Friday, June 22, 2012

Tony Awards 2012 (Part III: Nominated Plays)

"Welcome to whose line is it anyway?!  The show where everything's made up and the points don't matter.  That's right the points are like whoever wins best play in the Tony Awards!" -- Drew Carey.

Ok, so Drew never actually said that as far as I know, but he could have.  Everyone knows that we watch the shows to see the musicals, and even if we like a few of the plays, they're usually just in the way of what we really like.  This year would've been like that, had it not been for one magical show....which will remain unnamed, but if you read my nominations post then you know what it is.  All in all, the plays weren't bad this year.  We had two or three really good ones, but many of the heavily nominated show just seemed to blend together.  But, nevertheless, all of the shows of this season deserve to be recognized, which I shall strive to do.  Since the plays don't get to perform individually, they are usually put in a giant montage so we can see a few clips.  However, I was filled to see this year that they let a few of the plays (Peter and the Starcatcher, One Man Two Governors, and End of the Rainbow) perform in addition to said montage.  Take a look:


PLAY NOMINEES
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

I'd like to begin this with a rant.  There's been a theme this year apparently of putting the author's name in the title of the show: "Gore Vidal's The Best Man", "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess", "Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman", etc.  It just seems a little vain and excessive to me.  To quote one of Broadwayworld.com's official bloggers, BwayGirlNYC: " Are they afraid we are going to think it's, like, Snoop Dogg's Death of a Salesman?"  Anyway, that's been bothering me for a while so I thought I'd throw that out there.  Now onto the show.  This show appeared to be very well liked by the public and the nominators, and I suppose I can understand why.  It's definitely the most classic play to appear on this years roster and starred a very talented cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield (in the new Spiderman movie).  What turned me off of it was a review I read (I think in the NY Times) that called it out for being a bit unoriginal.  Every time a revival is done, you have to be careful not to make a carbon copy of the original show onto the stage, and it sounds like that's a little bit of what happened.  Now, if the original is good enough then that's ok, but I applaud anything that tries to break the mold (even if I don't like the way they did it, such as with the recent revivals of Carrie and Jesus Christ Superstar).  However, obviously it worked to some extant because it was widely nominated and took home one of the biggest awards of the night.

Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman was nominated for 7 Awards and won 2:

  • Best Revival of a Play - WINNER
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (Philip Seymour Hoffman) - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Andrew Garfield) - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Linda Emond) - nominated
  • Best Direction of a Play - WINNER
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play - nominated
  • Best Sound Design of a Play - nominated


Apparently Philip Seymour Hoffman was excellent and was the favorite to win Best Leading Actor, but I was actually a bit glad it went to who it did.  I kind of liked Wit better just because it was less overdone, but seeing as I didn't get to see either production, it's very possible that Death of a Salesman did deserve it more.

Clybourne Park
This was indubitably one of the most well written plays of the year.  It did a good job of fusing humor with depth and got it's point across without being really depressing the whole time.  It was one of the several plays this year that took place in one room (the parlor of a house on Clybourne Park) which meant that the set was well designed and the actors got to become very comfortable on their set.  Since it was a realistic piece, costumes and lighting and such didn't have much room for creativity, so the focus was on the actors and the script itself.  For those of you who don't know, Clybourne Park is about a white family in a predominantly white neighborhood which has qualms about selling their house to a black family.  Act II shows that same black family selling the same house in a now predominantly black neighborhood  facing a similar dilemma.  The show does a great way of showing how "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" but mostly we just want to find a way to dance around it and not be offensive even when it does need to be addressed.
Clybourne Park was nominated for 4 Awards and won 1 of them:
  • Best Play - WINNER
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Jeremy Shamos) - nominated
  • Best Direction of a Play - nominated
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play - nominated
I feel like it's stronger categories was Best Play and best Featured Actor (Jeremy Shamos; who was hilarious by the way).  Unfortunately for Clybourne Park, another show, Peter and the Starcatcher, was also strongest in these two categories, so they split them down the middle each taking one.  It was no real shock that Clybourne Park would win Best Play because earlier in the year it took home a Pulitzer Prize for theater.  Which it probably deserved.

