...but I play one every time I fill out one of those "just for fun" ballots (as in the "official" printable ballot from tonyawards.com shown left). And it's a good thing for my stress levels that I am not a Tony voter in real life, because it's nearly impossible to choose one, or even two, winner(s) in some of these categories. I've had the great pleasure of seeing every single one of the nominated shows, all but one of the nominated performances, and most of those that weren't nominated. Sure, there are some categories where I can narrow it down more easily than in others; but it's uniformly painful in most of them.
So, I'm going to rank the nominees in each category, from my favorites on down, relative to each other (not to everything I saw), based on how much I enjoyed the show, performance or creative work.
Let me also go on record as pleading for an award for Best Ensemble Cast. This season, I'd give it to the marvelous cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, hands down. I saw the show multiple times with varying endings, different companions and both early and late in the run. Each and every time, this cast worked miraculously well together, and I enjoyed all of the performances equally. From the most minor of roles to the leads, each performer added a critical piece of the puzzle. So, here's my personal "StageElf Award" to the cast of Edwin Droooood :).
On to the actual categories:
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike/Author: Christopher Durang
The Testament of Mary/Author: Colm Tóibín
Lucky Guy/Author: Nora Ephron
The Assembled Parties/Author: Richard Greenberg
The problem with this category is that each one of these plays is so completely different from the other, and I enjoyed each so much. In terms of impact on me as an audience member though, Vanya & Testament packed the most punch in vastly different ways~Vanya had me roaring with laughter; Testament stunned me into silence. For those reasons, they get the top two spots.
Matilda The Musical
A Christmas Story, The Musical
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
Bring It On: The Musical
This is one category where I would have nominated Chaplin instead of Bring It On. If Chaplin was in the mix, I'd rank it third behind Matilda. As it stands, Kinky Boots and Matilda are nearly tied, but I give the edge to Kinky Boots because I think it has a smidge more heart.
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Matilda The Musical/Dennis Kelly
A Christmas Story, The Musical/Joseph Robinette
Kinky Boots/Harvey Fierstein
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella/Douglas Carter Beane
While I certainly enjoyed each of the stories in the nominated shows, I thought Matilda was the most cohesive and well-integrated book. I would have put Kinky Boots in first or second place, but I thought there was a bit of a character arc issue with the character of Charlie. Also, I applaud Douglas Carter Beane for updating the classic Cinderella story, and especially liked what he did with the characters of the stepsisters, but it was all a bit muddled for my taste.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE
Kinky Boots/Music & Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper
Matilda The Musical/Music & Lyrics: Tim Minchin
A Christmas Story, The Musical/Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Hands on a Hardbody/Music: Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green Lyrics: Amanda Green
This was not a hard category for me. I think the score to Kinky Boots is its ace in the hole (especially as performed by Billy Porter, Stark Sands & Annaleigh Ashford). From the opening strains of "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World" to the rousing "Raise You Up" at the close, I loved this score. A shout out is also deserved by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green for a score that was perfectly suited to the Texas setting of "Hands on a Hardbody," and didn't sound like any other musical (in a good way!).
