The numbers are in: This Broadway season broke attendance and box-office records (nearly $2 billion), which should really juice up the Tony Awards this year. Why? I’d call it Hollywood heat. Stars of movies, TV and YouTube converged on Broadway this year like never before. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) are duking it out with Harry Dunne, the diarrhea king from Dumb and Dumber (Jeff Daniels), for the drama prize as Best Actor. It took three actresses to play one Cher in The Cher Show. And the Best Actress race will find Roseanne’s Aunt Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) in battle with the Supreme Intelligence from Captain Marvel (Annette Bening).
The Hollywood classics Tootsie and Beetlejuice were turned into musicals with Santino Fontana in Dustin Hoffman’s dress and Alex Brightman wearing Michael Keaton’s hellhouind makeup. King Kong got played by a giant puppet and King Lear went through a sex change in the person of two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson. And to show the effect of the digiverse, the Joe Iconis score from Be More Chill became so popular on YouTube that the show landed on Broadway.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory (Jim Parsons) hit the boards with KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans (Keri Russell) and Olivia Pope from Scandal (Kerry Washington) and none of them even got nominated. The competition out there is as hot as Hadestown, the show with the most nominations (14). So here’s a preview of the favorites, spoilers and snubs going into the 2019 Tony Awards, presented on June 9th on CBS (or on your preferred streaming device). Place your bets.
Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations
This tale of one girl’s deal with the devil is the most nominated show of the season and the most creatively ablaze. But — there’s always a but — the evil Hades (Patrick Page) and his lady love (Amber Gray) steal the thunder from the underdeveloped, over-sweetened young lovers (Reeve Carny and Eva Noblezada) at stage center. That leaves the door open for a surprise.
Spoiler: The Prom
Tootsie is a bigger hit. And who doesn’t love the Temptations? But The Prom is an original (remember that word!) musical-comedy about four Broadway egomaniacs who descend on Middle America (it’s Indiana) to help a high-school lesbian take her girl to the prom and maybe drum up positive publicity for their sagging careers. The show has terrific actors, an infectious score and more heart than anything on Broadway. And Hollywood is calling. Ryan Murphy just announced as part of his Netflix deal that he plans to make a movie version.
Snub: Be More Chill
The 42 Tony nominators are not teenagers and they clearly do not give a crap that teens helped this sci-fi musical about selling your soul for popularity (it’s an adolescent Hadestown) go viral and find a Broadway home for the musical wit of composer Joe Iconis. Children are our future, but Broadway still hasn’t gotten the message. Be More Chill is sure as hell more deserving of a nomination than the abomination that is Beetlejuice.
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
What the Constitution Means to Me
Favorite: The Ferryman
Have three hours of drama and comedy about a 1981 Northern Ireland family surviving the Troubles and their own broken emotional bonds ever flown by with such bracing speed, poetic intensity and thrilling stagecraft? Not in this century. Jez Butterworth’s brilliant play is a new theatrical landmark that deserves every award in the book.
Spoiler: What the Constitution Means to Me
I’m not sure that this debate about civic responsibility is even a play. What we see is playwright Heidi Schreck addressing the audience about how she’s been traveling the country since her teens giving speeches about the Constitution and its impact on her personal life. Hell, with women’s rights being threatened by the religious right, it’s impacting all of us. Talk about timely.
Snub: To Kill a Mockingbird
Aaron Sorkin’s critically-acclaimed adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel (and don’t forget the classic 1962 movie) has never played to an empty seat. It’s breaking box-office records for a non-musical on Broadway. Yet, after awarding the show nine nominations in other major categories, the Tony nominators decided to snub the show as Best Play. WTF!
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
The Boys in the Band
The Waverly Gallery
Favorite: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
With the Boeing aircraft disaster on everyone’s minds, Arthur Miller’s 1947 play stings with relevance in its tale of a manufacturer and family man who is accused of knowingly shipping damaged airplane parts that led to the deaths of 21 pilots during World War II.
Spoiler: The Waverly Gallery
You may know Kenneth Lonergan from his film work on such award-winning dramas as Manchester by the Sea and You Can Count on Me, but his memory play about a boy (Manchester Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges) watching his grandmother (the legendary Elaine May) slowly succumb to Alzheimer’s disease is unforgettable.
Snub: True West
The 1980 play from the late, great Sam Shepard about two estranged brothers cut deeply into the violence emanating from family blood ties. And film stars Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) gave performances that nailed every nuance in Shepard’s drama. Ignoring it in this category seems like blatant ignorance.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Kiss Me, Kate
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
The 1943 musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein (and don’t forget the 1955 movie with Gordon McCrae and Shirley Jones) was built to please. But this brilliant revival from experimental director Daniel Fish is built to knock the wind out of your sails as it examines the dark side of a love story set against Oklahoma’s fight for statehood. And it does so without changing a word. The lovers are splattered in blood by the end. Oh, what a beautiful morning.
