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?)