...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!!