Thursday, June 05, 2008

SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Part II

SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Part II

With less than two weeks to go before the American Theatre Wing’s 62nd annual Tony Awards ceremonies honor the best of Broadway's 2007-08 Theatrical Season, I'm in the midst of offering my own prognostications on whom I believe should win.

Yesterday, I provided my picks for best shows, as well as for musical book and score. Today, I tackle the acting categories.

As previously mentioned, this is the first year in which I've seen every nominated work and performance. So while I'm no theatre professional, I profess to having an opinion on every last category. Let me know if you agree on whom you believe should win (vs. those you think actually will).

Here are the nominees and my picks:

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Ben Daniels - Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne - Thurgood
Mark Rylance - Boeing-Boeing
Rufus Sewell - Rock ‘N’ Roll
Patrick Stewart - Macbeth

Should Win: Mark Rylance - Boeing-Boeing

Sure, another actor has received lots of acclaim for his performance in a Shakespeare revival, but it's the comic, farcical turn by one of the greatest living interpreters of Shakespeare who is keeping them laughing at the Longacre -- in his long overdue Broadway debut, no less -- who is far more worthy of this award. Mark Rylance is absolutely brilliant.

If there's a close race, it should be between Rylance and Rufus Sewell, who was by far the best thing going for the tedious Rock 'N' Roll. As a master of slapstick comedy, Rylance deserves the last laugh.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Eve Best - The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan - August: Osage County
Kate Fleetwood - Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson - Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton - August: Osage County

Should Win: Deanna Dunagan - August: Osage County

A very competitive category with Eve Best living up to her name, S. Epatha Merkerson turning in a surprisingly tender performance and the excellent Amy Morton going toe to toe with Deanna Dunagan in the year's best play.

Ultimately, it's Dunagan's breathtaking performance as the drug-addled matriarch Violet who should win the day. As I noted at the end of the last year, she gave one sensational, bravura performance for the ages.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Daniel Evans - Sunday In The Park With George
Lin-Manuel Miranda - In The Heights
Stew - Passing Strange
Paulo Szot - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Tom Wopat - A Catered Affair

Should Win: Paulo Szot - Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific

As wondrous a Broadway debut as Daniel Evans offered and as nuanced a performance as Tom Wopat gave, it was South Pacific's Paulo Szot who singlehandedly delivered one enchanted evening, bringing on the tears through his rendition of "This Nearly Was Mine."

As the consummate leading man, Szot also has proven once and for all that the world of opera isn't quite so far away from that of theatre. Let's hope he makes it a habit.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Kerry Butler - Xanadu
Patti LuPone - Gypsy
Kelli O’Hara - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Faith Prince - A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell - Sunday In The Park With George

Should Win: Patti LuPone - Gypsy

What is it about the ladies, anyway?! And I mean that with the utmost respect.

By far the most competitive category with powerhouse performances through and through, all are deserving of the Tony. But this is no ordinary year, and since Gypsy is no ordinary musical, one performance managed to eclipse the rest: Patti LuPone as a Rose who was at once sympathetic, conniving, sexy, funny, tragic and repulsive all at the same time. Brava, Patti! Brava!

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Bobby Cannavale - Mauritius
Raúl Esparza - The Homecoming
Conleth Hill - The Seafarer
Jim Norton - The Seafarer
David Pittu - Is He Dead?

Should Win: Jim Norton - The Seafarer

I realize that there may be a sympathy vote out there for Raúl Esparza, whom many (including me) feel got gypped out of a Tony last year. Indeed, as great as his slithery performance in The Homecoming was, if Tony voters are serious about awarding the best performance of this year, they really need to choose between Conleth Hill and Jim Norton of The Seafarer.

My pick is the breathtaking Jim Norton, who more than convinced me he had literally drunk himself blind. There's a reason why his performance was earlier awarded with an Olivier. It was superb.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Sinead Cusack - Rock ‘N’ Roll
Mary McCormack - Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf - November
Martha Plimpton - Top Girls
Rondi Reed - August: Osage County

Should Win: Rondi Reed - August: Osage County

In yet another competitive category for actresses, it's easy to think that if Rondi Reed wins, it'll be because of the strong pull of the tide from the August: Osage County juggernaut.

But her Mattie Fae is so deliciously complex and real and flat-out funny thanks to Reed's outstanding performance that you'd be forgiven for thinking of her as your favorite crazy aunt. Reed offers one of the year's best performances.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Daniel Breaker - Passing Strange
Danny Burstein - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Robin De Jesús - In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald - Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines - Gypsy

Should Win: Daniel Breaker - Passing Strange

Among the men, this should be the most competitive category -- I certainly enjoyed each of the outstanding performances offered by the actors above.

