Tony, Tony, Tony – A Look At This Year’s Tony Awards Race

2015 Tony Award Nominations

Tony, Tony, Tony…

On June 7, the 69th Annual Tony Awards will be presented in a glittering ceremony hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming. As, arguably, the most prestigious award ceremony in the world, the Tonys carry enormous weight. When nominations were announced this year, two shows which received none – Dr Zhivago and Living On Love – posted notices for premature closing. Commercially, then, the Tonys represent real power. Shows which receive Tony Awards see their sales boosted almost always – so producers work hard to garner votes for their productions.

This raises the question, squarely, of whether or not the Tony Awards represent acknowledgement of excellence or whether they acknowledge possible commercial prospects. If you win the Tony for Best Actor, are you getting it because you are the very best actor to tread the boards in the season or are you given that award for reasons related to the commercial viability of the national tour you have agreed to do or the long term prospects of the show you are starring in? When a show like Finding Neverland is snubbed entirely when Tony nominations are announced, do you conclude that there is nothing of artistic value anywhere in the production or do you conclude that those nominating thought that Finding Neverland, part of the Harvey Weinstein machine, needed no Tony to ensure its success?

What conclusion is drawn from the fact that each Tony category can have five nominees, but several categories see less than five nominees? Tony nominations carry their own prestige – what kind of thinking goes into denying that prestige to shows that took the trouble to make their way to the Great White Way and had well-received or very successful seasons?

There are no crystal balls and upsets occur on the night year after year, but what awards should be handed out on June 7? We won’t look at every category, but here are some thoughts and predictions.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time on Broadway

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time

Best Play

The nominations are:

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night

Disgraced

Hand To God

Wolf Hall Parts 1 and 2

It is, to say the least, surprising that Nick Payne’s Constellations was not nominated in this section. The play was well received and sold out. It was nominated in the same category for the Olivier awards in 2013 where it lost out to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night. So, too, that year was Peter Morgan’s The Audience, but that too is not nominated here. Could it be that to nominate either of these would have seen more non-American writers in the category than American writers, a prospect the Tony nominators found unsatisfactory? Perhaps – but that does not explain why Airline Highway did not score a nomination. But possibly it is the kind of realistic working class drama which offends those who think froth and bubble is what is important in awards ceremonies.

This award is for Best Play. It really is surprising still that there are not separate categories for Best Original Play and Best Play Adapted From Another Source. Where an author writes a new, original work, the skills involved are different, very different, from those involved in adapting a film or novel or cartoon or foreign language work for the modern stage. It is well past time that the Tonys recognised that and accounted for it in the Awards process.

It really is ridiculous for an innovative, genre-defying new work such as Hand To God to be in competition in this category with The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night. Simon Stephens has done a terrific job adapting the novel, but there is no getting around the fact that the situation, the characters and the themes are not from his pen – a superb adaptation should not be competing with a superb original play.

Critic’s Choice:   Hand To God

Likely winner:  The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night

An American In Paris on Broadway

An American In Paris

Best Musical

The nominations are:

An American In Paris

Fun Home

Something Rotten!

The Visit

Again, it seems odd that the category is kept to four choices. It Shoulda Been You and The Last Ship were both easily worthy of consideration; one of them ought to have made the final five. The churlish overlooking of Finding Neverland has already been noted.

As with the Best Play category, there ought be a distinction between adaptations and original works. Is it really fair to judge the clever inventiveness of Something Rotten! against the clever adaptation at work in Fun Home?

Musicals raise particular questions. Is the award given for the combination of book, music and lyrics or is it given for the production as a whole, including sets, costumes, orchestration, sound and choreography? Some of these issues arise in relation to plays, but not all of them; musicals are far more often judged in terms of their original production than plays. But is this fair? Or appropriate?

The finalists this year are all worthy contenders. Each has a lot going for it. They are very different in style, which is good for the art form, but hard when it comes to decisions about nominations. Not so much apples and oranges as diamonds and rubies – each sparkles in very different ways.

