Sound Design of a Play:
Simon Baker, Boeing-Boeing (will win)
Adam Cork, Macbeth (should win???)
Ian Dickson, Rock 'n' Roll
Mic Pool, The 39 Steps
Well, Dickson would certainly win the award for LONGEST sound design, considering the extremely long vintage-rock-underscored scene breaks in "Rock 'n' Roll." Cork gets my vote, though, even though he had to underscore that silly witch rap. But I'm guessing voters will want to fly with Baker.

Best Sound Design of a Musical:
Acme Sound Partners, In The Heights (should and will win)
Sebastian Frost, Sunday In The Park With George
Scott Lehrer, South Pacific
Dan Moses Schreir, Gypsy
I'd forgotten how long this list was. I'm completely out of things to say. Except:

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:
Stephen Sondheim (should have a long time ago and will win)
Duh! Happy watching on Sunday. For fun, you can flip to a different channel and actually watch the Nielsen share drop from the effect, I hear.

Monday, June 09, 2008

One month later -- I'm back

It’s over. Three weeks of non-stop travel, rehearsal for the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus pride concert and putting out a massive double issue at work are finally over. Surprisingly, I don’t have too many reviews to catch up on! But here’s the ones I need to catch up:

Passing Strange
I was a bit late to the party, but—much to my own surprise—this absolutely gets my vote as best new musical of the 2007-2008. I’ll go into that more in my pre-Tonys write-up, but song/bookwriter Stew, despite his protestations of how he wants to eschew the musical theatre form, has created the most human, touching journey to hit a Broadway house this year. As stale as the “finding yourself” journey can be as material for a show—and none of what Stew’s autobiographical youth (the equally Tony-worthy Daniel Breaker) is particularly earth-shattering—“Passing Strange” and its protean ensemble give it the urgency and authenticity that it seems like a fresh concept. There's not a weak link among the ensemble, but special mention should go to Eisa Davis as the youth's mother, who manages to make a three-word line--"I love you"--into a an upsettingly gut-wrenching moment. Given what I had heard, I was prepared to appreciate, but not particularly like, this show. How wrong I was. I also was fortunate enough to attend a close-captioned performers, so I didn’t miss a syllable of the largely smart lyrics.

No, No Nanette
Why am I even mentioning this limited-run Encores! production that is long gone? Because it really needs a transfer, that’s why. What an absolutely lovely performance of an unabashedly dusty play. Beth Leavel channeled Judy Garland to the point of eeriness, Michael Berresse gave his best triple-threat performance since “Kiss Me, Kate” and Sandy Duncan—well, let’s just make a deal. If this can’t transfer, find Ms. Duncan something to do on Broadway soon, yes? Loved that she used her Playbill bio to finally put that glass eye rumor to rest, too.

Angels in America: The Opera
I rarely mention the things I see out of town, but I feel I should give mention to the premiere of “Angels in America: The Opera” by the Fort Worth Opera, which I saw in late May. First of all: Kudos to the company for taking on and, for the most part, excelling at this challenging piece. The cast did it justice, so my following criticisms are no reflection on them. That being said, Hungarian composer Peter Eotvos has condensed Tony Kushner’s modern masterpiece to a two-and-a-half hour opera that remains true to the spirit of the source and offers a few stunning moments, but largely, is far too muddled to ever stand on its own. The atonal, Schoenberg-esque yet almost conversational music fits the dialogue but is just too alienating after a long period of time, making the entire show non-stop tension with no release. As one patron a few rows behind me remarked at intermission, “I want an aria!” The structure is also problematic. While the “Millennium Approaches” segment sets up the various storylines perfectly, the truncated “Perestroika” segment nips them all, dedicating most of the second half to Prior’s dream. Other characters largely disappear and the key plot point of WHY Prior was able to survive also is omitted. In other words, the whole opera would be befuddling to anyone without a working knowledge of the source material, making this opera a nice footnote to it, but ultimately, not much else.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My Tony wish list

Since the Tony nominations are a few mere hours away, rather than give my predictions -- which, come on, everybody else are already done -- here is what I would love to see nominated. I've seen almost everything with the exception of "Boeing Boeing," "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and "Glory Days," which isn't eligible for anything, anyway, so my list is somewhat skewed by the omission of those. I followed my wish list with my realistic assessment, so it's kind of a doubling prediction/wish list thing. So, here goes! I'll grade myself tomorrow.

