The Tony Awards, the little big show that can, is once again heading our way this Sunday. The mission: to crown this year’s batch of Kings and Queens of “The Great White Way.” Though it’s one of the least-watched award shows on television – thanks for still being a believer, CBS – last year they took the bold move of relocating to a venue that no longer allowed members of the general public to attend this gala (thanks Zarkana). For devoted theater lovers, it’s the one night of the year when this sometimes obscure and overly priced medium is accessible to all via one simple click of a button.
In the weeks leading up to the big show, excitement fills the air not just for those nominated, but for the loyal theater fans that have sacrificed part of their sanity to call themselves true Broadway supporters. Yet for many that excitement can quickly dissipate and turn into an agonizing sense of disappointment, compelled by a deep-seated urgency to boycott of all things theatrical because their favorite show/person/song/wig didn’t win. A constant line I hear among theater fans (and sometimes theater professionals) is how the critics and award ceremonies consistently get it wrong.
Ken Davenport, a well known and incredibly smart Broadway producer, recently asked if theater critics should be separated by specialization. Essentially, he asks if a critic who is well versed in classic plays, who lives and dies for the next revival of “Waiting for Godot”, is truly really equipped to fairly review a show that uses ground breaking technology to make us believe an actor on stage really turned into a ghost, Patrick Swayze-style? Should someone who enjoys a Beethoven symphony be asked to review the latest Madonna track? It made a lot of sense to me and got me to thinking….
I usually pick who should win and who will win for both Musicals and Plays. But Ken’s question was a gut check that I had skated around for years. I’m really not equipped to speak to who should and who shouldn’t win in the Play arena. I haven’t studied, rejoiced, suffered, and resurrected from the ashes of a play quite the same way I have with a musical. So with that notion in mind, I will only comment on this year’s Musical Nominations. And if all of my thoughts are proven incorrect, you can’t hold it against me. As I'll tell myself incessantly Sunday night, they just got it wrong.
Best Musical: "Leap of Faith","Newsies","Nice Work If You Can Get It","Once"
Who Should Win: This is easily the most contested and important category in the awards season of Broadway and beyond. The hands-down winner should be “Newsies.” It’s one of the freshest musicals to open in years; simplistic in structure yet dense in substance, and all without making you think too much. It features the most electrifying choreography I have seen in a long time and has the benefit of starring Broadway’s new Golden Boy, Jeremy Jordan.
Who Will Win: Very tough call. There’s absolutely, positively no way that “Leap of Faith” will win. For those who don’t know, it was one of the biggest bombs of the season. Not that that fact should matter in the argument of quality, but in the practicality of business it doesn’t make any sense. Winning Best Musical is a guarantee to boost Box Office. Just can’t see a closed showing taking this honor home.
“Nice Work” could surprise us here. Broderick and O’Hara are leading a stellar show with a great score that true theater enthusiasts of all ages adore. But it probably won't win, leaving a photo finish between “Newsies” and “Once.” I can’t say anything bad about “Once,” yet I can’t say enough great things about “Newsies.” “Once” is a theater fan's dream: perfect in scope, minimal in production. But “Newsies” has the potential for a much longer life span and appeals to everyone, especially the almighty tourist. The winner will be “Newsies.”
Best Revival of a Musical: "Evita","Follies", "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess", "Jesus Christ Superstar"
Who Should Win: Godspell wasn’t even nominated? Really? Moving on. Porgy and Bess should take home the crown. It’s an influential rendition of a great piece of theater featuring a fantastic cast that rallies the audience night after night.
Who Will Win: Surprisingly enough, not many are talking about what is yet another epic showdown between the theatrical powerhouses in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, two living legends who have been at each other’s throats for decades. And here they meet again. This time Webber has two shows competing, but I hear more people discuss the epic cancelation of the once Broadway Bound “Love Never Dies” than I do of his two revivals. Even though Times Square is almost shut down every night thanks to Ricky Martin, Evita was destroyed by the reviewers and I can’t see Jesus Christ Superstar claiming the award. The lethal combination of Bernadette Peters and Stephen Sondheim is the potion that gets the theater gods drunk. Follies has it in the bag.
Best Original Score: "Bonnie & Clyde", "Newsies”, "One Man, Two Guvnors”, "Peter and the Starcatcher"
Who Should Win: The category for Best Original Score is highly contentious this year. The fact that only two musicals (only one still running) were nominated in this category while the other two are merely plays with music has a lot of folks upset. Especially everyone over at “Once.” If Broadway had a constitution, surely this would be breaking an amendment.
Nearly impossible to say who should win. It’s a toss-up between Frank Wildhorn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and Alen Menken’s “Newsies.” Sorry, but a play shouldn’t win here. Frank hasn’t had it easy on Broadway, despite opening more new shows that anyone in the last two decades. Critics have never embraced him and had to stretch far to deliver poor reviews of what was truly a masterpiece in the name of B&C. But the delicious score couldn’t be ignored by the voting committee. “...Clyde” is an intricate composition that not only bursts with emotion in every track, but truly tells a story and builds its characters.
“Newsies,” composed by the ever-amazing Alen Menken, is a true musical gem. The songs are bubble gum catchy and stay with you for days after walking out onto 41st Street. They also allow for the best choreography I have witnessed, maybe … ever? Yet I wonder if sung by a different lead, one could ask if Newsies' emotional “Santa Fe” would deliver the same emotional impact as Bonnie’s “Dyin’ Aint So Bad.” Funny enough, both scores have the same male lead in Jeremy Jordan.
Who Will Win: If a play wins here, many television sets will be thrown through windows. Though Broadway has embraced this fantastic score by Mr. Wildhorn, I think Newsies will win, finally granting Alan his long-deserved first Tony.
And if for some reason you don’t care about who wins, who presents, or who performs, then tune in for the hosting duties of Neil Patrick Harris. He never disappoints.