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Monday, June 02, 2008

 

Stage Addiction: 2008 Tony Winner Predictions

With the Tony Awards approaching fast (on June 15th), industry speculation is at its high point of the year...ballots are filled out, boasts are being made, and armchair handicapping is the talk of the town. And who are we not to participate? Modern Fabulousity has been following the blogs (most notably Steve's Best of the Season articles, which have been stupendous) and avoiding the chat rooms, keeping out ears open for backroom discussions up and down the rialto. Here's what we hear, and what we think, and what we wish, for the 2008 Tonys. Enjoy!

BEST PLAY
August: Osage County Will Win/Should Win
Rock 'N' Roll
The Seafarer
The 39 Steps

Feel free to turn off your television at the end of the night if this is the last award, because it would be a minor miracle for August to lose. It's won every precursor honor there is. But more importantly, it is that rare, once-in-a-decade play that deserves to become a classic. There hasn't been an American play this necessary, this vital, this essential since Angels in America.

BEST MUSICAL
Cry-Baby
In The Heights
Passing Strange Will Win/Should Win
Xanadu

A lot tighter than the race for Best Play, with In The Heights a more populist and tour-friendly choice. (As we all know, these things matter to Tony voters...Tonys affect business on the road, not business in New York.) But as wonderfully charming as Heights is, it's lightweight. That problem also exists for Xanadu and Cry-Baby. But Passing Strange, on the other hand, is an satisfying and deeply-felt experience, rich and remarkable for a telling a story not often seen on Broadway. I'm hoping (and guessing) that Tony will recognize that.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Boeing-Boeing Will Win
The Homecoming Should Win
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Macbeth

Let's talk practicalities here. The Tonys are Broadway's marketing tool, to sell tickets. But they only really work for that purpose when a show is still open. And that means that the widely-held best show in the bunch, The Homecoming, is probably out of the running. Macbeth has just closed as well. Liaisons is a well-regarded revival, but is scheduled to close on the July 4th weekend. Does this mean it's a given that Boeing-Boeing will win? No, of course not. But of the four nominees, it has a lot going for it: it would work best on the road, it's got great word-of-mouth, it is incredibly funny. And it's open.

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Grease
Gypsy
South Pacific Will Win
Sunday in the Park with George Should Win

For the Oscars, there's one simple rule: vote against Meryl Streep at your peril. For the Tonys, a corollary might be: vote against Lincoln Center at your peril. South Pacific left me a bit ambivalent (it's beautiful, but it's soft-pedalled politics made me wonder what the production was for). But it's marvelously executed, and has dominated the Tony gossip in the industry in a way that Gypsy (which I liked more) has not. For me, I'm heartbroken that so many people found the exquisite, forward-thinking revival of Sunday in the Park with George so inscrutable. It broke my heart and lifted me up, exploring the power of art and artists in glorious detail. And it doesn't have a prayer in hell of winning on June 15th.

LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing Should Win
Rufus Sewell, Rock 'N' Roll
Patrick Stewart, Macbeth Will Win

The gravity of Shakespeare is always a bonus, and Stewart's rough-hewn interpretation of the Scottish tyrant (and his movie-star aura) is enough to put him over the top for Tony. But if it is true that comedy is more difficult than drama, then the stunning, surprising, remarkable performance by Rylance must take the day. Having seen the competition, in my mind, it's not even close -- Rylance is king.

LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Eve Best, The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County Will Win/Should Win
Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton, August: Osage County

There was a time that I thought this category would be a slam-dunk for Dunagan. I still think she'll pull it out, especially since this season's crop of high-profile female movie stars (Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, etc.) didn't get nominations. But there's cause for concern on three points, in my view. The first is that she'll split votes with Morton among August lovers; the second is Merkerson's genial and well-remembered performance in Sheba. (Merkerson is an awards magnet, too; remember all those Emmys and Golden Globes for the TV adaptation of Lackawanna Blues?) But perhaps most troubling is Eve Best, who has emerged as the best chance voters have to recognize The Homecoming. She was nominated last year (opposite Kevin Spacey in A Moon for the Misbegotten), and she's well-liked inside industry circles. Dunagan has been dutifully working the awards circuit, and I hope hope hope she wins. But Best is in her rearview mirror.

LEAD ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park with George
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights
Stew, Passing Strange
Paulo Szot, South Pacific Will Win
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair Should Win

The buzz on 42nd Street is that Szot has this category in the bag. I'm not upset by that news; he's unquestionably the best thing happening South Pacific. (And he's also smoking hot, which shouldn't affect me, but it does.) I'd be happy for any of these nominees to win, really...I can honestly say I liked them all very much. But the one performance I'll probably remember for years to come is Wopat. It wasn't showy work, or glamorous, or spotlight-grabbing. But his tortured husband and father was a small masterpiece, and having been in the Broadway trenches for two decades, it's time Tony gave him a round of applause.