Best Musical
A Catered Affair
In the Heights
Passing Strange

Spoilers: Boy, if anyone had told me this time last year that not only would I be putting "Xanadu" as a pick for best musical, but that I didn't think it was the weakest choice for the slot, I'd have thought he/she was a crazy. No, it, along with "In the Heights" and "Passing Strange," are locks. "Young Frankenstein" might slip past "A Catered Affair," though.

Best Revival of a Musical
South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George
[no fourth choice]

Spoilers: Yeah, "Grease" will get the fourth slot. Because there's no other choice. As Homer Simpson said: "Default! The two most beautiful words in the English language."

Best Play
August: Osage County
Rock 'n' Roll
The Seafarer
The 39 Steps

Spoilers: Actually, I think this is how it will go down.

Best Revival of a Play
The Homecoming
Is He Dead?
Top Girls

Spoilers: "Boeing Boeing," just judging by reviews, will probably take one of the slots, in most likelihood, the one I gave to the long-closed "Is He Dead?"

Best Director of a Musical
Sam Buntrock -- Sunday in the Park with George
Annie Dorsen -- Passing Strange
Thomas Kail -- In the Heights
Bartlett Sher -- South Pacific

Spoilers: I left out Arthur Laurents. Yes, the "Gypsy" revival is exquisite, but how much of that is really due to any directorial vision that hasn't been used before? If anything, it would be a credit to him finally getting over his Patti LuPone grudge. But, the Tony voters won't leave out Laurents. He'll get it over either Dorsen or Kail.

Best Director of a Play
Maria Aitken -- The 39 Steps
Rupert Goold -- Macbeth
Anna Shapiro -- August: Osage County
Daniel Sullivan -- The Homecoming

Spoilers: Again, "Boeing Boeing" will probably be in one of these slots. I'm guessing Aitken's.

Best Leading Actress in a Musical
Kerry Butler ­-- Xanadu
Patti LuPone --­ Gypsy
Kelli O'Hara ­-- South Pacific
Faith Prince ­-- A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell ­-- Sunday in the Park with George
Spoilers: Nada. This is how it's going down. Bank on it.

Best Leading Actor in a Musical
Daniel Evans ­-- Sunday in the Park with George
Cheyenne Jackson --­ Xanadu
Lin-Manuel Miranda --­ In the Heights
Paolo Szot ­-- South Pacific
Tom Wopat -- A Catered Affair

Spoilers: "Passing Strange" (which I haven't reviewed just yet) owes a lot to its creator and lead actor Stew. He might slip in here, perhaps past Miranda, Jackson or even Wopat. Leaving off Jackson, however, would be a mistake. I saw the show in an early preview when he was not yet in it -- and believe me, him being in it made a world of difference. And I'm not that huge of a fan.

Best Leading Actress in a Play
Deanna Dunagan ­ August: Osage County
Kate Fleetwood -- Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson ­-- Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton --­ August: Osage County
Anika Noni Rose --­ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Spoilers: The August ladies are locks, as is Fleetwood. And probably Rose. Merkerson made an otherwise problematic revival of "Sheba," but might be overlooked here in favor of Eve Best ("The Homecoming") or even Frances McDormand ("The Country Girl") or Laura Linney (Liaisons..."). Never underestimate the potential for starstruckness. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Claire Danes ("Pygmalion") on the list, but it's doubtful.