The Columnist
I honestly expected a little more from this show.  I had heard nothing but the highest praises about the writer (David Auburn) and I love John Lithgow.  Unfortunately, what they play had going against it was it's subject matter.  The show is about the columnist Joseph Alsop, who was at one point one of the most influential of writers.  The man was apparently a household name and on several occasions spoke with presidents, politicians, celebrities and the like.  Apparently his reign of power ended after some rumors (which I think ended up being true) began surfacing suggesting communistic sympathies.  From what it sounds like, the reason this play failed was because it was too realistic.  The play was about a man who worked hard to show little emotion, and therefore, the show lacked emotion.  This was a disappointment, but at least Mr. Alsop's story is now out there for the public to see.
The Columnist was nominated for 1 Award and did not win it:
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (John Lithgow) - nominated
I think Mr. Lithgow's nomination was probably deserved, because, from what I hear, his portrayal of the real life Mr. Alsop was spot on.  But I'm also glad he didn't win, because I feel there were more deserving men in the category.

Don't Dress For Dinner
This is actually a really good setting for a play.  It has a cast of 5-6 and takes place in one room, like so many of the other nominees.  But this show is a comedy and, from what I hear, a pretty good one.  It follows a couple of scandalous "high society" English folks, who each spin webs of deceit to try to hide their adultery from their partner (who is also in an affair with someone else, and so on and so forth).  Despite the vulgar concept, the show actually did look pretty funny, with well timed slapstick and more jokes about the bad liars than about the adulterous content of said lies.
Don't Dress for Dinner was nominated for 2 Awards and did not win any:
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a featured Role in a Play (Spencer Kayden) - nominated
  • Best Costume Design of a Play - nominated
I don't know that the show deserved its nominations because neither Ms. Kayden nor the costumes looked particularly impressive to me, but at least they didn't win.  It was a good show, but not a great one.

End of the Rainbow
This is another example of a show carried by the leading actor (or in this case, actress).  The show is about the rise and (mostly) the fall of Judy Garland.  From what I've read, Traci Bennett (the actress who played Garland) was absolutely phenomenal in her role and made the show a success.  From what I hear the show had wit, timing, drama, and some singing too, so it must have been pretty great.
End of the Rainbow was nominated for 3 Awards and did not win any:
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Tracie Bennett) - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Michael Cumpsty) - nominated
  • Best Sound Design of a Play - nominated
Honestly, Ms. Bennett was who I thought would win best Actress (even though I would've rather seen Cynthia Nixon win).  I truly thought she had the best shot at it and was a bit disappointed when I saw that she didn't win.  As for the show's other nominations, the sound design doesn't surprise me, because, since there's singing in the show, the sound would naturally be more complicated than a lot of the other strait plays.  I really know nothing about the actor, except that he had no chance against Christian Borle.

Gore Vidal's The Best Man
This show is the Merchant of Venice of last year. The show is average, but the cast is stellar.  It's cast members include 5 time TONY winner Angela Lansbury [Sweeney Todd (and so much else)], TONY winner John Larroquette [How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011 Revival)], Darth Vader himself: James Earl Jones [Driving Miss Daisy], TONY nominated Kerry Butler [Hairspray], and TV actor Eric McCormack [Will & Grace].  With a cast like this, the show should have been stellar, but the review I read implied that there just wasn't enough in the plot.  Not that politics isn't fascinating, but you can hear enough of it on the news, and there's just not enough action to make for a really interesting show.
Gore Vidal's The Best Man was nominated for 2 Awards and didn't win either of them:

  • Best Revival of a Play - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (James Earl Jones) - nominated
I expected more nominations for actors because of the strong cast of this show, but this was a really competitive year.  There weren't many play revivals this year, so my guess is this show was just kind of filling a space, as for Lord Vade- I mean James Earl Jones's nomination, I can only assume that he deserved it.  Because he is awesome.

The Lyons
Unspectacular.  That's the best I can come up with for this show.  It just seemed to blend in with every other play this year.  A play about a neurotic parent when the family gets together for some kind of reunion, it's practically just the same as Stick fly, and especially Other Desert Cities.  Not that that template isn't great, I've seen many great shows that follow that plot line, but nothing in the videos I've seen has shown me that The Lyons deserves to stand out above the rest.  I'm honestly not sure what it's about, because it's based more on dialogue than plot.  I imagine that it's the kind of show that makes for a pleasant evening at a Broadway show, but not a life-changing experience.
The Lyons was nominated for 1 Award and it didn't win:
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Linda Lavin) - nominated
From what I saw, this nomination was deserved.  I got to see Ms. Lavin in a few scenes and she definitely is talented.  The nice thing about these kind of shows is that you can really delve into the characters, which makes it funner for the actors than the audience sometimes.  I think it's ok that Ms. Lavin didn't win, but I think it's good that she was nominated.