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Trip to Bountiful
Easy choices for me for the top two and bottom two; more difficult between the top two. Virginia Woolf gets my top slot because of the complexity and challenges in the story and the characters. It was emotionally wrenching for me to watch, and that's a compliment.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
This was the most obvious category to me because I think the revival of Pippin is just brilliant. That said, Edwin Drood was a really close second! Cinderella and Annie are both great fun, but there's a wide gap for me between the top two and third place.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Tom Hanks/Lucky Guy
David Hyde Pierce/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Nathan Lane/The Nance
Tracy Letts/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
If Best Revival of a Musical was my easiest ranking to do, this was one of my most difficult. Each one of these actors, particularly the top four, were my favorite parts of their shows; and each one of these actors is well-deserving. The best I can do is rank them this way. I would be especially thrilled if Tom Sturridge were to win; he was breathtaking in an otherwise flawed production. The missing piece in this category is a nomination for Alan Cumming for his bravura performance in Macbeth.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Cicely Tyson/The Trip to Bountiful
Kristine Nielsen/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Amy Morton/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Laurie Metcalf/The Other Place
To be fair, this was the only category in which I did not see every performance (I did not see Laurie Metcalf). However, the top three are an embarrassment of riches on their own; and Amy Morton was also amazing. I'm putting Cicely Tyson at the top, because she owned that stage with her fragile presence. And Kristine Nielsen was convulsively funny in her performance, so she's next. But Holland Taylor's Ann Richards is a revelation, and I would call it a draw between her and Kristine Nielsen for the second spot.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Billy Porter/Kinky Boots
Bertie Carvel/Matilda The Musical
Stark Sands/Kinky Boots
Santino Fontana/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
This was a tough one, because Rob McClure was truly amazing as Charlie Chaplin, and I have a really soft spot in my heart for his performance. I'm giving the edge to Billy Porter because of the challenges inherent in the duality of his character. And I loved Stark Sands, but I'd put Bertie Carvel ahead of him based on the physically demanding part that Bertie Carvel plays.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Stephanie J. Block/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Laura Osnes/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Valisia LeKae/Motown The Musical
Easy, easy, easy. As much as I adored Stephanie J. Block's performance, Patina Miller just oozes her performance out of every pore. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of Patina's performance in Sister Act; I liked her more in the Kander & Ebb revue at The Kennedy Center last season. But this role showcases her spectacular talents perfectly! Her mastery of the Bob Fosse-inspired movement, and her edginess as Pippin's "guide," are deliciously wonderful. Laura Osnes was also a perfect Cinderella, by the way :).
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Richard Kind/The Big Knife
Courtney B. Vance/Lucky Guy
Danny Burstein/Golden Boy
Billy Magnussen/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tony Shalhoub/Golden Boy
My heart is with Richard Kind in this category, but I'd call it a draw between him and Courtney B. Vance, who has perfect chemistry with Tom Hanks, and was my second favorite part of Lucky Guy. I know the popular choice here is Billy Magnussen, and I did really enjoy his performance. But in context, the others made more of an impact on me.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Judith Light/The Assembled Parties
Shalita Grant/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Carrie Coon/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Judith Ivey/The Heiress
Condola Rashad/The Trip to Bountiful
I loved all of these women in their roles almost more than I can say. If I must choose at all, I would call it a tie for me between the top two. Shalita Grant gave a hilarious and inspired performance as the wise-cracking, voodoo-happy housekeeper, and Judith Light was just all heart with a biting wit. I put Condola Rashad last in this category solely because of the nature of the part itself; she amazes me each time I've seen her on stage.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Charl Brown/Motown The Musical
Gabriel Ebert/Matilda The Musical
Keith Carradine/Hands on a Hardbody
Will Chase/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
I just adored Terrence Mann as Pippin's father, King Charlemagne. He is fearless in his physical comedy, and somehow manages to be likable, despite his fairly despicable nature. Charl Brown was one of my favorite parts of Motown, so I'd put him next, but the other three actors all gave memorable performances that I thoroughly enjoyed. Any of them would deserve the win.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Annaleigh Ashford/Kinky Boots
Keala Settle/Hands on a Hardbody
Lauren Ward/Matilda The Musical
Victoria Clark/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Hardest category, by far, for me in terms of the top three. I absolutely adored Annaleigh Ashford and Keala Settle for their comically heart-felt performances. But Andrea Martin has stolen the show in her one major scene every time I've seen Pippin from Boston to Broadway. Also Lauren Ward was so charming as Matilda's heroine, her performance makes the category even more difficult.
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Nicholas Martin/Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Pam MacKinnon/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Bartlett Sher/Golden Boy
George C. Wolfe/Lucky Guy
Of the nominated plays, Vanya was the most unique of them, effectively combining hilarity and angst, and therefore my pick in this category. But it's hard not to root for Virginia Woolf, which was immensely powerful. I'd be satisfied with either one.