Best Leading Actor in a Play
Norbert Leo Butz --­ Is He Dead?
Laurence Fishburne --­ Thurgood
Nathan Lane -- November
Patrick Stewart ­-- Macbeth
Charles Edwards ­-- The 39 Steps

Spoilers: Edwards is a long shot. Ian McShane, for "The Homecoming," will probably be named in his stead. Fishburne also is iffy, but like Merkerson, he gave a performance that elevated a mediocre show into something worthwhile. And what I said about McDormand also goes for Morgan Freeman ("The Country Girl,") as incredibly disappointing as his performance was. Kevin Kline ("Cyrano") also would be a worthy nominee, although his show might be long forgotten.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Laura Benanti ­-- Gypsy
Eisa Davis --­ Passing Strange
Olga Merediz --­ In the Heights
Mary Beth Peil ­-- Sunday in the Park with George
Loretta Ables Sayre --­ South Pacific

Spoilers: This was an incredibly tough category to narrow down, and it killed me not to include Jackie Hoffman ("Xanadu"). But -- she'll probably be on the list in place of Davis, who I thought gave a very understated yet devastating performance. Karen Olivo ("In the Heights") also is a contender, although she doesn't get the killer number that Merediz gets. In a weaker year, Jessica Molaskey ("Sunday....") would have made the list, but unfortunately, there's just too many other greats out there in flashier parts. And a "Young Frankenstein" gal might slip in.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical
Daniel Breaker --­ Passing Strange
Danny Burstein ­-- South Pacific
Robin de Jesus ­-- In the Heights
Boyd Gaines ­-- Gypsy
Tony Yazbeck -- Gypsy

Spoilers: Yazbeck is the long shot here, but I had to include because he made me enjoy the one scene in "Gypsy" that has always bored the crap out of me. One of the "Young Frankenstein" guys might slip in, or even Tony Roberts ("Xanadu").

Best Featured Actress in a Play
Sinead Cusack ­-- Rock n Roll
Elizabeth Marvel ­-- Top Girls
Sally Murphy ­-- August: Osage County
Rosie Perez --­ The Ritz
Marisa Tomei --­ Top Girls

Spoilers: Once again, it's the ladies of "Boeing Boeing." Cusack is the most likely candidate for a bump, followed by Perez.

Best Featured Actor in a Play
Raul Esparza --­ The Homecoming
Ciaran Hinds ­-- The Seafarer
Jim Norton ­-- The Seafarer
John Pankow ­-- Cymbeline
Tim Treloar ­-- Macbeth

Spoilers: I really went off the deep end with this one. Pankow and Treloar both gave wonderfully memorable performances as some of Shakespeare's more amorphous, forgettable characters. But they ain't gonna get nominated. And neither is Hinds, for that matter, despite his great delivery of what probably is one of the best monologues written in ages. Yeah, look for "Boeing Boeing" and/or "Liaisons" people to fill out this category.

Best Book of a Musical
A Catered Affair
Passing Strange
Young Frankenstein

Spoilers: While I thoroughly enjoyed "In the Heights," it's book was quite weak. While I enjoyed "Young Frankenstein" not so much, it had a better book. But "Heights" will get the nomination.

Best Original Score
A Catered Affair
In the Heights
Passing Strange

Spoilers: "Cry-Baby" won't get it. "Young Frankenstein" will. I picked "Cry-Baby" only because it had a few memorable songs I enjoyed, while I couldn't recall a single of "Young Frankenstein's" a mere week after seeing it. Go Mel Brooks and his tape recorder.

Best Choreography
In the Heights
South Pacific

Spoilers: "Cry-Baby," despite its deep, deep flaws, was fairly widely praised for its choreography. But, it might be the victim of a shut-out. "The Little Mermaid" might slip in here, or "Young Frankenstein."

And, to keep this post from being ridiculously long, here's a brief rundown of the categories they won't televize. Just call me CBS.

Best Orchestrations
A Catered Affair
In the Heights
Passing Strange

Best Scenic Design of a Play
August: Osage County

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
A Catered Affair
In the Heights
South Pacific
Young Frankenstein

Best Costume Design of a Play
August: Osage County
Top Girls

Best Costume Design of a Musical
South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George
Young Frankenstein

Best Lighting Design of a Play
August: Osage County
Rock 'n' Roll
The Seafarer

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
In the Heights
South Pacific
Sunday in the Park with George
Young Frankenstein

Best Sound Design of a Play
August: Osage County
The 39 Steps
Rock 'n' Roll

Best Sound Design of a Musical
In the Heights
Passing Strange
South Pacific

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Do to me what Annie Leibowitz did to Hannah Montana

Or don't. Honestly, I'm torn whether I should even post this. But I'm going to. Here goes.