Man and Boy
Part of me wonders if this counts as a real show.  I don't want to be to harsh on it, but part of me wonders if they just wanted Frank Langella to be in another show so they whipped something together.  Because you really never heard anything else about the show.  It appears to center around a father son relationship (whether they're actually related I don't know), but you never hear about the actor who played the son, or the biting dialogue that the show may or my not have, you just hear about Mr. Langella.  Honestly, from what I can tell, this show barely existed.
Man and Boy was nominated for 1 Award and it did not win:
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (Frank Langella) - nominated
As is the case occasionally with these things, the nominators got it right.  I think Langella deserved the nomination, but his category was just massive this year (probably the most competition out of all of them) so it's good he didn't win.

Master Class
This show actually fascinates me.  It's like a female, operatic version of Seminar (which you'll be able to read about in a future blog because it was snubbed for nominations).  The show is about Maria Callas, an old opera Diva who is holding a "Master Class" where she takes young new talent and gives them the opportunity to train with a "master".  The show is just built for awesomeness!  It gives the lead character the opportunity to be wonderfully sardonic, it has space for great lines (including my favorite: "This isn't a play!"), and the young ingenues, including Broadway superstar Sierra Boggess [The Little Mermaid], are all unique and show great contrast to their "master diva". Not only that, but you can actually hear some really impressive operatic singing (if you're into that sort of thing) throughout the show, which, if nothing else, mixes it up and keeps it from dragging on exactly the same for too long.
Master Class was nominated for 1 Award and did not win:
  • Best Revival of a Play - nominated
The show definitely deserved it's nomination.  Unfortunately it couldn't quite go up against the stiff competition it faced.  I think the cast and creative team of the show can be proud of the show they made, and it would definitely be one I would go see.  Definitely one of the best "strait plays" (not built on whimsy) of the year.

One Man, Two Governors
It's no secret that British people are hilarious.  I don't know how they do it, but Monty Python, Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, and now James Corden are some of the funniest actors you will ever get to see.  It's fun to see Broadway and West End (London's equivalent) trade shows back and forth because they're usually have a similar reception in each country, but the delay is kind of funny.  So it wasn't unusual for this show to transfer over from England, but I think they were a little afraid of how it would be received because it is VERY British.  But everything I've seen shows that it's absolutely hysterical.  It has slapstick, it has clever writing, it has lovable characters, it is truly the complete package.
One Man, Two Governors was nominated for 7 Awards and won 1:
  • Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (James Corden) - WINNER
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Tom Edden) - nominated
  • Best Direction of a Play - nominated
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play - nominated
  • Best Costume Design of a Play - nominated
  • Best Sound Design of a Play - nominated
I am really impressed that this was nominated for Best Score.  You have to understand, that not many of the great musicals of the year (including Leap of Faith, and Once) weren't nominated when this PLAY was.  That is NOT easy!  Obviously it didn't have much of a chance against the musicals that were nominated, but even the nomination is impressive.  As for Mr. Corden, his win was deserved.  A lot of people were looking at the big names (all of them were well known superstars except for Mr. Corden) to take home the TONY, but from what I saw he had the best performance and I am SO glad that he won for it.  Mr. Edden too was hilarious, but his category had heavy competition as well.

Other Desert Cities
As I said, this seemed to blend a lot with The Lyon, but from what I can tell this was the better of the two.  The play centers around the conflict that arises within a mother's family when her son decides to publish a book containing all of their families dirty little secrets.  Then as the show progresses we begin to learn why there's such hostility amongst the family and why the father isn't at this unofficial reunion.  It seems like a nice show, with some strong emotional moments, but it just isn't individual enough for my taste.  It was really well received, one of the longer running plays nominated and I think it deserves to run for a long while, but it wouldn't be my first choice if I got the opportunity to see a show up there.
Other Desert Cities was nominated for 5 Awards and won 1:
  • Best Play - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Stockard Channing) - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Judith Light) - WINNER
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play - nominated
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play - nominated
I feel like all of these nominations were likely deserved.  And although I didn't expect Ms. Light to win, and didn't really want her to (only because Celia Keenan-Bolger [25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee] was nominated), I wasn't disappointed.  I feel like she did well, and probably did deserve the award.

