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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
TONY AWARDS

PLENTY TO CHOOSE FROM
By MATT WINDMAN

  Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti in Once/ Ph: Joan Marcus

In 2011, it was a foregone conclusion that The Book of Mormon and War Horse would win all the major Tony Awards. On the other hand, 2012 offered an unusual amount of healthy and unpredictable competition, even if the awards show itself was less than thrilling.

Most pundits predicted that the rousing Disney musical Newsies, which transferred to Broadway following a successful test run at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, would trounce Once, the Irish rock musical based on the 2006 indie film of the same name. While neither is exactly a commercial juggernaut (they are doing quite well right now), Newsies probably has a bigger future given its family-friendly nature.

But in the end, Once defeated Newsies for the big prize – and ultimately received a whopping eight Tony Awards including Best Actor in a Musical for its leading man Steve Kazee, Best Book for Edna Walsh and Best Direction for John Tiffany. It even received Best Scenic Design, which many had expected would go to Spider-Man for its eye-popping visual displays.

Newsies received merely two awards, including Best Score (which it practically won by default since Once was ineligible in this category) and Best Choreography for Sergio Trujillo’s incredible showmanship and balletic moves.

Once did lack a certain amount of enthusiasm, given the fact that its score is lifted almost entirely from its film version. But its romantic plot, and its very attractive leading actors and even more talented ensemble cast (all of whom play their own instruments), managed to charm enough of the Tony voters to win. Plus, while Newsies is enjoyable, all its new songs are inferior to the ones from the film, and Harvey Fierstein’s new book is rather corny. Many have described Newsies, for better or worse, as Annie with boys.

It was pretty obvious that Bruce Norris’ hilarious and insightful race-relations satire Clybourne Park, which only recently opened and won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama, would take Best Play. But it was a gloriously rich category that also included Jon Robin Baitz’s engaging family drama Other Desert Cities, the imaginative Peter Pan prequel Peter and the Starcatcher and the kinky two-hander Venus in Fur. Not a single one of them was a British import.

One Man, Two Guvnors, which was surprisingly not nominated for Best Play, still pulled an upset in the Best Actor in a Play category, with James Corden, the play’s engaging and excited harlequin-narrator winning over Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gave a brave performance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Andrew Garfield, who played Biff and was a favorite to win Best Supporting Actor in a Play, lost out to Christian Borle for his flamboyant turn in Peter and the Starcatcher. At least Salesman picked up Best Revival of a Play, and Mike Nichols won for his direction.

When it was announced that Corden won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play, you might have noticed a strange, bewildered look from James Earl Jones, who was nominated in the same category for Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. Was he upset at having lost to this much younger British actor? After watching the clip repeatedly, I’ve come to the conclusion that he was probably just confused. He probably expected Seymour Hoffman to win. And when they said “James,” perhaps he thought he won, which must have bewildered him.

The biggest shock of the night was The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess winning Best Revival of a Musical over the Kennedy Center’s smashing revival of Follies. Although Follies closed back in January after a limited run, it had just received an encore run in Los Angeles, which did much to renew interest in it. You can’t help but wonder of the effect of the letter that Stephen Sondheim wrote to The New York Times a year ago criticizing the plans for the Porgy and Bess revival. Did voters take sympathy on the show’s producers, who carried on even after the greatest living composer in the world had denounced their project? Is it merely the fact that Porgy and Bess is still running and has announced plans for a national tour? Or is it simply the bad luck of Follies, which originally lost Best Musical to the far inferior rock musical Two Gentlemen of Verona?

The best decision made by the Tony voters was to give Best Actress in a Play to Nina Arianda, who skyrocketed to fame for her alternatively sexy and hilarious performance in Venus in Fur, over Tracie Bennett, who has been over-praised as a melodramatic Judy Garland in the dreary bio drama The End of the Rainbow. Another rich category, other worthy nominees included Linda Lavin (The Lyons) and Stockard Channing (Other Desert Cities).

Audra McDonald easily won Best Actress in a Musical for her commanding turn in Porgy and Bess – making it her fifth Tony. She has now tied with Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury for the largest number of Tony Awards received by an actor. But Cristin Milioti (Once) was certainly worthy of the award, as was Jan Maxwell (Follies) and Kelli O’Hara (Nice Work if You Can Get It). O’Hara is sure to receive a Tony one of these days, and I hope Milioti and Maxwell eventually win too.

Let’s take a sec to talk about Spider-Man, which received only two Tony nominations in technical categories and didn’t bother to perform at the awards. When I first heard about its silly and stupid Tony Awards publicity stunt – in which anyone named Tony or a variation of Tony was invited to attend for free on Sunday afternoon – I dreaded how this would be publicized later. Two days after the awards, I received a press release touting that the show had received “the most Tonys on Tony Sunday.” Who needs a real Tony Award when you can have 148 people named Tony, Anthony, Antoinette, Antonio and Antonia, including American Idol finalist Anthony Federov? This is certainly reminiscent of legendary producer David Merrick, who once publicized raves from random people with the same names as all the major theater critics. Perhaps film producers will take notice and start inviting people named Oscar to free screenings.


So how was the awards ceremony itself? Pretty disappointing – even more disappointing than its ratings, which sunk to an all-time low. It was sad to see last year’s big winner, The Book of Mormon, imported to open the show. “Hello!” the brilliant opening number of The Book of Mormon, has little movement, so it looked pretty weak on the Beacon Theatre stage. At least it started well, with cast members knocking on the doors of stars like Ricky Martin and James Earl Jones. The inclusion of a number from a cruise line production of Hairspray marked an all-time low in the history of the Tony Awards. It was especially sad

 


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SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


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