But one actor breaking away from the rest of the pack is Passing Strange's Daniel Breaker, whose astonishing breakthrough role of Youth blew me away. Breaker conveys volumes with a simple roll of his eyes and displays a natural presence found far too infrequently on the stage. He made Passing Strange come alive.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
de’Adre Aziza - Passing Strange
Laura Benanti - Gypsy
Andrea Martin - The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz - In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Should Win: Laura Benanti - Gypsy

Hands down, this award belongs to Laura Benanti in her best, most poignant performance yet.

As Louise, Benanti begins as a doe-eyed innocent, always eager to please, never fathoming her hidden talents or beauty. To watch her transition to the world's most famous stripper is to witness a major star claiming her rightful place in the spotlight.

Next up: my picks for the creative design awards.

Whoopi Goldberg hosts the 2008 Tony Awards on Sunday, June 15. The CBS broadcast begins at 8 p.m. EDT.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Part I (June 4, 2008)
And The Tony Nominees Go To... (May 12, 2008)

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At 05 June, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Wow, Steve, this is fun! You've definitely made me wish I'd seen Boeing-Boeing and The Seafarer.

Daniel Breaker and Laura Benanti are my choices in the featured performer category, too. Even though I didn't fall in love with Passing Strange, I did fall in love with Daniel Breaker. You're absolutely right about his presence, about the nonverbal things he does. He created such a memorable character. And Laura Benanti, wow. What an incredible transformation from awkward adolescent to glamorous, confident stripper. She was wonderful.

I also agree with you about Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed. At first I was leaning toward Amy Morton, but the more I think about it, Dunagan is the presence that everyone is playing off of. And she is a remarkable presence throughout the play. Rondi Reed is a joy. She had me laughing from her first scene.

I loved Paulo Szot, and I'd be happy if he won, but part of me wants to see A Catered Affair get some recognition, and I thought Tom Wopat was wonderful as this solid, working-class guy who feels unappreciated. I loved the forcefulness in "I Stayed." He's getting my imaginary vote.

For Best Actor in a Play, of the three I've seen, Stewart, Sewell and Fishburne, my vote goes to Laurence Fishburne. Maybe it's because I was sitting so close, or maybe it was my interest in the subject matter, but I was mesmerized. He had my attention for the entire 90 minutes.

And Patti LuPone was awesome. What she does with a song, just the way she acts it out in her singing, is pretty amazing. Her performance was thrilling last summer the first time I saw it, at Encores, and I think it got even better on Broadway.

At 05 June, 2008, Anonymous dylan said...

I agree with most of your picks, Steve. Mark Rylance was so great in Boeing-Boeing and this revival of Gypsy is ALL about LuPone's performance for me. It's brought be back to the show 3 times so far, and I don't even live in NYC!

Where do I veer in other directions? Kate Fleetwood is my Best Actress/Play choice, Daniel Evans my fave Best Actor/Musical, and Mary McCormack stole the show, becoming my choice for Best Featured Actress/Play.

I agree with some of your other readers ... lists are definitely fun! Thanks for making the pre-Tonys wait that much more interesting.

At 05 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Thanks so much for sharing your picks. I really thought Tom Wopat was superb; however, I just didn't see him as leading actor material (I think Daniel Breaker had to do far more in his "featured" role). It points out the folly of the Tony categorization.

Also, as much as I enjoyed Laurence Fishburne, I was struck by how many times he stumbled over his lines - to me, actors shouldn't be rewarded unless they turn in flawless performances.

At 05 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dylan, Thanks for weighing in with your selections.

Perhaps I saw Boeing-Boeing on an off night for Mary McCormack, who was just a bit too over the top for my taste. Was she funny? Absolutely, but I loved Gina Gershon's performance the even more. And I think Rondi Reed turned in the much more nuanced performance in that category.

Daniel Evans, as I stated in my post, comes a close second in the Best Actor category. So we're not too far apart, right?

Finally, I found Kate Fleetwood compelling, but Deanna Dunagan turned in a major performance that I'll never forget.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

At 11 June, 2008, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

My hunch is telling me that Raul Esparza will get his Tony. The sympathy vote will be his- and he will get the Tony for his body of work...

I also think Paulo Szot will win although Daniel Evans' performance actually improved on Mandy Patinkin's legendary performance. While Szot was very good, I just don't think he brought anything new to the role (and he definitely wasn't the first opera singer to play the role obviously)


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