To my mind, each of Something Rotten! and The Visit have the edge on the other nominees. Both are innovative works, quite startling in their intensity. Both have surprising and inventive books, play with the form of the genre, and have richly rewarding, but very different, scores. One is unabashed fun; one is remarkable in its darkness and complexity. In other years, both would have easily won in this category.

Critic’s Choice:  The Visit

Likely winner:   An American In Paris

Skylight with Bill Night and Carey Mulligan on Broadway

Skylight

Best Revival Of A Play

The nominees are:

The Elephant Man

Skylight

This Is Our Youth

You Can’t Take It With You

Another category with only 4 nominees, in a year where there were two very starry revivals: It’s Only A Play and A Delicate Balance. Either of those revivals could have been in the final five.

This is a category where the production is clearly the focus, not the play. So wonderful productions of mediocre plays can win.

You Can’t Take It With You has nostalgia and star power in its favour, but, although an excellent revival, it does not really deliver the laughs as a Tony winner should. While not much of a play and lumbered with Matthew Broderick’s dull performance, It’s Only A Play still produces near non-stop hilarity and features a clutch of starry, delicious performances.

The Elephant Man is beautifully done and an excellent way to spend an evening in the theatre. There are three ravishing central performances and, although the script is patchy, it still carries emotional power. Comparatively, This Is Our Youth is not in the same class.

Skylight, however, is superbly done in every way. It is intensely British though and that may well count against it.

Critic’s Choice: Skylight

Likely Winner: You Can’t Take It With You.

The King and I on Broadway with Ken Wattanabe and Kelli O'Hara

The King and I

Best Revival Of A Musical

The nominees are:

The King And I

On The Town

On The Twentieth Century

It is simply ridiculous that there are only three nominees in this category. Gigi and Side Show should both be nominated in this category – winning is different from being nominated. Both shows were substantially reworked from their first outings and deserved recognition for those changes and the fresh audiences to which they appealed. Neither should win but both should have been nominated.

It is the skilled work of Kristen Chenoweth and Andy Karl which really propels On The Twentieth Century. The production is excellent, but without those two star turns, it would not seem as stellar as it does.

Both The King and I and On The Town are remarkable revivals, bringing freshness, energy and absolute commitment to very different sorts of musical theatre. Either would be a worthy, deserved winner.

Critic’s Choice:  On The Town

Likely Winner: The King and I

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role In A Play

The nominees are:

Steven Boyer – Hand to God

Bradley Cooper – The Elephant Man

Ben Miles – Wolf Hall Parts 1 and 2

Bill Nighy – Skylight

Alex Sharp – The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night

An excellent line-up of nominees and no quibbles with their selection. All would be worthy winners, for very different reasons.

Bill Nighy’s performance in Skylight is subtle, mature and deeply affecting – it is not the kind of “big deal” performance which appeals to Tony voters. This reflects more on the voters, not on Nighy – the Broadway stage has not seen a better performance by a leading man this year. It has definitely seen showier performances, but not better ones.

Ben Miles is in a similar space to Nighy, and, although the part is showier, it seems unlikely to attract particular attention from Tony voters. Especially in a year when they can ogle Bradley Cooper, see Alex Sharp’s breakout professional debut or marvel at the virtuosity displayed by Steven Boyer and his puppetry prowess. Boyer would be my second choice, but Nighy is in a class of his own.

Critic’s Choice – Bill Nighy

Likely Winner: Alex Sharp

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

The nominees are:

Geneva Carr – Hand To God

Helen Mirren – The Audience

Elisabeth Moss – The Heidi Chronicles

Carey Mulligan – Skylight

Ruth Wilson – Constellations

Excellent nominations all and although it seems unlikely that Geneva Carr, Helen Mirren or Elisabeth Moss should win, their presence in the final five celebrates the variety of work done by remarkable actresses across the stages of Broadway.

