It’s Tony Time on Broadway. Or, to get to the point, what shows get the big boost at the box office? Handicapping the coveted Tony Awards is always fun but tricky. The nominations can usually be expected to ignore at least some of a critic’s personal favorites and recognize some of his least favorites. My picks for the top awards are based on having seen every show this season. They will be highlighted in italic print.
This year the American Theater Wing’s 2007 Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS on Sunday, June 10, from 8 to 11 p.m. We’ll see how close I come to picking the winners.
Presenters for the 61st Annual Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards in 25 categories will include Harry Connick, Jr., Claire Danes, Carla Gugino, Neil Patrick Harris, Anne Heche, Marg Helgenberger, Felicity Huffman, Eddie Izzard, Jane Krakowski, Angela Lansbury, Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, William Petersen, David Hyde Pierce, Liev Schreiber, Kevin Spacey, John Turturro, Usher, Rainn Wilson, Vanessa Williams, the Jersey Boys — Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, J. Robert Spencer, and John Lloyd Young, among others.
Best Musical: Critics flipped over “Spring Awakening” and younger audiences are flocking to this audacious musical version of a scandalous old warhorse about teenage sex and parental alienation in late 19th century Germany. Already the winner of the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk for Outstanding New Broadway Musical, “Spring Awakening” has the inside track and is unlikely to be bested by the other musicals.
“Curtains,” a farcical backstage murder mystery, is Kander and Ebb’s last collaboration. It’s no great shakes, but star David Hyde Pierce and company are good for more than a few laughs. “Mary Poppins,” a spectacular Disney-Cameron production, was given a lukewarm reception by many of the critics (I thought it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), and continues to delight near capacity family audiences. “Grey Gardens,” a brilliantly conceived and composed musical about Jackie Kennedy’s eccentric and reclusive relatives living in squalor in their Long Island mansion, is especially notable for its astonishing performance by Christine Ebersole.
Best Play: If you could have afforded to spend $300 to see the three-part epic about political upstarts in 19th Russia, you were in for a treat with “The Coast of Utopia.” It is too bad that the run was limited and is now over. Those who will be hearing about it for the first time will, unfortunately, not get an opportunity to see it. The spectacle of its staging and the breadth of its intellectual scope might be the stuff to inspire a film version.
“Frost/Nixon,” a clever and engrossing play about the famous TV interviewer David Frost and his attempt to rattle ex-President Richard M. Nixon, has its share of surprises. The deftly written script expands upon the series of interviews showing both camps preparing their strategies.
Set in the 1990s in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA, “Radio Golf” is a fine play about clashing black real-estate developers. It is also the final episode in the late August Wilson’s series of plays that reflect African-American life in each of the 10 decades of the 20th century. “The Little Dog Laughed,” Douglas Carter Beane’s exhaustingly witty play about a closeted gay actor, his highly motivated lesbian agent, a bi-sexual male prostitute, and his pregnant girlfriend, proved to be a little too special, so it wagged its tail briefly and departed.
Best Revival of a Musical: “Company,” Stephen Sondheim’s brilliantly sophisticated look at a conflicted bachelor taken under the wing of his unhappily married friends, is better than the original production. The adorable Kristin Chenoweth couldn’t save “The Apple Tree,” a ho-hum triptych about love through the ages. However, a radiant Audra MacDonald is the real miracle worker in “110 in the Shade,” a low-key romantic musical by collaborators Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (“The Fantasticks”), is a sweet story about a plain Jane and a seductive rainmaker.
Best Revival of a Play: “Journey’s End,” about camaraderie, discipline, and death among a group of soldiers in the trenches in World War I, is powerful stuff. Everyone recognized the excellence of R.C. Sherriff’s eternally topical play that has not been revived on Broadway since it was first produced in 1929 is scheduled to close Sunday, June 10. You won’t be sorry if you make the effort to see it as well as the splendid acting that propels it.
“Inherit the Wind” pits the evolutionists against the creationists in this just okay staging of the classic Monkey Trial play. “Talk Radio,” a tense and caustic portrait of an emotionally volatile talk show host and the crazies that bombard him. It is buoyed by Liev Schreiber’s sensational performance. Brien Friel’s tender 1980 play, “Translations,” about the Brits attempt in 1833 to desecrate Irish culture by an edict that called for changing all Gaelic place names into English, was staged with distinction.
Best Actress in a Play: British actress Eve Best stole the thunder from co-star Kevin Spacey in this transplant of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” as originally produced by the Old Vic Theater (closes Sunday, June 10). Swoosie Kurtz was heaven in the Roundabout Theater leaden production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House”; the incomparable Angela Lansbury made the most of her mostly passive/reflective role as a former tennis champ in Terrence McNally’s “Deuce.” Her co-star, Marian Seldes, was equally deserving of a nomination but those are the breaks.
Thank another formidable actress Vanessa Redgrave for putting life into “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, who wrote the script based on her book about coping with death. Julie White hilariously chewed up the scenery and the best parts of “The Little Dog Laughed.”
