It’s a little bit unfortunate that the final episode of The Sopranos will air at the same time as the 61st annual Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday, June 10. But I know which one I’ll be watching. Yes, siree! I’ll be tuned to CBS, breathlessly watching the outcome of the Tonys along with the other 322 theater queens across the nation. Besides, we love the show.
Here are my Tony Tips for the major categories. Stand by Sir Tom Stoppard. And the envelopes, please!
The winner for best play is Sir Tom Stoppard for his prestigious snooze, The Coast of Utopia. Only a minority of the 785 Tony voters will actually have seen the epic trilogy about 19th-century Russian intellectuals, but that won’t stop the rest of them from voting for it in a tidal wave of insecure Anglophilia.
Like two or three distinguished drama critics I could name, I dutifully attended all three parts of The Coast of Utopia, but cannot claim to have been present throughout. Would the Tony voters admit as much? Would those who were actually there confess that they might have nodded off?
There ought to be a Tony rule: No ticket, no vote. Be that as it may, in my view Tom Stoppard has written better plays than The Coast of Utopia (though none as committed). Perhaps—just possibly—there might be an upset. My own vote for best play goes to August Wilson’s Radio Golf, his final play, (written as he was dying), which completed his cycle of fantastic dramas about a century of African-American life and yearning. I, for one, would like to tip my hat to Wilson for his enduring achievement as one of the greatest playwrights this country has known and thank him with the Tony for best play.
Three of the four nominations for best director of a play are unsurprisingly British—on Broadway, the War of Independence has yet to be won. The nominees are Michael Grandage for Frost/Nixon, David Grindley for Journey’s End and Melly Still for the maligned Coram Boy. The winner is certain to be the American, Jack O’Brien, for The Coast of Utopia (a British play).
The award for best actor is said to be a close race in an unusually hot field: Liev Schreiber, Talk Radio; Christopher Plummer, Inherit the Wind; Brian F. O’Byrne, The Coast of Utopia; Boyd Gaines, Journey’s End; and Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon. Not to be a killjoy, but where’s the raved-over Bill Nighy, whose relaxed and riveting performance as a philandering doctor single-handedly came close to saving David Hare’s The Vertical Hour early in the season?
In contrast, Mr. Gaines’ performance as the solid, pipe-smoking World War l British soldier in Journey’s End, was, well, solid; Mr. O’Byrne is a specialist in contained killers and neurotics, as opposed to the romantic intellectual heroism of Alexander Herzen; and Christopher Plummer could have shone in his sleep playing the Clarence Darrow role in Robert E. Lee’s 1955 courtroom potboiler, Inherit the Wind.
Mr. Schreiber’s electric virtuoso performance as the self-hating radio host in Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio will battle for the Tony with Mr. Langella’s star turn as an unusually sympathetic President Nixon in Frost/Nixon. Mr. Schreiber has said that Mr. Langella will win, and Mr. Schreiber is right.
The Tony for best actress is between two very different theater legends—Vanessa Redgrave for her monologue in Joan Didion’s untheatrical adaptation of her best-selling memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and Angela Lansbury for Deuce, by common consent the worst play Terrence McNally has written. (Another fancied nominee for best actress, Eve Best as the mythic earth mother of O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, is a shade too South Kensington for my vulgar taste.)