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.