LEAD ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone, Gypsy Will Win
Kelli O'Hara, South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair Should Win
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park with George

Again, this is a very strong category. And again, it's a foregone conclusion who will win it...if you have a spare $100 to bet on the Tonys, lay it down on LuPone. She was mind-blowing, reaching iconic status this year with a performance that, once and for all, released Ethel Merman's sole claim as the definitive Mama Rose. By a nose, I preferred the misty-eyed stoicism of Prince, whose work in Affair grounded the entire piece and reaffirmed her as one of the theater's most accomplished actresses. But who can be upset at LuPone's win? I can't.

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Bobby Cannavale, Mauritius
Raúl Esparza, The Homecoming Will Win
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Jim Norton, The Seafarer Should Win
David Pittu, Is He Dead?

As I pointed out in my nomination article, this category is unique in that every nominee is from a show that's closed. So that frees voters to simply pick their favorites. Mine was Jim Norton, who was hilariously funny and acridly vindictive in The Seafarer. But with his co-star, Conleth Hill, beating him for the Drama Desk Award, I'm thinking I might be in the minority on Norton. So I think it's down to Pittu, Cannavale and Esparza -- all were well received in their performances. Pittu and Esparza, however, were nominated (and skipped over) last year for LoveMusik and Company, respectively. Esparza is probably more due of the two, but he's less friendly in person and less liked in the industry. Still, I think it's his to lose.

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Sinead Cusack, Rock 'N' Roll
Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf, November
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls Will Win
Rondi Reed, August: Osage County Should Win

Huh. I'm a bit flummoxed here, because I think Cusack was great (in a closed show), Metcalf is great (in a show that has no other nominations), McCormack is great (but has been overpraised), Plimpton is great (in a difficult show for Broadway audiences), and Reed is great (but isn't the brightest star in August's constellation). Based merely on who might have momentum in industry buzz, I'm dismissing Cusack and Metcalf. I liked McCormack, but I don't know if this is Boeing's best shot. Reed was my favorite, but I think Plimpton, who not only stood out in Top Girls but did so in Cymbeline as well (and in Sixteen Wounded a few seasons back) is probably most in need of recognition by the industry. But this category could go many different ways.

FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange Should Win
Danny Burstein, South Pacific
Robin De Jesús, In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald, Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy Will Win

Three-time Tony winner Gaines (Contact, She Loves Me, The Heidi Chronicles) probably should have won a fourth last year for Journey's End. Will he win here, for what many feel is the most nuanced Herbie in Broadway history? If he does, he'll have to overcome Burstein's comic turn in Pacific and Breaker's dramatic turn in Strange. I'm guessing he will be able to do both, despite my love for Breaker's quirky, deceptively difficult performance.

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
de'Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Laura Benanti, Gypsy Will Win/Should Win
Andrea Martin, Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz, In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre, South Pacific

Love Aziza. Love Merediz. Love Sayre. And the Tony goes, willfully and gratefully, to Laura Benanti. No question.

BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Douglas Carter Beane, Xanadu Should Win
Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Cry-Baby
Quiara Alegria Hudes, In The Heights
Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange Will Win

What a toss-up! Start with Cry-Baby, which is not well written but benefits from having two legends in the business at the helm. (Between them, O'Donnell and Meehan are responsible for Annie, The Producers, Hairspray and more.) The book of In The Heights is structurally formulaic but has a Latin overlay that is gorgeous...and written by a young rising star (and Pulitzer semi-finalist) in Hudes. And it's hard to ignore the biographical tale of Stew in Passing Strange, told with brutal self-honesty. But for me, I don't think any book writer came close to Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed), who took an infamous film flop, injected it with camp sensibility, and turned Xanadu into the year's most unlikely must-see. Tony should give credit where credit is due.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights Will Win
Alan Schlesinger and David Javerbaum, Cry-Baby
Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, The Little Mermaid
Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange Should Win
A race between Passing Strange's neo-rock and In The Heights' Latin/rap/Braodway hybrid. My guess? Voters will split the difference, giving Best Musical to Passing Strange and giving this award to Miranda's Heights as a consolation prize. Which is a fine, lovely solution to the thorny problem of having two genre-defying musicals in one season.

DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County Will Win/Should Win
Matthew Warchus, Boeing-Boeing

Although Boeing is a laugh riot and Seafarer was a taught thriller, I think both are more performer showcases than directing triumphs. The 39 Steps has a low-tech cleverness thanks to Aitken, but it was hardly the revelation many championed it as. Add in the desire to crown August: Osage County as both a literary and theatrical triumph, and I think it's an easy choice: Shapiro will become the fifth woman in history to win a directing trophy. (The others, FYI, are Garry Hynes, Julie Taymor, Mary Zimmerman and Susan Stroman.)

DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park with George Should Win
Thomas Kail, In The Heights
Arthur Laurents, Gypsy Will Win
Bartlett Sher, South Pacific

Although the Tony nominators largely passed by the old guard this year in favor of new talents, the actual voters won't make that same decision here. Laurents is a ninety-something legend, and his production of Gypsy was as good as it gets. (And since I hate the man personally -- I worked with him once upon a time -- it takes a lot for me to say that. Evil lives forever.) In my ideal world, the challenging excitement of Sam Buntrock's vision would have found more adherents. But them's the breaks. He's young, he's got plenty of time.

CHOREOGRAPHY
Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby Will Win
Andy Blankenbuehler, In The Heights Should Win
Christopher Gattelli, South Pacific
Dan Knechtges, Xanadu

If Cry-Baby is going to win anything this year, it's going to win here for Ashford's celebrated, energetically retro high-stepping. I didn't see what was so special about it, but perhaps it changed after I saw it. (I went to a preview.) In my view, there was nothing more exciting in dance this year than the modern, hip-hop influenced bounces of In The Heights. I hope it finds some love from the voters.

ORCHESTRATIONS
Jason Carr, Sunday in the Park with George
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman, In The Heights
Stew & Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange Will Win/Should Win
Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair

In a normal year, this would have been a gimme for Tunick, one of the most renowned personages ever in this field. But there has been significant complaining about his limp work on Affair, even going as far as to say that the musical's weak critical reception may be due to him. I think that doubt will remove any encumbrances to Strange's dominance in this category.

SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Todd Rosenthal, August: Osage County Will Win/Should Win
Anthony Ward, Macbeth

The 39 Steps is cutesy, and may garner a few votes...as will the projections of Macbeth and the stilted stylishness of Liaisons. But none of them were as gasp-inducing as the oversized doll house of August.

SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
David Farley, Timothy Bird & Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park with George Will Win/Should Win
Anna Louizos, In The Heights
Robin Wagner, Young Frankenstein
Michael Yeargan, South Pacific

Sunday's computer-generated pointilist painting wasn't just the best set design of 2008, it was the best design on a Broadway stage since The Light in the Piazza three years ago. Stunning. (And an aside to the nominators: Frankenstein? Really? Have you lost your minds?)

COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing Should Win
Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses Will Win
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps

I was charmed completely by the intricate details of Laura Linney's many gowns in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, surprised at how sultry they were. And then I saw Rob Howell have even greater success with much less fabric in Boeing-Boeing. If you've seen Mary McCormack's ass in that tight, swingin'-60's mini, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Perfection.

COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
David Farley, Sunday in the Park with George
Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy Will Win/Should Win
Paul Tazewell, In The Heights
Catherine Zuber, South Pacific

All of these choices are underwhelming, but I think Gypsy's stripper outfits, late in the piece, will carry the day for Pakledinaz.

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps Should Win
Howard Harrison, Macbeth Will Win
Donald Holder, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Ann G. Wrightson, August: Osage County

Macbeth was much more dynamic and powerful, with shadows, flashlights, blinding projections, the works. A less dazzling, if more impressive, effect was achieved in The 39 Steps. I say, Pick That One, Tony Voters.

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Ken Billington, Sunday in the Park with George
Howell Binkley, In The Heights Should Win
Donald Holder, South Pacific Will Win
Natasha Katz, The Little Mermaid

I don't notice lighting as much as I notice other design elements. That said, the only time all season that I said to myself, "Wow, that's really beautiful lighting," was during the second-act opening dawn of In The Heights. For those who know more about it than I do, thought, they'll probably indulge in the lush environs of South Pacific.

SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
Simon Baker, Boeing-Boeing
Adam Cork, Macbeth Will Win
Ian Dickinson, Rock 'N' Roll Should Win
Mic Pool, The 39 Steps

I mean, Jesus, People...it's called rock and roll for a reason.

SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Acme Sound Partners, In The Heights
Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park with George Will Win
Scott Lehrer, South Pacific
Dan Moses Schreier, Gypsy Should Win

In this last category, I think it's pretty much a four-way tie. But I'll say that Pacific is a triumph of the orchestra, not the sound designer. And In The Heights gets occasionally muddy. Gypsy, on the other hand, sounded like a million bucks.

Comments welcome...and share your picks!

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3 Comments:

Blogger par3182 said...

far be it for me to disagree with someone who's actually seen the nominees (or even lives in the same hemisphere as them) but what the hell...

i agree that in the heights and passing strange will split the best musical/best score prizes, but the other way around to your predix

my other different guesses to your "will wins":

actor (play): rylance
featured actor (play): norton
book: xanadu
director (musical): sher
sound (play): 39 steps
sound (musical): south pacific

6/2/08, 2:07 AM  
Blogger Vance said...

Okay, when I first read this I was a little surprised at some choices, but when I wrote down my picks (which I won't post till next week), your influence must have subconsciously ingrained itself because we have quite a few similar picks! esp. the first 5 cats (though I think In the Heights will edge out Passing Strange to win, though PS should win).

6/5/08, 1:33 AM  
Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Hey ModFab, I purposely avoided reading through your "should wins" until after I posted all of mine. We're much closer than I expected we'd be.

6/6/08, 3:30 PM  

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