OK, so on a dare -- I won't say from whom -- I did something that might have been really, really stupid. Time Out New York, you see, does this annual issue very subtly called "the horny issue," and as a part of that, they like to shoot photos of ordinary New Yorkers naked. Naked in what is acceptable for publications that don't come in plastic wrappers, that is. Think a risque Rolling Stone cover or such. Something that would be work-safe to view everywhere but Chick Fil A.

Through, let's just say, circumstances somewhat beyond my control, I am now one of the candidates to be one of those New Yorkers this year, and TONY is hosting an online poll to determine who it's gonna be.

Now, as anyone who has read much of this blog will be able to tell, I don't post that many photos of myself, and in almost all that I do, I'm usually fully clothed. On the other hand, I really like to win things. So, what the heck? I'm just putting it out there in case anyone wants to throw a few votes my way, or -- for those of you, which is most, with much, much more powerful blogging powers than mine -- want to throw me a little promotional bone.

Here's the link. Luckily, there are many, many people on there far more attractive than me, so I'm probably safe. In fact, I fully expect to be the Mike Gravel, or Sam Brownback if you're more Republicanly inclined, of this race and hope they don't publish the actual results. Still, thanks to my last name starting with a "b," I am the first one on the list. Let's just see where this goes, right?

And to make this seem a little bit less sleazy, I'll try to pull a positive out of it: If, for whatever reason, I come out ahead, as penance, I'll donate $100 to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Voting runs until May 22, and multiple votes are permitted. And don't send my momma this link!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weekday review roundup

I think this will finally catch me up on reviews, but first, I must give a shout-out to the two Tennessee treasures I saw this week at Radio City Music Hall. Dolly Parton is as exquisite as ever, and hearing Al Gore speak was, well, a reminder of how things should have been the last seven and a half years. At any rate, I'm going to try something a bit new with the reviews -- a final rating based on how strongly I'd recommend seeing or avoiding a production. The scale: "a must-see," "recommended," "not for everyone," "for diehard fans only" and "stay far, far away." As examples: In the reviews in the preceeding post, both "Gypsy" and "Sunday" would have been must-sees and "The Country Girl" an unfortunate "for diehard fans only."

Top Girls
Warning: Viewers of MTC's revival of Caryl Churchill's opus on the havoc capitalism ravages on the feminine mystique, might go through several stages: confusion, denial, acceptance and disappointment -- if they last long enough. I haven't seen a mass exodus of audience members as I did during my preview performance since that Earth, Wind and Fire musical nightmare. And it's a pity, because "Top Girls" actually is a brilliant work that had me thinking about it for days. So whose fault is it? The audience? Or this production, directed by James Macdonald? Upon reflection, I'd have to say a little bit of both. The first scene, in which a recently promoted career gal Marlene (Elizabeth Marvel), in fantasy, toasts her success with a bevy of semi-historical and literary figures, is meaty but confusing with continuous crosstalk and initial vagueness to whom these characters actually are. Yes, this three-hour marathon requires a little work in return from the audience, and many were more interested in catching the early train out of Penn Station. Still, while the cast, particularly Marvel and Marisa Tomei, are mostly stellar, Macdonald makes some confusing choices, largely switching around the traditional double-casting between the first-act characters and the real-life people in Marlene's life. Verdict: Not for everyone.

More history lesson than theatrical work, George Stevens Jr.'s maiden voyage into writing for the stage could have been deadly dull in the wrong hands. Fortunately, he tagged Laurence Fishburne to bring the story of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to life. There's not much of a conceit around the piece: Marshall walks into a vague lecture hall-type setting and tells his life story from beginning to end. That's it. But it's an interesting and worthwhile story, and Fishburne tells it well. Perhaps its time to retire that old canard about an actor who can make reading the phone book exciting. Fishburne does it for what's almost a Wikipedia entry, although fortunately, Stevens peppers it with enough anecdotes to elevate it above that level. In front of me, when I saw, was a mesmerized boy of about 14 or so. Perhaps that's a stronger commendation than I could ever give on here. Verdict: Recommended.