Best Actor in a Play: Frank Langella should win this election without cheating for his on-target and mesmerizing performance as Nixon, in “Frost/Nixon.” Boyd Gaines gives an exemplary and moving portrayal of a British army sergeant in “Journey’s End.” The image and impact of Brian F. O’Byrne’s performance, as Alexander Herzen in “The Coast of Utopia,” is indelibly burned into the minds of those who saw it. The revival of “Inherit the Wind” is best for the presence of Christopher Plummer, as grandstanding legal eagle Clarence Darrow. “Talk Radio” gives Liev Schreiber the text and the space in which to rant and rave with stunning effect.
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical: Christine Ebersole will win for her dazzlingly skewed performance in “Grey Gardens”; Laura Bell Bundy was pretty in pink in “Legally Blonde The Musical”; Audra McDonald illuminates “110 in the Shade”; and Donna Murphy is riveting as German composer Kurt Weill’s impetuous wife and chanteuse Lotte Lenya in “LoveMusik.” Debra Monk rattles the rafters as a big mouth producer in “Curtains.”
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical: Raul Esparza is the Bobby that “Company” always need but never had until now. Michael Cerveris, who doesn’t know how to be less than great (“Sweeney Todd”), is again as German composer Kurt Weill in “LoveMusik.” Jonathan Groff’s performance as an emotionally troubled teen, Melchior, in “Spring Awakening,” is incredibly affecting. The gifted David Hyde Pierce is having a ball in “Curtains,” and it shows.
Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: The wonderful Jennifer Ehle in “The Coast of Utopia” had the extraordinary task of playing a different role in each play of the trilogy. Also giving fine performances were Xanthe Elbrick and Jan Maxwell, both in “Coram Boy”; Dana Ivey in “Butley”; and Martha Plimpton in “The Coast of Utopia.”
Best Performance by Featured Actor in a Play: I’m going out on a limb for the amazing Anthony Chisholm in “Radio Golf”; both Billy Crudup and Ethan Hawke in “The Coast of Utopia”; John Earl Jelks in “Radio Golf”; and Stark Sands in “Journey’s End.”
Best Performance by Featured Actress in a Musical: A tough call but Mary Louise Wilson really deserves this award for her performance in “Grey Gardens.” Everyone roots for Charlotte d’Amboise to “get the job” in “A Chorus Line.” Orfeh shines as the manic manicurist in “Legally Blonde The Musical”; Rebecca Luker is radiant as the mother in “Mary Poppins.” The bubbly and exhilarating Karen Ziemba is the best reason anyone needs to see “Curtains.”
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical: It will come as a surprise if John Gallagher Jr. doesn’t win for his role as an impassioned teen in “Spring Awakening.” Brooks Asmanskas was one of many terrific performers in the exceptionally funny revue “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.” Christian Borle is amusing as the nerd in “Legally Blonde The Musical”; and John Cullum lends his expectedly sturdy support as the father in “110 in the Shade”; and David Pittu is memorable as Weill’s collaborator Bertold Brecht in “LoveMusik.”
Best Direction of a Play: Jack O’Brien (“The Coast of Utopia”); Michael Grandage (“Frost/ Nixon”); David Grindley (“Journey’s End”); Melly Still (“Coram Boy”).
Best Direction of a Musical: Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”); John Doyle (“Company”); Scott Ellis (“Curtains”); Michael Greif (“Grey Gardens”).
Best Choreography: Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear (“Mary Poppins”); Rob Ashford (“Curtains”); Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening”); Jerry Mitchell (“Legally Blonde The Musical”).
Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Bob Crowley (“Mary Poppins”); Christine Jones (“Spring Awakening”); Anna Louizos (“High Fidelity”); Allen Moyer (“Grey Gardens”).
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Bob Crowley and Scott Pask (“The Coast of Utopia”); Jonathan Fensom (“Journey’s End”); David Gallo (“Radio Golf”); Ti Green and Melly Still (“Coram Boy”).
Best Costume Design of a Musical: Bob Crowley (“Mary Poppins”); Gregg Barnes (“Legally Blonde The Musical”); Susan Hilferty (“Spring Awakening”); William Ivey Long (“Grey Gardens”).
Best Costume Design of a Play: Catherine Zuber (“The Coast of Utopia”); Ti Green and Melly Still (“Coram Boy”); Jane Greenwood (“Heartbreak House”); Santo Loquasto (“Inherit the Wind”).
Best Original Score: Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”); Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (“Grey Gardens”); Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin (“Legally Blonde The Musical”); John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Rupert Holmes (“Curtains”).
Best Book of a Musical: Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”); Rupert Holmes and Peter Stone (“Curtains”); Doug Wright (“Grey Gardens”); Heather Hach (“Legally Blonde The Musical”).
Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Howard Harrison (“Mary Poppins”); Kevin Adams (“Spring Awakening”); Christopher Akerlind (“110 in the Shade”); Peter Kaczorowski (“Grey Gardens”).
Best Lighting Design of a Play: Brian MacDevitt, Kenneth Posner, and Natasha Katz (“The Coast of Utopia”); Paule Constable (“Coram Boy”); Brian MacDevitt (“Inherit the Wind”); Jason Taylor (“Journey’s End”).
Best Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick (“LoveMusik”); Bruce Coughlin (“Grey Gardens”); Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening”); Jonathan Tunick (“110 in the Shade”).
Best Special Theatrical Event: Jay Johnson: The Two and Only; Kiki & Herb Alive on Broadway.