And the Winner Is…The Tony Awards
By Isa Goldberg
“It has been a wonderful season here in the New York theater.” Harvey Fierstein announced at this year’s annual Drama Desk Awards, as he invoked the highlights, “Sutton Foster is playing an Evangelical. There are nuns at the Broadway Theater. There are Mormons at the O’Neill. Evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics -”
The season’s irreverence rings true even in the titles: “The Motherf**ker With the Hat,” and “The Book of Mormon,” or “Sister Act” for that matter. At the same time, the crowd-pleasing presence of marquee names was more prominent this season than ever before. Actors such as Robin Williams, Daniel Radcliffe, and Chris Rock created the buzz and attracted audiences, although they failed to garner Tony nods. As did their colleagues Ben Stiller, Jim Belushi, Colin Quinn, Kathleen Turner or Patrick Stewart. These omissions from the Tony nominations come as something of a bombshell, especially since theater critics were eliminated from voting on the awards just two seasons ago. With the push for an industry award, the support of the purely commercial seemed inevitable.
Regardless of expectations, however, this year’s Tony nominations reflect integrity and good taste. There are even some challenging surprises. “The Scottsboro Boys,” Kander and Ebb’s musical, based on the 1931 trial of nine black youths accused of raping two white women in Alabama, received an astonishing 12 nominations following on the heels of “The Book of Mormon” with fourteen. Of course, it is widely anticipated that “Mormon” will sweep the Tonys with wins in the major categories: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone), and Best Director (Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker).
Still, I would look for an upset in the category of Best Original Score where Kander and Ebb’s minstrel show musical, “The Scottsboro Boys,” may pick up some Tony fever.
In the category of best musical revival, “Anything Goes” is sure to win, along with its lead actress, Sutton Foster (Best Actress in a Musical), and its director/choreographer, Kathleen Marshall for Best Choreography.
For Laura Benanti’s portrayal of the comically mindless fashion model in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” the prediction for a Best Featured Actress in a Musical win seems indisputable. While favored as Best Featured Actor in a Musical, John Larroquette (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”), faces stiff competition from Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon of “The Scottsboro Boys,” Adam Godley, “Anything Goes,” and Rory O’Malley, “The Book of Mormon,” all of whom were equally terrific!
The award for Best Actor in a Musical is unpredictable. Running in the lead, Tony Sheldon of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” But his competition is fierce: Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells of “The Book of Mormon,” and the superlative Norbert Leo Butz, “Catch Me if You Can,” not to mention Joshua Henry of “The Scottsboro Boys.”
Still, it would take a hot, humid day in Fargo for Frances McDormand to miss nabbing the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. And that is not for a lack of powerful competition that includes Vanessa Redgrave, Lily Rabe, Hannah Yelland, and Nina Arianda in a Broadway debut that is likely to catapult her into a stellar career.
Favored for the Best Actor in a play, Mark Rylance, could face an upset from any one of the contestants, Brian Bedford (“The Importance of Being Earnest”), Bobby Cannavale (“The Motherf**ker With the Hat”), Joe Mantello (“The Normal Heart”), and Al Pacino. My vote goes to Pacino for his brilliant portrayal of the Jewish moneylender in “The Merchant of Venice.”
One of the season’s most memorable performances, Edie Falco in “The House of Blue Leaves” may create an upset for Ellen Barkin. Her portrayal of the polio-ridden AIDS doctor in “The Normal Heart” is considered a shoe in. Similarly, John Benjamin Hickey of “The Normal Heart” is getting the buzz for best supporting actor in a play, but Yul Vazquez terrifically funny role in “The Motherf**ker With the Hat” would be my pick. Without a doubt it’s “Normal Heart” for the year’s Best Revival of a Play.
Finally, “War Horse,” an astonishing piece of theatrical craft, will scoop up wins for Best Director, and Best Scenic Design, and probably even Best Play. In that category my heart goes with “The Motherf**ker With the Hat.”
On that note, hats off to the Tonys for their artful nominations. Watch it live on CBS, Sunday, June 12th at 8:00 p.m.