A Catered Affair
This catered affair should have come with strong coffee. "A Catered Affair," Harvey Fierstein's new musical about a struggling Bronx momma determined to give her daughter the wedding of her dreams whether she wants it or not, is marvelously acted but so low-key that it can at times be coma-inducing. Faith Prince, as the mother Aggie, is heart-wrenching and doing her best work in years, and Tom Wopat, as her unassuming husband, provides one of the few truly cathartic moments with his song, "I Stayed." Oddly enough, Fierstein's own character, "confirmed bachelor" Uncle Winston, is the most awkwardly written, cloaked in anachronistic righteous indignation about his own aloof placing in the family unit. Verdict: Not for everyone.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Review roundup

The Country Girl
Much ink already has been spilled--largely by the New York Post's Michael Riedel--about the behind-the-scenes troubles with this starry revival of Clifford Odets'...well, it's hard to say masterpiece, since he himself referred to it as a superficial work. But brushing all that aside, and keeping in mind that the performance I saw was an early preview, my verdict is that this revival, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher, is not a disaster. Merely a disappointment. Freeman, no stranger to the stage, just seems ill-at-ease as washed up, alcoholic actor Frank Elgin. The telling moment happens early on, when Elgin is brought in by director Bernie Dodd (Gallagher, back in full Sky Masterson mode here) to wow the show's writer and producer. Unable to read well from the script, Dodd encourages Elgin to improvise. Unfortunately, the audience never gets that wow factor the writer and producer are supposed to see. From there, it all gets a little unintentionally meta. Dodd is waiting for that spectacular performance from Elgin why we wait for the same from Freeman. But all we see is a competent, never thrilling, performance. The McDormand/Gallagher scenes sizzle a little more, but without a strong core, it's not enough. An integral scene also was cut out of the performance I saw, although it has since been restored. Best wishes to the cast and crew to get this together before opening, but sad to say it had a long way to go upon my viewing.

I posted my thoughts on this show following the first preview at City Center last summer, and although much of what I said still holds, time has only made it better. Among the improvements: Tony Yazbeck's scene as Tulsa, always my least favorite in the show, is actually enthralling now. Patti LuPone has a better wig. Oh, and her performance, thrilling at City Center, has blossomed even further: frightening, sexual and raw, single-minded force. Also even better is Leigh Ann Larkin, so at the end of her rope as frustrated Dainty June that "If Momma Was Married"

Sunday in the Park with George
Attention all producers looking to land helicopters onstage or fly cars over the audience: It is quite possible to use modern technology to create stunning visuals that add heart, not spectacle. From George's (Daniel Evans) first stroke to the creation of the act-closing tableau, Sam Buntrock's London transfer, now presented by Roundabout at Studio 54, is an exercise in dazzling understatement. Critics already have given the leads (Jenna Russell is the dual role of Dot and Marie) who came across the Atlantic with the show, but the supporting ensemble are equally strong, particularly Mary Beth Peil as George's snooty and aloof mother and Jessica Molaskey as the silently suffering wife of George's artist acquaintance, the alter ego to what a weaker Dot would have become. Between this, Gypsy and South Pacific, It's going to be a tough race for best revival this year.

Monday, April 21, 2008

State of the blog

I've had this blog for about a year and a half now. When I first started, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. But I've done it long enough now that I know what I like to do -- and, thanks to StatCounter, I know what people are more likely to read. So, with that in mind, I think it's time to finally give this blog an official structure.

My intentions are now to post semi-weekly, keeping theatre reviews on the weekend and kind of a weekly column-type posting during the week. I much prefer the long-form of writing, and I've determined that -- by and large -- my autobiography is just not interesting enough to sustain a blog!

I work much better under regular deadlines, even false deadlines, so with luck, a regular schedule will keep me posting much more regularly, too.

So, I'll be back in a few days to catch up on some more reviews, then perhaps even more reviews this weekend (I'll be checking in on the folks in Texas this weekend). Then, after that, I'll start the regular schedule. So thanks to those who've stuck with me!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review roundup

It's been a while, so I have a lot of reviews to catch up on!