Peter and the Starcatcher
OH. MY. GOODNESS.  I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH!!!!!!!  If you read my nominations post then you know that I just drool over everything about this show.  The only other show of the year to earn this level of obsession was Godspell (with Newsies as a close third), but since it wasn't nominated I was forced to focus my attention to "Starcatcher" and praying that it wins every single award it was nominated for.  For those of you who haven't heard me go on and on about it, it's the origin story of Peter Pan.  This show shows how he came to Neverland, why he doesn't grow up, how Captain Hook came to hate him, and pretty much everything else.  If that was all, then it would probably still be my favorite play (because I love Peter Pan), but that's not even the best thing about the show.  The book is absolutely fabulous with hilarity on every page.  But the writing isn't the best part either. Every character of the show will have you busting out laughing from the HYSTERICAL Captain Blackstache (aka Hook), to the confusingly unattractive mermaids, to the cheeky Molly (not Wendy's equivalent, but Peter's first female friend).  These characters are played by one of the most impressive band of actors I've ever seen led by the sensationally talented Adam Chanler Berat [Next to Normal, and RENT (Off-Broadway, 2012 revival)], Celia Keenan-Bolger ["Spelling Bee", and Les Miserables (2006 revival)], and Christian Borle [Monty Python's Spamalot, and Legally Blonde].  But even the cast isn't what makes this show so unique.  No, the best part of the show is the staging.  As the announcer said, these eleven actors and one actress play over a hundred roles and make up almost the entire set (playing tables, trees and walls with just a rope or a stick as a prop).  The entire cast remains onstage practically the entire show and never get a break.  The show is filled with an energy exponentially superior to any of the "cookie-cutter" shows I've been bashing this whole time.  I cannot wait for the rights for this show to come out and then I shall hound every community theater within driving distance to do the show and let me play even the smallest ensemble role possible.  I will be surprised if this isn't the play of the decade (in my eyes at least).
Peter and the Starcatcher was nominated for 9 Awards and won 5:
  • Best Play - nominated
  • Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Christian Borle) - WINNER
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Celia Kennan-Bolger) - nominated
  • Best Direction of a Play - nominated
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play - WINNER
  • Best Costume Design of a Play - WINNER
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play - WINNER
  • Best Sound Design of a Play - WINNER
HOW IN THE WORLD DID THIS NOT WIN BEST PLAY!?!?!?!  I did like Clybourne park, but this was the greatest injustice of the night (I was so proud of the guests at my TONY Awards party who appropriately let out an "awwwwww" as soon as that was announced).  But aside from that the show did pretty well.  I knew it wouldn't be able to beat Newsies for Score, and I didn't really think Ms. Keenan-Bolger was going to win (although I hoped).  I was not surprised in the least by Mr. Borle's win.  He performance was one of the best I've seen in a long time and pushed him right up there with Christopher Fitzgerald on my list of funniest Broadway actors ever!  I was surprised and disappointed to see them lose direction.  I think that's the category staging falls under, and that's what I thought was the strongest element of the show.  As for the rest of the technical awards, of course all of them were deserved.  The set (comprised partially of humans) was brilliant, the costumes were stunning (just look at some of the mermaids) the lighting was awesome with plenty of strobe lights and lighting effects, and although I'm still not sure what Sound Design is, I'm glad "Starcatcher" won.

The Road To Mecca
I had never heard of this show before I did my nominations post, but since it received one nominations I had to go look at a video to see how it was.  I actually really enjoyed what I saw.  It's a sweet story about an eccentric woman living in her own unique way in a town where no one understands her except a drifter who came in looking for a place to crash.  I felt like this show should have been nominated for more technical awards.  It deserved it's lighting award (the stage was flooded with hundreds of candles, which made for a cool effect), and I thought it's set deserved a nod as well.  There were also some stirring performances by the 3 person show including a particularly brilliant one by Rosemary Harris [You Can't Take it With You (1965 revival)].  I see why it wasn't nominated for best show because it wasn't really sad or really funny, it was simply sweet.  Which is the kind of show that may sell tickets, but won't win awards.
The Road to Mecca was nominated for 1 Award and did not win:
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play - nominated
I actually thought this was going to beat Peter and the Starcatcher out of the award, but I'm not too disappointed that it didn't.

Stick Fly
This was another family angst show with a star-studded cast.  But this differentiates itself for being also about racial prejudice.  I liked the way that it shows that things can be harder on a poor black child in the "ghetto", but it can be just as hard for people of different colors and different situations.  The stellar cast included Tracie Thoms [RENT (in both Movies)], Condola Rashad (daughter of Mrs. Cosby Phylicia Rashad), and Dule Hill (most known for his work in TV show Psych).  To add to the show's star quality even more, it is produced by recording artist Alicia Keys.  The show certainly had its funny moments (usually involving Ms. Thoms) and moving moments, but at its core really wasn't that different from The Lyons or Other Desert Cities.
Stick Fly was nominated for 1 Award and did not win:
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Condola Rashad) - nominated
Personally, from what I saw I liked Mrs. Thoms's performance better than Mrs. Rashad's, but I'm thinking maybe Thoms's character didn't quite qualify as "supporting".  I have no doubt that Mrs. Rashad deserved her nomination, but she wasn't much featured in the videos I got to see of the production.