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Matthew Warchus/Matilda The Musical
Scott Ellis/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Jerry Mitchell/Kinky Boots
No question in my mind that Diane Paulus should get this award. Her vision of the Pippin we would enjoy 40 years after it first ran, is truly brilliant. Loved all of these shows, but Pippin is the best example of what great direction can produce.
Peter Darling/Matilda The Musical
Jerry Mitchell/Kinky Boots
Andy Blankenbuehler/Bring It On: The Musical
For his celebration of the original Bob Fosse choreography, and its vital importance to the look and feel of Pippin, Chet Walker is my number one in this category.
Chris Nightingale/Matilda The Musical
Danny Troob/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Stephen Oremus/Kinky Boots
Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook/Motown The Musical
I'm probably not the best judge in this category, as I'm not well versed in distinguishing the orchestrations from my general opinion of the score as a whole. With that caveat, my sense is that Matilda had the richest sound.
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
John Lee Beatty/The Nance
Santo Loquasto/The Assembled Parties
Michael Yeargan/Golden Boy
David Rockwell/Lucky Guy
I very much liked the sets for both The Nance and The Assembled Parties. They were each elaborate and evocative. Golden Boy also had a lovely set, but the detail of the other two shows give them the edge in my memory.
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Rob Howell/Matilda The Musical
Anna Louizos/The Mystery of Edwin Drood
David Rockwell/Kinky Boots
This category is both hard and easy. Easy to pick my favorite, Matilda, because my jaw dropped when I entered the theater for the show, and the pleasure I got from the rich and whimsical set has stayed with me for months. The other three are much harder to rank, and I'm calling it a three-way tie for second place.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Ann Roth/The Nance
Soutra Gilmour/Cyrano de Bergerac
Albert Wolsky/The Heiress
Catherine Zuber/Golden Boy
I honestly don't really have a standout in this category. I liked all of the top three equally well; and Golden Boy did have a wonderful look as well. They are all period shows, so the costumes did contribute to the overall impact of the story in each case, and I thought all were successful.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
William Ivey Long/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Gregg Barnes/Kinky Boots
Rob Howell/Matilda The Musical
This is a tough one for me because, while the costume design of Cinderella had to do double duty as part of the action as well (rags to ballgown anyone? :)) and for that reason I'm putting it at the top, there were lots of things about the costumes for that show for which I didn't care much. Kinky Boots is very cleverly designed as to the costumes, and the signature boots are a winner for sure. But the missing nominee for me is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I would have put just behind Cinderella.
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer/Lucky Guy
Jennifer Tipton/The Testament of Mary
Japhy Weideman/The Nance
Donald Holder/Golden Boy
The lighting in Lucky Guy was memorable for me in large part because it served to distinguish the multiple locations, simultaneous action, and had the right harshness for the subject matter of a tabloid newsroom. Testament is a very close second~the haunting light throughout the show was so effective at keeping the audience in the twilight of our minds.
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Hugh Vanstone/Matilda The Musical
Kenneth Posner/Kinky Boots
Kenneth Posner/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Yes indeed, I'm going to pick the lone not-Kenneth Posner nominee :). As with the set design above, the lighting in Matilda was just magical and memorable. The other three were great, but none as special as Matilda.
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
John Gromada/The Trip to Bountiful
Mel Mercier/The Testament of Mary
Leon Rothenberg/The Nance
Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg/Golden Boy
This was a fairly clear choice for me. The poignantly meaningful birdsong of home, contrasting with the city noise of a certain despair, was so well done in Bountiful.
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm/Pippin
John Shivers/Kinky Boots
Nevin Steinberg/Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Peter Hylenski/Motown The Musical
By contrast with the Sound Design of a Play category, there isn't really one of these nominees that I could pick as way above the others. Pippin gets the nod because of the humor I sensed in some of the choices for the sounds.
So there you have it. Not the ones I think will win; just my thoughts on how I felt about the nominees. Enjoy the show on Sunday night, Jun 9 at 8pm on CBS!!
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.