South Pacific
One doesn't have to be a cockeyed optimist to think, going into this revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, not seen on Broadway in more than six decades, that it would be lovely. Just the promise of the now-too-rare full orchestra playing the overture is enough to guarantee that. Fortunately, Lincoln Center's revival, headed by Bartlett Sher, is much more than that. Great leads: Just try to resist that lump in the throat while Paulo Szot sings "This Nearly Was Mine," and Kelli O'Hara is wonderfully understated as self-described hick Nellie Forbush. Even greater supporting cast: Danny Burstein seems to channel a wacky Hanna-Barbera sidekick--in a good way--to his Luther Billis, and Loretta Ables Sayre makes a smashing debut as the ambitious Bloody Mary. Sure, the show is dated, drags in quite a few places and is almost ridiculous in the number of reprises. Still, this revival is no dusty time capsule. Without any attempts of updating or misguided parallels to the present, the piece itself remains relevant, particularly in a time when nightly news reminds us just how many people are still "carefully taught."

The Four of Us
Playwright Itamar Moses certainly found a way to shut me up. I had a couple of key criticisms about his latest, "The Four of Us," now being put on by Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage II, and in a sudden, last-minute postmodern moment, he had his actors make those exact criticisms for me. Touche, Mr. Moses! It might beg the question of why you didn't just fix them, but no matter. In all, "The Four of Us" is an enjoyable if sometimes pedantic of two budding writers, one finding sudden success and the other finding sudden jealousy. Gideon Banner and Michael Esper are winning as the two writers playing out the non-chronological vignettes that shape the writers' imbalanced friendship. And scenic designer David Zinn makes great use of the small stage space, with an Alice-In-Wonderland-like wall of doors that open to reveal small set pieces to indicate different locales.

That's right, I wrote out the title. The curse seems to have lost its charm, because this production of Shakespeare's most accessible yet trickiest tragedy is actually -- gasp -- good. Director Rupert Goold moves the action to an underground bunker in a decidedly Russian setting, although all references to Scotland remain intact. Patrick Stewart is equal parts tortured, terrifying and pathetic as the power-hungry anti-hero. Kate Fleetwood makes a dazzling debut as his lady, a steely, sexy devil-on-the-shoulder. And special standout honors go to Tim Treloar, who manages to flesh out the amorphous character of Ross into something memorable. Yeah, there are a few odd choices. Like why does Banquo get up and walk offstage after he is murdered? And do we really need to see the porter urinate into the sink? But overall, it's a production well-deserving of the critical praise it has received.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Closing the book and sticking it on the top shelf

Lest I turn into an all-Jay-Leno blog, I should mention that he has apologized for the remarks to Ryan Phillippe. Per People, Leno said:

In talking about Ryan's first role, I realize that what I said came out wrong. I certainly didn't mean any malice. I agree it was a dumb thing to say, and I apologize.

Not exactly contrition, but it's something. No more of this. I promise.

Also, I've never really gotten why People magazine always identifies everyone by age. Always, says Mike, 24. (gotta practice now before D-Day in August)

Monday, March 31, 2008

The new facebook

Little did I know as I was composing my post on Jay Leno the other day that others--fortunately, people with infintely more blogging clout--had the same idea. Behold: a panoply of gayest looks. I'm one of the many and least creative Mikes on there. Big kudos to Melissa McEwan, Dan Savage and, of course, Jeff Whitty for putting this together.

Oh, and a special note to Chad on there: You're cute. Call me!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spontaneity and Diligent Pre-Planning

Back when I lived in Atlantic City, I spent as few weekends actually in the area as possible, usually finding my way to New York or Philadelphia for better times. So imagine my surprise this weekend when, only a few hours after waking up and not really knowing what I was going to be doing for the day, I found myself in a car on the way to Atlantic City. Yes, thanks to the wonderful devil-on-the-shoulder whisperings of a great friend, I made my first trip back into South Jersey since I was a resident there.

I didn't win anything, of course, but it's nice to get away every once in a while and also nice to see some of the changes made to the area for the better. The Boardwalk, at least the key sections of it, looks much improved since I was last there about two years ago. And those tacky elephants in front of Trump Taj Mahal are mostly gone! Also, it was strangely cathartic to do the trip I'd done so many times in reverse, having the late-night drive home be toward, not away from, the city I love.