A Streetcar Named Desire
What does it tell you when a Pulitzer Prize winning Tennessee Williams play is only nominated for its costumes?  I really heard almost no hype for this show, and I think that's because it just wasn't that good.  I think it's possible that since this show has been done so many times there wasn't much new they could add to it.  I'm glad to see classic plays still on Broadway, but this production just didn't seem like anything spectacular.
A Streetcar Named Desire was nominated for 1 Award and did not win:
  • Best Costume Design of a Play - nominated
I really have nothing to say here.  It never really had a chance.

Venus In Fur
I kind of wanted to dislike this show, because it certainly appears to have some.....questionable content.  But there is something strangely appealing about it.  The two person show is about a young playwright who's asked a young actress to come in and read for a role in his play (apparently based off the book that inspired the term "masochism).  He begins by pushing the actress around a little, but by the end of the show, she has somehow wound up in the dominant position.  This same transfer of power is present in the play the show focuses around, so some of the story is told through that play.  Sense the content of the play within the play is so crude and there's quite a bit of crude humor in the show I didn't think I'd like it, but I was impressed by the way they kept things relatively light.  The show didn't have those intense, passionate kind of scenes you'd expect as much as it poked fun at those kind of scenes.  The highlight of the show was certainly Nina Arianda's performance.  She was flippantly comical most of the time, but certainly had her moments when you saw something new in her character, something deeper and a bit frightening.  I feel like once you get past the innuendo, the show is fascinating if nothing else.  And although I did make fun of the announcer when he said it, I do now see how the show "intellectually stimulating".
Venus In Fur was nominated for 2 Awards and won 1:
  • Best Play - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Roll in a Play (Nina Arianda) - WINNER
Like Mr. Cordon, relative newcomer Ms. Arianda had some stiff, and very famous competition this year so it was a bit surprising when she did win.  However, like Steve Kazee (winner of best leading actor in a musical), once she got up on stage to accept the Award you felt her charisma and were kind of glad she one.  Based on her speech and some pre-TONY interviews that I've seen, she seems like a fun person who lights up every room she's in.  So she definitely joins the list of people who I think I would like better than the role they play.  As for best play....you know my position on that.

Wit
I'm not going to lie, I really like this show.  It wasn't nominated for much, but I really wanted it to win.  The Pulitzer Prize winning show follows English professor Dr. Vivian Bearing in her final days before she finally dies of cancer.  What I love about the show is the staccato dialogue and Cynthia Nixon's performance.  Ms. Nixon's character is so distinctly intellectual that her diction is impeccable and every line uttered masks a smug knowing-ness in her eyes.  As the character progresses and spends a significant amount of time in a hospital as an experimental case in a new kind of treatment, she begins to doubt the superiority of intelligence and slowly begins to yearn for kindness instead.  Even rejecting a reading of her favorite poet by her old English professor who comes for a visit, opting instead for "The Runaway Bunny".  Everything about this show seemed so....so....witty, that I was instantly drawn to it.  I would love to see it done live someday, especially Ms. Nixon's portrayal.
Wit was nominated for 2 Awards and did not win either:
  • Best Revival of a Play - nominated
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play - nominated
Although I kind of knew "Death of a Salesman" would win best revival, I was hoping Wit would take the trophy, because I felt like it struck the balance between comedy and tragedy better than almost any other show this year.  In my "perfect ballot", both Nixon, and the play itself won in their respective categories.

CONCLUSION
This was definitely a huge year for plays and for the most part I am again pretty happy with who won (except for best play).  You definitely tend to see more extreme plays than musicals.  Musicals usually have a pretty even balance between happy and sad, ending on a happy note.  But plays are far less likely to follow that stencil, seeing some completely, and utterly whimsically hilarious, and others touching and seriously tragic.  But whether you prefer musicals or plays, it is clear that there is plenty of great pieces of art out there.
What do you think?  Do you dare to not like Peter and the Starcatcher?  Did you actually like The Lyons?  Do disagree with any of my picks?  Feel free to tell me about it in the comment section below.  And don't forget to check the rest of my TONY posts.  Thanks for reading!

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