It will, however, be interesting. Three of the nominees are English and that may count against them. Mirren is accomplished and popular and although she has won Academy, Golden Globe and Emmy awards, she has never won a Tony. Voters may consider this “her time”.

Both Wilson and Mulligan gave superb, faultless performances. Mulligan has the edge because of the complexity her performance adds to the text; Wilson shines because she easily illuminates a complex and confounding text.

Critic’s Choice: Carey Mulligan

Likely Winner: Helen Mirren

Best Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role In A Musical

The nominees are:

Michael Ceveris – Fun Home

Robert Fairchild –  An American In Paris

Brian d’Arcy James – Something Rotten!

Ken Watanabe – The King and I

Tony Yazbeck –  On The Town

The omission of Corey Cott, who is superb as Gaston in the current revival of Gigi, seems inexcusable until the final list of nominees is seen – it really is a tight, top-class field.

Robert Fairchild and Tony Yazbeck have the starry performances, both of which turn on world-class dancing skills. Brian d’Arcy James is wonderful in Something Rotten! but he is the straight man, not the comic lead; his part is huge but it is not flashy.

Michael Ceveris gives a beautiful, subtle performance in Fun Home, but it is not a role like Sweeney Todd or Hedwig. Again, it is not flashy. By contrast, the role of the King in The King And I is flashy, but Ken Watanabe does not play it that way, sensibly finding a fresher, more realistic way to give life to the titular King.

In the end, one suspects it will be a race between Fairchild and Yazbeck. Yazbeck is the better singer and actor, but Fairchild might have the edge on the dancing, although both mostly dance in different styles.

Critic’s Choice – Tony Yazbeck

Likely Winner – Robert Fairchild

On The Twentieth Century on Broadway

On The Twentieth Century

Best Performance By An Actress In A Musical

The nominees are:

Kristin Chenoweth – On The Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope – An American In Paris
Beth Malone –  Fun Home
Kelli O'Hara – The King and I
Chita Rivera – The Visit

This is, by far, the toughest field this year.

Personally, I can't see either Leanne Cope or Beth Malone winning and I can't imagine there would be terrific support for either to win given the other nominees. Cope is not a superb actress but she is exquisite as a dancer and she makes her part work extremely well. Malone is not the most effective of the three aspects of the central character in a Fun Home and it is more than a little surprising that Lisa Howard was not nominated over her for her powerhouse turn in It Shoulda Been You.

Those matters aside, the other three nominees would easily win this category in most years. Each give faultless, wonderful, and inedible performances. Two recreate great roles; one creates a great role on Broadway, albeit in a piece that has been waiting to come to Broadway for fifteen or so years.

But each of Chenoweth, O'Hara and Rivera are dazzling in their roles.

The question will be how much the nostalgia or sympathy card weighs in the mind of voters. Will Kelli O’Hara, who has been nominated six times for a Tony award, finally win one? Will Chita Rivera, aged 82, win her third Tony Award for Best Performance By An Actress In a Leading Role In A Musical? Or, will Kristin Chenoweth win her first Tony award in that category?

Whose time is it this year?

To me, the answer is clear. Only one of the three is required to sing, dance and act with equal fervour and unrelenting energy. Only one shines like a supernova in her production. Only one plays two characters at once.

O'Hara completely reinvents the role of Anna, and when you hear her sing it is as if the ink has scarcely dried on the composer's score. Everything she does is fresh and vital and thrilling. Rivera is poised, powerful and perfect as the titular Visitor and the years of experience and expertise throb from her.

But Chenoweth is just in a class of her own in her role. She might not be able to play either of the roles that O'Hara and Rivera play (although she would give them both a good go but in a different direction) but then neither O'Hara nor Rivera could play Chenoweth's role and I doubt that either would try.

There are just a handful of women in the world who could play Mildred/Lily as well as Chenoweth does, and for that reason alone she should take home the Tony.

