Tony Guesses

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This column by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on Wednesday, June 3, 1998. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman on Broadway

This is Broadway's 52nd year celebrating its own with the Tony Awards show. And like many of you at home this Sunday night, June 7 (from 8 to 9 p.m. on PBS, and from 9 to 11 p.m. on CBS), I'll be watching gaga-over-Broadway host Rosie O'Donnell at Radio City Music Hall. Although the big 12 awards are broadcast on CBS, don't be deceived: last year's PBS show was the more insightful and entertaining. This year PBS promises to take us backstage for interviews with the artists who create theater with footage of the rehearsal process.

O'Donnell presides over the galaxy of stage stars who announce the nominees and the winners of the coveted Tonys in 22 categories. In between the anxiety attacks, the groans, the applause, the speeches, and the obligatory commercials, we will be entertained as much by the never-ending thank-yous as we are with the numbing, out-of-context numbers from each of the musicals nominated in the Best Musical category.

If kvetching comes naturally to this critic, my imperious responses to the mediocrity palmed off on Broadway audiences this year should in no way affect your theatergoing habits, or for that matter your total enjoyment of this bound-to-be-fun awards show. Far be it from me to remind you that the reason the all-substance no-style "Ragtime" received 13 nominations, and the all-style no-substance "Lion King" received 11 nominations, was because they lacked any significant competition for Best Musical -- they simply outclassed the field. Yet, dare I submit that none of the plays nominated in the Best Play category deserve to be there?

And how many times this season did I leave a show with the privilege of having seen a Tony-caliber performance that, in my naivete, I believed could not be overlooked -- Kevin Kline in "Ivanov" comes immediately to mind. But now at Tony time the field is sadly reduced. The selections that follow are my guesses for the winners, but that doesn't mean they were my favorites.

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Tony Guesses

Best Play: Hot young Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's mordant play The Beauty Queen of Leenane, about a nutty middle-aged woman and her nasty manipulative mother, is beautifully acted, but also ordinary and predictable and from the get-go. John Leguizamo's "Freak" is a quasi-autobiographical frenzied foul-mouthed multi-character monologue about this young man's fractured life before fame. David Henry Hwang's memory play "Golden Child" (just closed) is a sweet but stilted play about change in a traditional Chinese family. Yasmina Reza's "Art," in which three white men sit around talking about the value of a white-on-white painting deserves the Wite-Out. And McDonough's "The Cripple of Inishmaan," presented for a limited run at the Public Theater, is a much finer play than his over-praised "Leenane."

Best Musical: Based on E.L. Doctorow's epic novel, Ragtime, about three turn-of-the-century families, entwined by destiny, is the kind of impressive, richly musical entertainment created to impress the Tony voters (and make lots of money). If you're not dozing, you'll be dazzled by Julie Taymor's costumes and her direction of "Lion King." "Side Show," a curious but compelling show-biz saga about attached-at-the-hip sisters, split (closed) earlier in the season. "The Scarlet Pimpernel" recalls the French Revolution story by Baroness Orczy in name only.

Best Book of a Musical: Ragtime, "Side Show," "The Lion King," "Scarlet Pimpernel." Although Terrence McNally's book for "Ragtime" was literate and polished, Bill Russell's daring book for the mostly sung-through "Side Show" had more emotional heft. Too bad not enough people were willing to listen.

Best Original Score: Ragtime (Music, Stephen Flaherty; lyrics, Lynn Ahrens); "Side Show" (music, Henry Krieger; lyrics, Bill Russell); "The Capeman" (music Paul Simon; lyrics Simon & Derek Walcott); "The Lion King" (music, Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor & Hans Zimmer; lyrics, John, Rice, Mancina, Rifkin, Taymor & Zimmer) You only have to hear the "Ragtime" score once to know that show tunes haven't sounded this good since the Gershwin brothers were at it.

Best Revival of a Play: A View from the Bridge, "Ah Wilderness," "The Chairs," "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Best Revival of a Musical: Cabaret, "1776," "The Sound of Music." In a more just world, this would be a tie between "Cabaret" and "1776."

Best Leading Actor in a Play: Anthony LaPaglia ("Bridge"), Richard Briers ("Chairs"), John Leguizamo ("Freak"), Alfred Molina ("Art").

Best Leading Actor in a Musical: Alan Cumming ("Cabaret"), Peter Friedman ("Ragtime"), Brian Stokes Mitchell ("Ragtime"), Douglas Sills ("Pimpernel").

Best Featured Actor in a Play: Brian F. O'Bryne ("Leenane"), Tom Murphy ("Leenane"), Sam Trammell ("Ah, Wilderness!"), Max Wright ("Ivanov"). O'Bryne and Murphy could cancel each other out. In that event I'd be very happy to see Trammell take home the gold.

Best Leading Actress in a Play: Marie Mullen ("Leenane") Jane Alexander ("Honour"), Allison Janney ("Bridge"), Geraldine McEwan ("Chairs").

Best Leading Actress in a Musical: Natasha Richardson ("Cabaret"), Betty Buckley ("Triumph of Love"), Marin Mazzie ("Ragtime"), Alice Ripley & Emily Skinner ("Side Show"). Mazzie deserves this award, but probably won't get it.

Best Featured Actress in a Play: Anna Manahan ("Leenane"), Enid Graham ("Honour"), Linda Lavin ("Anne Frank"), Julyana Soelistyo ("Golden Child").

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Gregg Edelman ("1776"), John McMartin ("High Society"), Ron Rifkin ("Cabaret"), Samuel E. Wright ("Lion King").

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Tsidii Le Loke ("Lion King"), Anna Kendrick ("High Society"), Audra McDonald ("Ragtime"), Mary Louise Wilson ("Cabaret").

Best Scenic Design: Richard Hudson ("Lion King"), Bob Crowley ("Capeman"), Eugene Lee ("Ragtime"), Quay Brothers ("Chairs"). The artistry demonstrated by each of the nominees in this and the following three categories is simply awesome.

Best Costume Design: Julie Taymor ("Lion King"), William Ivey Long ("Cabaret"), Santo Loquasto ("Ragtime"), Martin Pakledinaz ("Golden Child").

Best Lighting Design: Donald Holder ("Lion King"), Paul Anderson ("Chairs") Peggy Eisenhauer & Mike Baldassari ("Cabaret"), Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer ("Ragtime").

Best Choreography: Garth Fagan ("Lion King"), Graciela Daniele ("Ragtime"), Forever Tango Dancers ("Forever Tango"), Rob Marshall ("Cabaret").

Best Direction of a Play: Gary Hynes ("Leenane"), Michael Mayer ("Bridge"), Simon McBurney ("Chairs"), Matthew Warchus ("Art").

Best Direction of a Musical: Julie Taymor ("Lion King"), Scott Ellis ("1776"), Frank Galati ("Ragtime"), Sam Mendes with Rob Marshall ("Cabaret").

Best Orchestration: William David Brohn ("Ragtime"), Robert Elhai, David Metzger & Bruce Fowler ("Lion King"), Michael Gibson ("Cabaret"), Stanley Silverman ("Capeman").

The special Tony Award for regional theater this year went to the Denver Center Theater Company, Denver, Colorado.


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