The Dramaturg: Totally Uninformed Tony Picks

The Tony Award nominations were announced this week! Double exclamation point!!
I struggle mightily to connect the Tony Awards to my daily, professional life. I feel no personal stakes in these awards, no ownership of my industry, no sense of pride in what we as a group have accomplished. I understand that there is a connection between myself and these awards, fragile and distant though it may be, but I struggle to feel it. Perhaps it is because the world that the Tonys honor and the world I work in are totally different. It’s like two cities (alright, one tiny hamlet and one shining metropolis) connected by some winding, rocky, dangerous road where freak lightning storms are known to occur. I’m reminded of this separation every time Tony season rolls around. Yet I continue to be undisturbed by it. I am fine treating the Tonys the same way I treat every awards show, with smarmy indifference and uninformed predictions:

Best Play
Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris
Other Desert Cities, by Jon Robin Baitz
Peter and the Starcatcher, by Rick Elice
Venus in Fur, by David Ives

I think all theater nerds have a soft spot in their heart for David Ives. His series of short plays All In The Timing is filled with the kind of clever, meta humor that young, smartass theater types gravitate to. I was once one of those young, smartass theater types. I directed a production of All In The Timing when I was 20. My heart goes with Ives. My brain is telling me Clybourne Park. It was certainly the most talked-about of the four, generating conversation that seems to have slipped out of the bounds of the theater world and become relevant to society as a whole. Which is a good thing.  But these are uninformed picks we’re making here, so I’m going with my heart. Venus In Fur for the win.

Best Musical
Leap of Faith
Nice Work If You Can Get It

I’m just going to choose the one with the strongest ties to Disney. About fifteen years ago, Disney ate Broadway for lunch one day, right? Even the theaters that aren’t literally owned by Disney and aren’t doing some version of Shrek are still having their strings pulled, right? Am I correct in assuming that it’s all just a shadowy cabal? Then congratulations, Newsies!

Best Revival of a Play
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
Gore Vidal’s The Best Man
Master Class

Best Revival of a Musical
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Jesus Christ Superstar

First off, what is with this trend of attaching the name of the writer in front of the title? “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman“? As opposed to whom? Granted, I know this has been going on in Hollywood for years (my first recollection of the trend was Bram Stoker’s Dracula but I could be wrong). And I suppose it does lend a whiff of credibility to the project, in that it firmly asserts that indeed someone wrote it. Still, it’s appropriate we’re only seeing this trend in the revival categories. There’s something creaky and antiquated about the whole thing. I keep picturing Dick Clark (RIP) or Casey Kasem (RIP?) hawking some Golden Oldies compilation on late night TV. Or like those commemorative plates they sell. There would be a whole set, Great Plays of the ’40s, and there would be one called “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” with an illustration of Willy sticking a hose in the exhaust.

Be that as it may, people do still come to the theater to feel a certain kind of legitimacy, so we’ll pick The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and, in a close call between Miller and Vidal, we’ll go with Gore Vidal’s The Best Man because I’m pretty sure it’s about the inner-workings of a presidential campaign and I’ve been a sucker for that kind of thing ever since Sam Seaborn and Josh Lyman tread the boards at The West Wing.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
James Corden, One Man, Two Guvnors
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
James Earl Jones, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man
Frank Langella, Man and Boy
John Lithgow, The Columnist

I have no idea who James Corden is. The other four guys are all movie stars. In honor of Broadway’s continued dependence on movie stars to sell tickets, I’ll go with the actor with the most iconic film performance to date. The hip choice would be Philip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights. The safe choice would be James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. But I’m going to go with Lithgow as icy, international terrorist Eric Qualen in Cliffhanger. Nefarious shit.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Nina Arianda, Venus in Fur
Tracie Bennett, End of the Rainbow
Stockard Channing, Other Desert Cities
Linda Lavin, The Lyons
Cynthia Nixon, Wit

I actually, legitimately heard that Nina Arianda was great. I read articles about it. And though I’m inclined to pick Stockard Channing, again out of loyalty to The West Wing and also because the first play I was ever in was Six Degrees of Separation, I feel like this is Arianda’s to lose. On a sidenote, I’m disappointed I can’t blindly predict a win for Peter and the Starcatcher in any of the major categories. That one sounds like it’s right up my alley, a quasi-dark, ornately clever retelling of the Captain Hook story. Even the counter-programming on Broadway goes back to Disney. I’m telling you, Disneyland is like our fucking Zion, people.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Danny Burstein, Follies
Jeremy Jordan, Newsies
Steve Kazee, Once
Norm Lewis, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Ron Raines, Follies

In all honesty, I think Once will probably win the Best Musical prize but Newsies is just too near and dear to my heart to ignore. So I’ll throw out a consolation prize to Steve Kazee here.  I think I might rank Newsies second on the list of nominated shows that I would actually like to see. First would have to be Death of a Salesman. I know I was just sarcastic about movie stars on Broadway but Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman is hardcore. Newsies is two. I think Venus In Fur is third and Peter and the Starcatcher is four. But it’s not a strong list.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Jan Maxwell, Follies
Audra McDonald, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Cristin Milioti, Once
Kelli O’Hara, Nice Work If You Can Get It
Laura Osnes, Bonnie & Clyde

I don’t know. Laura Osnes? I like the idea of a Bonnie & Clyde musical. That seems like it should have worked. It probably won’t come as a surprise to most of you that I’m a big fan of movie-to-Broadway moves. Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a line between theater and Ice Capades that a show can quickly approach and that is a fine line indeed but I say that if Hollywood is offering up its stories to be stolen, we should take them. There are some good ones and they can be made that much more exciting live. Broadway is the only place with the money to try it and we should applaud them when they do. Spiderman was apparently an unholy mess but a tip of the hat to them for trying.

Also, David Alan Grier and Judith Light are both nominated in featured acting categories, which is fantastic. I briefly flashback to a childhood filled with In Living Color and Who’s The Boss? episodes (not to mention multiple viewings of Newsies). Between this and the walk down memory lane that ensued the minute I name-checked All In The Timing and Six Degrees of Separation, I’m getting a little misty-eyed here. Kinda amazing to find my own memories woven into the fabric of this big, garish, stupid spectacle. I feel the connection.


Filed Under: dylan southardFeaturedPonderings

Dylan Southard About the Author: Dylan Southard is the co-Artistic Director of Needtheater and the resident dramaturg for The Robey Theatre Company. He has worked with The Center Theatre Group, The Geffen Playhouse, The Theatre @ Boston Court, Centerstage Baltimore, Native Voices at the Autry, the Network of Ensemble Theatres, Theatre Dybbuk, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble and LoNyLa among others. He can be found @dylansouthard.

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  1. Eric Qualen in Cliffhanger. Classic.

    Oh and Casey Kasem is still kickin. Just turned 80 a few days ago.