Critic's ChoiceKristin Chenoweth

Likely WinnerChita Rivera (This is the one category I really hope I have predicted wrongly. Rivera has her Tony in this category, two actually. Nostalgia should not triumph over extraordinary skill. It was through extraordinary skill that Rivera won her awards after all. Give her a Lifetime Achievement Award – she certainly deserves one.)

Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and the cast of Broadway's ON THE TOWN

Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and the cast of Broadway's On The Town. Photo: Joan Marcus

Best Choreography

The nominees are:

Joshua Bergasse – On The Town

Christopher Gattelli – The King and I

Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett –  The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night

Casey Nicholaw – Something Rotten!

Christopher Wheeldon – An American in Paris

Again, five excellent nominees.

But, really, only one winner. Joshua Bergasse’s work in On The Town is what sets that show flying and it should be recognised.

His chief rival in this category, Christopher Wheeldon, is also the director of An American In Paris, and while his choreography is critical, it is the overall vision for the piece, the direction, which sets it apart.

It is very difficult to compare those who choreograph with those who direct and choreograph: the latter have an obvious, unfair advantage in any such comparison.

Critic’s Choice – Joshua Bergasse

Likely Winner – Christopher Wheeldon

somethingrottenpic

Something Rotten

Best Direction Of A Musical

The nominees are:

Sam Gold – Fun Home

Casey Nicholaw – Something Rotten!

John Rando – On The Town

Bartlett Sher – The King and I

Christopher Wheeldon – An American In Paris

Each of these five nominees has produced a production which breathes real, often surprising, life into the score, lyrics and book of the musicals they have brought to the stage.

Both Casey Nicholaw and Christopher Wheeldon combine directing duties with choreography duties and thus have different considerations in play compared to the other nominees.

Bartlett Sher’s vision for a new approach to The King and I is breath-taking and demonstrates his range. Sam Gold brings the timeshifts and raw honesty of Fun Home into clear, compelling focus. John Rando’s overall vision for On The Town is fresh and vibrant, providing a perfect framework for Joshua Bergasse’s choreography.

In the end, one suspects the Tony voters will plump for a director/choreographer and Christopher Wheeldon has not won a Tony award before.

Critic’s Choice – Casey Nicholaw

Likely Winner – Christopher Wheeldon

Best Direction Of A Play

The nominees are:

Stephen Daldry – Skylight

Marianne Elliott – The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night

Scott Ellis – You Can’t Take It With You

Jeremy Herrin – Wolf Hall Parts 1 and 2

Moritz von Stuelpnagel – Hand To God

Excellent nominees all but this looks like a one horse race.

Critic’s Choice – Marianne Elliott

Likely Winner – Marianne Elliott

Cita Rivera in The Visit

The Visit

Other talking points

Clare Higgins ought to be receiving the Tony Award for Best Performance By An Actress In a Featured Role In A Play for her superb performance in A Delicate Balance but, unaccountably, she is not nominated.

Will Sting win an award for The Last Ship?

Will Bob Crowley win any award having been nominated for four: Best Scenic Design For A Play, Best Scenic Design For A Musical, Best Costume Design Of A Musical, and Best Costume Design of a Play?

Other Critic’s Choices from nominated competitors

Best Original Score – The Visit

Best Performance by an Actor In A Featured Role In A Play – Micah Stock

Best Performance by an Actress In A Featured Role In A Play – Patricia Clarkson

Best Performance by an Actor In A Featured Role In A Musical – Christian Borle and Brad Oscar

Best Performance by an Actor In A Featured Role In A Musical – Ruthie Ann Miles

Best Scenic Design Of A Play – Bob Crowley: Skylight

Best Scenic Design Of A Musical – Michael Yeargan: The King and I

Best Costume Design Of A Play – Christopher Oram: Wolf Hall

Best Costume Design Of A Musical – William Ivey Long: On The Twentieth Century

Best Lighting Design Of A Play – Paule Constable: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night

Best Lighting Design Of A Musical – Ben Stanton: Fun Home

Best Orchestrations – Larry Hochman: Something Rotten!

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