Also of note this weekend was a great blogger meetup in Midtown, smartly organized by Esther of Gratuitous Violins. It was great to meet Esther and Steve of Steve On Broadway, along with a huge number of theatre-focused bloggers with whom I was not familiar, and I look forward to exploring their sites. Lots of great theatre chat at the table, or rasping in my case, since I have virtually no voice left thanks to a persistent cold. Here's hoping it becomes a regular thing!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Solidarity forever: MY gayest face

At the very moment last night when I was typing about some of the more egregious homophobes on our nation's public platform, Jay Leno apparently was giving them more ammo on "The Tonight Show."

I haven't made a habit of watching the obsequious Leno in years, so I'll let the brilliant Jeff Whitty recap the show (complete with clip). But basically, Leno used an appearance by Ryan Phillippe to spend several minutes teasing him about playing a gay character on a soap opera 12 years ago, at one point asking to turn to a camera and make "his gayest face." Whitty called out Leno a while back about his jaw-droppingly offensive, straight-from-the-70s "Brokeback Mountain" jokes, drawing from dated gay stereotypes.

See, I don't think Leno is homophobic in the least. From all accounts of comedians who know him, he is a genuinely nice guy to all. He does a lot for charity, and unlike a lot of his fellow late-night hosts, he still does comedy shows. It's just that Leno's comedy--as well as that of the tonight show writers--hasn't exactly evolved much in the past 20 years or so.

I saw Leno live in Atlantic City a few years ago. The material, for the most part, was pretty much like a "Tonight Show" monologue: a few chuckles here and there, but mostly easy jokes about easy targets, like Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, Bill Clinton and President Bush. He even had a long bit about the problems his parents have working a VCR. Yes, this was 2004, and he was making VCR jokes, and not even jokes about how hard it was to program a VCR. Just how difficult it was for his parents to use the fast-forward and rewind functions.

So, rewind back to when those sorts of jokes were relevant--this predates even Phillippe's soap appearance, by the way--and "having to play an icky gay guy" jokes are, well, no less offensive, but a little less anachronistic. Remember, that was a time when gay representation on television was mostly the old friend with AIDS who showed up to visit the Sugarbakers or that guy planning Dorothy Zbornak's wedding.

In other words, I don't think Leno was being purposefully hateful like those folks I linked to yesterday. Just lazy and predictable. Who knows? Perhaps he thought showing that old Phillippe jeans ad was his penance to the gays. I think I'll thank him just as Whitty did -- by showing MY gayest face.

Anyone care to join me?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

March madness

Jeez, was Danny Noriega's American Idol appearance that offensive? WorldNetDaily columnists have been in a homo-hating frenzy lately. Yesterday, the increasingly self-parodying Chuck Norris pined for the good old days, when people could chop off the nuts of sodomites. Janet Folger whines that anyone had the nerve to say anything bad about disgusting Oklahoma representative Sally Kern--who thinks her apparently non-existant hairdresser is a bigger threat than Osama--and orgasms to the thought of fags dropping dead. Crusty dotard Les Kinsolving wrote something I'm not going to link to or even read about a bisexual bishop. This all on the heels of the Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg's call to deport all gays and lesbians.

But no one beats the unhinged rantings of Olivia St. John. Yeah, I thought that was a General Hospital character who got killed off ages ago, too. No, but sadly, this Olivia St. John is a spiteful homeschool advocate who, in the course of one column, manages to turn back the clock 60 years to the belief that all homos are shady men in the bushes waiting to grab little Timmy on his way home from school.

When will these people ever have the nuts -- the ones not cut off by Chuck Norris, I guess -- to just come out and say what they believe? They want all gay people dead. Executed. The end. They cloak it in some nonsense about Christian compassion, but there is no compassion in their words. They never call for any sort of reasoned debate, just hysterics backed up by tainted research. When people are murdered--like the poor gay kid in California who was shot dead by a bully at school--they don't have a damn thing to say, probably because they're quietly rejoicing.

So go ahead, Olivia St. John. Pull your kids out of school. Keep them away from the homos and the darkies and whoever the hell else frightens your insular worldview. In a few decades, you'll be your own little isolated island of bile while the rest of the world moves on, the Ruby Ridge of the future. We'll still send the garbage trucks and water lines your way. But none of us will talk to you.