On a Tuesday night last summer-July 14, Bastille Day-I saw my first play as The Observer‘s new theater reviewer. It was Vanities, an awful Off Broadway musical at the Second Stage, and the evening was memorable only because it was also the night the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, the trade groups that together produce the Tony Awards, announced they were kicking out the theater press from among the ranks of Tony voters.
It must have been something I said (and I hadn’t yet said anything).
In March, finally, a deal was reached. Members of the New York Drama Critics Circle (a small and shrinking group of fewer than 20) will be allowed to vote, rather than, as before, the full roster of the so-called First Night Press List (the 100 or so reviewers, reporters, editors and, according to a version of the list I saw once, a certain aged Sulzberger, all of whom are invited to all press previews). But that deal doesn’t kick in till next season.
So, for this year, we have only our columns. Here, then, are my picks for the 64th annual Tony Awards, to be presented Sunday night at 8 p.m. and televised on CBS.
Nominees: In the Next Room or the vibrator play, Next Fall, Red, Time Stands Still
Will Win: Red
Should Win: Time Stands Still
Alfred Molina gives a ferocious performance as the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko in Michael Grandage’s impressive staging of Red, by John Logan. And I forgave the play’s didacticism on the grounds that Rothko was, by all accounts, a didact. The great celebrity performance, the play’s snob appeal, its excellent reviews and the fact it’s still running should give it the edge. But Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, an MTC production from earlier this season, was insightful, subtle and moving, and with Laura Linney, Brian D’Arcy James, Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone, it had perhaps the most perfect cast of the season.
Nominees: American Idiot, Fela!, Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet
Will Win: Memphis
Should Win: Fela!
This is a depressing category: There was nothing on Broadway this season that properly deserves to be called a Best Musical. But Fela! is the only show that comes close. It’s enjoyable, entertaining, interesting and exciting-so what if it doesn’t really have a book. Memphis, the only other serious contender, is terrible; it’s entirely cynically constructed, with derivative music, banal lyrics, an irritating male lead and an ersatz civil-rights message that leaves one hungering for the nuanced depiction of 1960s race relations found in Hairspray. Still, inexplicably, people seem to like Memphis. And it’ll tour much better than Fela!-remember, the press isn’t voting this year, but all those out-of-town producer still are-so it’ll win.
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Nominees: Fela!, Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet, Everyday Rapture
Will Win: Everyday Rapture
Should Win: Everyday Rapture
Sherie Rene Scott’s adorable biographic cabaret has the only nominated book that isn’t terrible. Even better, it’s actually quite good: deftly constructed and very, very funny.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees: The Addams Family,
Enron, Fences, Memphis
Will Win: Memphis
Should Win: None
It was such a bad season for musicals that half of the Best Score nominations are plays. And while Branford Marsalis’ interstitial jazz for Fences was probably the best of the nominated music, you just can’t give Best Score to a non-musical. (Yikes, or can you?)
BEST REVIVIAL OF A PLAY
Nominees: Fences, Lend Me a
Tenor, The Royal Family, A View From the Bridge
Will Win: Fences
Should Win: Fences or View From the Bridge
It’s a toss-up between Fences and View From the Bridge-both tremendous productions of classic works with blockbuster leading men. But Fences is a slightly better play, and, though I think Liev Schreiber’s Bridge performance was stronger than Denzel Washington’s in Fences, Fences is still playing, which will give it the edge.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Nominees: Finian’s Rainbow,
La Cage Aux Folles, A Little Night Music, Ragtime
Will win: La Cage
Should win: La Cage
You could make a decent argument for three of the four nominees to win. (The less said about Finian’s, the fourth, the better.) But Ragtime was a commercial failure and Night Music, while excellent, never quite caught fire. So the sweet, scruffy La Cage it is.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Nominees: Jude Law (Hamlet), Alfred Molina (Red), Liev Schreiber (A View From the Bridge), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane), Denzel Washington (Fences)
Will Win: Denzel Washington
Should Win: Liev Schreiber
Mr. Schreiber is arguably the best stage actor working today. But Mr. Washington is a huge movie star. He’ll get the award, partially because he deserves it and partially as a thank-you note from a Broadway desperate to keep the Hollywood stars coming east.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN PLAY
Nominees: Viola Davis (Fences), Valerie Harper (Looped), Linda Lavin (Collected Stories), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still), Jan Maxwell (The Royal Family)
Will Win: Viola Davis
Should Win: Linda Lavin
In truth, any of these five women deserves the award.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Nominees: Kelsey Grammar (La Cage), Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises), Douglas Hodge (La Cage), Chad Kimball (Memphis), Sahr Ngaujah (Fela!)
Will Win: Sahr Ngaujah
Should Win: Sahr Ngaujah
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Nominees: Kate Baldwin (Finian’s Rainbow), Montego Glover (Memphis), Christiane Noll (Ragtime), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture), Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music)
Will Win: Montego Glover
Should Win: Montego Glover
All of these actresses were wonderful, but Ms. Glover managed to shine in an otherwise dreadful show. That’s impressive.
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Nominees: Michael Gandage (Red), Sheryl Kaller (Next Fall), Kenny Leon (Fences), Gregory Mosher (A View From the Bridge)
Will Win: Kenny Leon
Should Win: Kenny Leon
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Nominees: Christopher Ashley (Memphis), Marcia Milgrom Dodge (Ragtime), Terry Johnson (La Cage), Bill T. Jones (Fela!)
Will Win: Terry Johnson
Should Win: Marcia Milgrom Dodge
I really liked the two revivals. But I was more impressed with Ms. Milgrom Dodge’s minimalist Ragtime, as compared to the over-the-top original, than I was with Mr. Johnson’s delightful seedy La Cage. But Mr. Johnson’s show is running and Ms. Milgrom Dodge’s failed, and that is what will make the difference.
Nominees: Rob Ashford (Promises, Promises), Bill T. Jones (Fela!), Lynne Page (La Cage), Twyla Tharp (Come Fly Away)
Will Win: Twyla Tharp
Should Win: Rob Ashford
Mr. Ashford (and a very game cast) accomplished the impressive feat of making a terrible show look fantastic.