Spoiler: Kiss Me Kate
Cole Porter’s 1947 musical take on The Taming of Shrew (and don’t forget the 1953 Hollywood version) is built along more conventional lines, though this revival’s Kate (Kelli O’Hara) has been imbued with a touch of #MeToo. Still, the smashing re-imagining of Oklahoma! puts it in the shade.
Snub: None. These were the only two musical revivals to open this season.
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Paddy Considine, The Ferryman
Bryan Cranston, Network
Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
Adam Driver, Burn This
Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy
Favorite: Bryan Cranston, Network
In this stage version of Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient 1976 film powerhouse, Cranston puts on an unparalleled display of acting fireworks. It’s true that nothing else in this fussy production lives up to Cranston’s tour de force. But as network anchor Howard Beale, a role that won Peter Finch an Oscar, Cranston instills thrilling life into this mad prophet of the airwaves who opened windows to scream: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” His fury seems just as timely in the age of Trump.
Spoiler: Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
In this stage version of the 1962 film classic about author Harper Lee’s childhood among the racial tensions of 1930’s Alabama, Daniels masterfully underplays Atticus Finch, a role that won Gregory Peck an Oscar as the lawyer and caring single father who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. Everything works in To Kill a Mockingbird, unlike Network, and Daniels is its living, breathing heart. He gets my vote.
Snub: Nathan Lane, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Taylor Mac’s wild and crazy take on the peasants who are forced to clean up the carnage after the battle in Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy won a whopping seven nominations, including Best Play. But nothing, zip, nada for Lane (a Tony winner for The Producers and Angels in America), the clown prince at the center of this theatrical high-wire act and the one who makes it fly. Ouch!
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom
Derrick Baskin, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice
Damon Daunno, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Santino Fontana, Tootsie
Santino Fontana in ‘Tootsie.’ Photograph by Matthew Murphy
Favorite: Santino Fontana, Tootsie
Fontana, who you may know as the voice of Hans in Frozen and as Greg, the bartender boyfriend on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, takes on the dual role of actor Michael Dorsey and actress Dorothy Michaels and rides them both to glory. Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar nod for playing Michael/Dorothy in the 1982 comedy classic, but he didn’t have to act, dance his crazy legs off and sing as both a man and woman. Fontana doe, and he crushes it.
Spoiler: With respect to the other nominees, no one else has a chance. Fontana is delivering one of the best performances in musical-comedy history. End of story.
Snub Reeve Carney, Hadestown
It’s easy to make a case for the angel-voiced actor who originated the role of Spider-Man on Broadway. Carney is the only major cast member in Hadestown who was not nominated. The decision seems petty, but Carney will fly again. And besides, he’d only lose to Fontana anyway.
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Annette Bening, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman
Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet
Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton
Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me
Favorite: Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
The 87-year-old legend returned to Broadway to star as a woman fighting encroaching dementia and doing it with humor, heart and not an ounce of tearjerking. No surprise for a talent who made comedy history with her partner Mike Nichols as Nicholas & May, and then as an actress (A New Leaf), director (The Heartbreak Kid), playwright (Adaptation) and writer of screenplays that earned Oscar nominations (Heaven Can Wait, Primary Colors). She didn’t win. But she will now. No one deserves that Tony more.
Spoiler: Annette Bening, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
The four-time Oscar nominee returned to Broadway for the first time since Coastal Disturbances in 1986 and found dimensions previously un-investigated in the role of a wife and mother who may know more than she’s letting on about her husband’s moral. misdeeds. In a year with Elaine May, Bening would deserve to triumph.
Snub: Glenda Jackson, King Lear
The two-time Oscar winner, who won a deserved Tony last year for Three Tall Women, had critics doing cartwheels by tackling a role traditionally played by a man. Jackson, you should know, doesn’t truck with tradition as an actress or a politician (she was a member of the British Parliament from 1992 to 2015) . She goes her own way, gloriously, and her absence in this category reflects badly, not on her, but on the nitwits do the nominating. Howl! Howl! Howl!
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom
Beth Leavel, The Prom
Eva Noblezada, Hadestown
Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate
Favorite: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
Who the hell can play one of the most iconic performers ever and in a jukebox musical that is definitely more sass than class? Stephanie J. Block, that’s who. Critics are moonstruck over the way Block digs in to find the complexity of a woman who is way more than her shiny surface. Block is a Broadway baby with two Tony nominations behind her for Falsettos and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The third time looks to be the charm.
