the occasional thoughts of a theater fan
The 2013 Tony Award nominations have been announced, and I readily admit to clapping with glee over several, and frowning over others. With the exception of one play, The Other Place, I saw every single nominated production as well as all of those that were eligible but not nominated. I enjoyed this past season a great deal, and one big takeaway from today's nominations is the wonderful diversity represented. There really are shows for everyone running on Broadway; so for someone with extremely eclectic taste (like me :)), that's great news. This year, in particular, "family fare" is well-represented among the nominees: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, Bring It On, Pippin, Matilda, Kinky Boots, A Christmas Story The Musical and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (all but Bring It On, A Christmas Story The Musical and The Mystery of Edwin Drood are still running).
For the most part I don't take issue with too many of the decisions. I thoroughly enjoyed the much-nominated Kinky Boots, Pippin and Matilda. They are each crowd-pleasing, and feature extraordinary performances among the casts. In fact, one of my favorite nominations of all announced today, is the one received by Annaleigh Ashford, for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in Kinky Boots. The night I saw Kinky Boots, she literally stopped the show with her number! But she's in a tough category with Andrea Martin (also in a show-stopping number in Pippin) and Keala Settle for Hands on a Hardbody. Keala was definitely my favorite part of that show, and she richly deserves the recognition (she was also a scene-stealer in Priscilla Queen of the Desert).
The Tony Awards Administration Committee made the, perhaps controversial, decision that the new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, originally written and produced for television (starring Julie Andrews) in 1957, would be eligible in the category of revivals, rather than as a new musical (it has now received a nomination in the revival category). They apparently based the decision on the rules regarding shows that may be new to Broadway, but are otherwise an incarnation of a production well-known to audiences. However, in my opinion having seen the show, the fact that it has a new book (by the nominated Douglas Carter Beane), and has never been produced with this music on Broadway before, would classify it as a new musical.
The other much-debated Tony Awards Committee decision regarding eligibility had to do with the four young actresses sharing the title role in Matilda The Musical (each performs twice a week). They were ruled not eligible in the lead actress category, but will receive a special award to honor their achievement. However, Lilla Crawford, who has sole responsibility for the title role in Annie, and plays 6-8 performances a week herself, had to compete against the adult actresses in the leading category, did not receive a nomination, and will not receive any special recognition either. Personally, although she does give an excellent performance, I would not have nominated Lilla either (I actually preferred her understudy, having seen both), but I also wouldn't give the Matilda actresses a special honor.
I am also particularly pleased with the nominations of Tom Sturridge for his heartbreaking performance as a vulnerable, mentally challenged young man in Orphans; Stark Sands for Kinky Boots; and Cicely Tyson and Condola Rashad for The Trip to Bountiful (their scenes together were especially lovely).
And as much as I adored the performances of Ryann Redmond and Gregory Haney in Bring It On, I truly enjoyed Chaplin much more, and would have given Chaplin a nod for Best Musical. Rob McClure was nominated for his performance as Charlie Chaplin though, so all was not lost. Truth be told, I also preferred Hands on a Hardbody to Bring It On (and to Motown the Musical as mentioned above).
In the category of plays, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which I saw at Lincoln Center before its Broadway transfer, is exactly the kind of play I love to see nominated. The cast is superb; it's one of those stories that manages to be both hilarious and soulful; and it was creatively staged. David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen, each nominated for their performances, were brilliant together as bickering siblings; and Shalita Grant was utterly delightful as the voodoo-happy housekeeper who somehow manages to manage them. I also so enjoyed the fascinating story and great production of The Assembled Parties, and am happy that Judith Light was recognized. Although I would also have nominated her fellow cast member, Jessica Hecht, who was breathtaking in her role.
And I have to give a big shout out to the entire production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was just a wonderful experience; and having seen it three times with different companions of varying ages, I can honestly say it was the most fun I had on Broadway all season (Stephanie J. Block so deserves her nomination). Likewise, the multiple nominations for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which I saw at Arena Stage with the same cast before it moved to Broadway, make me happy. Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Carrie Coon were each outstanding, and I'm thrilled that they have been nominated!
So although I am mostly at peace with the nominations as they stand, there are a few nominations I think were missed given the nominations that were actually made. As always, my opinions are just those of an audience member. I have no "credentials" other than my love of theater! Here are the ones I would have added (or replaced):
For Best Musical: Chaplin; Hands on a Hardbody
For Best Play: Grace
For Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical: Matthew Thomas for Pippin
For Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (but this is a really crowded category already): Ryann Redmond for Bring It On; Rachel Bay Jones for Pippin
For Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Play: Fiona Shaw for The Testament of Mary; Bette Midler for I'll Eat You Last
For Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Play: Alan Cumming for Macbeth
For Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Beowulf Borritt for Chaplin
For Best Costume Design of a Musical: William Ivey Long for The Mystery of Edwin Drood
For Best Orchestrations: Larry Hochman for Pippin
There's also been lots of buzzing about the "big name stars" who made high profile runs on Broadway this past season, but failed to score nominations. The list includes Scarlett Johansson (Cat On a Hot Tin Roof), Al Pacino (Glengarry Glen Ross), Bette Midler (I'll Eat You Last), Alec Baldwin (Orphans) and Katie Holmes (Dead Accounts). Of those, I probably would have given a nomination to Bette (see above). I saw I'll Eat You Last twice, and each time she held court on stage, by herself without ever seeming to lose the audience, and without taking her butt off the couch until the final 5 minutes. Tom Hanks did receive the nomination for his performance in Lucky Guy; and he deserves it especially for having amazing chemistry with anyone and everyone with whom he shares the stage.
However, despite the well-known, marquee-ready names not being nominated, I thought most gave admirable performances that I enjoyed a great deal. It is certainly satisfying that almost every acting nomination went to actors primarily working in theater, but a great performance is a great performance and, as an audience member, I don't begrudge a well-known star the part or the nomination if they give a deserving performance. My experience is that the recognizable name in a show may make permanent theater fans of new audience members drawn in by the "name;" those new fans might then see more theater down the road, while also becoming fans of the actors whose names and faces they didn't know beforehand.
By the way, one of my favorite categories this year is Best Lighting Design of a Musical, in which 3 of the 4 nominees are, in fact, the same person: Kenneth Posner for Kinky Boots, Pippin and Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. The fourth nominee is Hugh Vanstone for Matilda The Musical, and I think he'll give Mr. Posner a run for his money-the lighting in Matilda was amazing!
In the end, I'm thrilled for all the nominees and can't wait for the awards ceremony! TonyAwards.com offers a viewer's guide section, and a printable ballot so that you can play along. CBS will telecast the awards from Radio City Music Hall, Sunday evening, June 9 at 8:00/7:00 central.