Spoiler: Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom
The tea leaves say it’s Block’s year. But let’s hear it for Kinnunen, the 27-year-old whose voice has the delicate clarity of crystal and whose acting skills bring a soulful urgency to the role of a lesbian high-schooler who finds the strength to fend off the gay-phobes who won’t let her love who she loves. The Prom is a brash knockout of a musical, but Kinnunen is its bruised heart. She has a stunning future.
Snub: Rebecca Naomi Jones, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Jones threw a wrench into the usual passive interpretation of Laurey as a young woman attracted to handsome cowboy Curly and disgusted by creepy farmhand Judd. Jones plays her as conflicted in a production that refuses to reduce characters to stereotypes. Jones makes Laurey what she calls “a ballsy dame.” Her performance, nominated by the Drama Desk and everyone but Tony, is revelatory.
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman
Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Ruth Wilson, King Lear
Favorite: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
Some critics can’t get past the fact that adult actors play the kids in Mockingbird. Get over it. And just behold the transcendent miracle that Keenan-Bolger performs as Scout, a 41-year-old woman who narrates the play by looking back on her life as an eight-year-old experiencing the poison of racism in the 1930s by watching her lawyer father defend an African American man accused of rape.
Spoiler: Ruth Wilson, King Lear
If you know this extraordinary British actress from her TV work as the erotic center of The Affair, the psycho tackling Idris Elba in Luther and the titular character in Mrs. Wilson, you won’t be surprised at how well she holds her own on stage with Glenda Jackson’s Lear, playing both the King’s daughter Cordelia and the Fool. It’s quite a risk, and Wilson makes it pay off with electrifying results.
Snub: LaTanya Richardson Jackson, To Kill a Mockingbird
One of Aaron Sorkin’s masterstrokes in adapting Harper Lee’s book was to deepen the role of Calpurnia, a maid in the white household of Atticus Finch. Jackson, wife of Samuel L, says she drew on her grandmother and all the women of service whom I knew.” And you can see that research and depth of feeling in her performance. Shame on oblivious Tony for ignoring it.
BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Bertie Carvel, Ink
Robin De Jesús, The Boys in the Band
Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird
Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This
Benjamin Walker, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
Favorite: Bertie Carvel, Ink
Playing publisher Rupert Murdoch at the beginning of his career in 1969 as a tabloid tycoon, Carvel cuts right to the core of Murdoch’s conflict as a purveyor of bottom-rung journalism that he disdained in his own personal life. Few Hollywood celebrities have escaped Murdoch’s ink. And Carvel catches every note of wicked wit in a titanic performance that already earned him an Oliver (the British Tony) and is a safe bet to repeat on Tony night.
Spoiler: Benjamin Walker, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
If you know this stand-up comedian and actor only in such films as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you probably have no idea what a force of nature he is on stage in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Psycho. But Walker tops himself in Arthur Miller’s play about a son who is near destroyed by the moral compromises of his parents (Tracy Letts and Annette Bening). He’s an emotional powerhouse.
Snub: Gbenga Akinnagbe, To Kill a Mockingbird
In the role of Tom Robinson, the black man on trial for his life, if a lynch mob doesn’t get him first, Akinnagbe uses the additions in Aaron Sorkin’s play to give voice to a character that rarely had a chance to speak for himself in Harper Lee’s novel. His shattering performance was shockingly snubbed by Tony nominators who only placed Mockingbird’s white actors on their ballot. #TonysSoWhite
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Lilli Cooper, Tootsie
Amber Gray, Hadestown
Sarah Stiles, Tootsie
Ali Stroker, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Mary Testa, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Favorite: Ali Stroker, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Media attention has unfairly focused on the fact the Stroker plays the role of sexual rebel Ado Annie in a wheelchair, the first to ever use a mobility device on a Broadway stage. A car accident at the age of two left Stroker paralyzed from the chest down. Did it stop her? Hell, no! This veteran of The Glee Project acts and sings her heart out in a dynamite performance that needs to make no apologies and is rightfully on the way to making Tony history.
Spoiler: Amber Gray, Hadestown
As Persephone, the bride of Hades, Gray is a devilish delight as a woman who only agrees to join hubby in the underworld if she can pop back to earth — in this case New Orleans — for part of the year and party. Hadestown plays mischievously with the Greek myth and so does Gray, who dances like a dervish and sings the folk-opera score by Anaïs Mitchell with hell-raising ferocity and romantic feeling. She’s a wow!
Snub: Angie Schworer, The Prom
As Angie, the showgirl with the crazy antelope legs in The Prom, Schworer stops the show trying to teach shy high schooler (Caitlin Kinnunen) how to wow them at the big dance. The secret? Give them some “Zazz.” And boy does the talented Schworer have zazz. Tony could have used it.
BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
André De Shields, Hadestown
Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie
Patrick Page, Hadestown
Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Favorite: André De Shields, Hadestown
He’s the first actor we see on stage in Hadestown, suited up real sharp and eager to give us the lowdown about the doings in this town just outside of hell. DeShields, showing everything he’s learned in 73 years on this earth and in a career that started in 1969, is a stage presence that holds you from first scene to last. He’s what Tonys are invented for. Bring it on.
Spoiler: Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Pope plays Eddie Kendricks, the falsetto-voiced founding member of the Temps and something of a handful off stage. He’s silky poetry in motion in the role and, having been nominated as Best Actor in Play for his role as a gay man up against it in Choir Boy, Pope is surely the breakout star of the Broadway season. At 26, Pope is just starting the kind of career that André DeShields is raising to glorious maturity in Hadestown. Why can’t we give them both Tonys?
Snub: George Salazar, Be More Chill
No one who sees the mixed-race Salazar in the Joe Iconis musical Be More Chill can stop raving about his performance as the nerdy outsider who sings the show’s most hilarious and heartbreaking song, “Michael in the Bathroom,” which deservedly went viral on the web. Salazar’s Tony nomination was in the bag, except it never materialized. Explanations, please, now!
BEST DIRECTOR OF A PLAY
Rupert Goold, Ink
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ivo van Hove, Network
George C. Wolfe, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Favorite: Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Mendes won an Oscar for directing his first film, American Beauty, and by all rights the Tony should be his by marshaling the conflicting forces in Jez Butterworth’s landmark of a play about a family trying to survive the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1981 and finally sit down for a big dinner after the harvest. There are 21 actors on stage, including assorted children and a baby, plus a live goose. Mendes keeps them thrillingly in action on their way to seizing a permanent place in your heart.
Spoiler: Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Some prefer the sound and fury Ivo van Hove unleashes in Network, but for my money, the art of seamless direction is made visible in Sher’s evocation of small-town life in Mockingbird as race, politics and murder strive to render it asunder
Snub: Joe Mantello, The Boys in the Band.
The outstanding revival of Mart Crowley’s seminal 1968 play about nine gay men caught between self-actualization and self-loathing had an all-star cast, including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells and Tony-nominee Robin de Jesus, to bring in the crowds. But it was Mantello who created a brilliant provocation by arranging the puzzle pieces to show how the past still reflects on an allegedly more enlightened present.
‘Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations,’ a new musical about the Motown legends, will hit Broadway in Spring 2019.
BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Des McAnuff, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Casey Nicholaw, The Prom
Favorite: Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Her show leads with 14 nominations, so Chavkin — the only woman to direct a musical this season — has the edge for turning Hadestown into a creative explosion that improves even on her Tony-nominated work on Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Chavkin never takes the easy way and Hadestown — the second ever musical in Broadway history to feature an entirely female principal creative team — thrums with the excitement of female voices spoiling to be heard.
Spoiler: Daniel Fish, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Fish is a match for Chavkin in pushing boundaries. In digging out a dark subtext in Oklahoma!, Fish combines his interest in theater, opera, film and installation art to create something fresh, something that prefers to provoke instead of soothe. The work of Fish and Chavkin doesn’t sit well with everybody. So be it. They’re the present and the future of the truly creative arts.
Snub: This is the Chaykin-Fish show. No others need apply.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATER
Be More Chill, Music & Lyrics: Joe Iconis
Beetlejuice, Music & Lyrics: Eddie Perfect
Hadestown, Music & Lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell
The Prom, Music: Matthew Sklar, Lyrics: Chad Beguelin
To Kill a Mockingbird, Music: Adam Guettel
Tootsie, Music & Lyrics: David Yazbek
Favorite: Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
This gorgeous score began as a concept album for the Vermont-based Mitchell, who has seven, bestselling CDs on her resume. Hadestown’s arrival on Broadway represents a decade-long journey for this folk artist who created songs to intensify her update of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in apocalyptic Depression-era America. You won’t find music as ambitious as hers on Broadway this year.
Spoiler: David Yazbek, Tootsie
I could also pick The Prom, Beetljuice or Be More Chill as scores that fit more comfortably into the feel-good Broadway tradition. I chose Yazbek, who won the Tony last year for his groundbreaking The Band’s Visit, because he knows how to playfully mix musical genres better than anyone in the business. Still, all bets on Mitchell.
Snub: Marius de Vries, Michael Mitnick and Craig Lucas, King Kong the Musical
Just kidding. Kong is a wrong-note musical disaster that makes you want to cover your ears whenever someone threatens to sing. The ape wisely refuses to join in. Special Tonys will be presented to Sonny Tilders and Creature Technology Company for the miraculous puppetry work that makes Kong come alive on stage (the only reason tourists keep lining up to see this otherwise shabby sideshow). So let’s celebrate King Kong, who made his screen debut in 1933, and is by far the biggest star of Tony 2019. But, please, don’t let him sing.
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