Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Who Will Win

SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Who Will Win

With less than a week before the American Theatre Wing’s 62nd annual Tony Awards ceremonies honor the best of Broadway's 2007-08 Theatrical Season, it's time for me to place my wagers on those nominees I believe will actually win.

Last week, I offered up my picks for whom I thought should win, and in case you missed those, I'm providing every category below once more. But this time, you'll see the names on which I'd bet money will actually take home the lovely little Tony medallion come Sunday. My predictions are based as much on plenty of inside word as good old-fashioned hunches.

All totaled, I believe that my own personal picks for the year's best will match the Tony voters in a whopping 17 categories, while I think we're going to part company in 9 of them.

One category in which we'll differ is for Best Musical, and up until just a few days ago, I thought the momentum was going in favor of a third musical about the far reaches of Manhattan, but now -- thanks in part to a viral ad campaign -- I sense that voters may be skating in a new direction.

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 and will win.

Here are the nominees and my picks:

Best Play
August: Osage County - Author: Tracy Letts Will Win/Should Win
Rock ‘N’ Roll - Author: Tom Stoppard
The Seafarer - Author: Conor McPherson
The 39 Steps - Author: Patrick Barlow

August: Osage County was hands-down the best show I've seen on Broadway or anywhere else this past year.

With such an august ensemble, excellent writing and superb direction, the other three shows don't even come close.

Best Musical
Cry Baby
In The Heights
Passing Strange Should Win
Xanadu Will Win

In a field crowded with plenty of heart, Passing Strange offers the biggest one of all in telling the infinitely smart and hip story of musician Stew's formative years all in his effort to be "real."

What can I say? I love this show and its gorgeous score still plays in my head long after I saw it.

Had A Catered Affair been nominated, it would have been a close call for me, but Passing Strange is my favorite new musical of the year.

Best Revival of a Play
Boeing-Boeing Will Win/Should Win
The Homecoming
Les Liaisons Dangereuses

In a category in which three of my favorite revivals of plays were not even nominated (Cymbeline, Pygmalion, A Bronx Tale), I was heartened to see at least one of my picks up for the award.

Boeing-Boeing may not win due to a curse on comedies (although I think it will win). But don't for one minute think these actors aren't working every bit as hard as those in the other shows. It is the funniest show currently on Broadway.

If I had to choose an alternate pick, it would be The Homecoming thanks largely to its top drawer acting.

Best Revival of a Musical
Gypsy Should Win
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific Will Win
Sunday In The Park With George

In any normal year, you'd likely never have to choose among three truly outstanding revivals in this category. Grease is the only smudge on this astonishing category.

As beautiful as I found South Pacific and Sunday In The Park With George, I was completely swept away by the artistry involved in this latest revival of Gypsy. Maybe it's because I've now seen it more than any other musical, but I've also never seen each of its characters more fully realized than those in this amazing incarnation.

Best Direction of a Play
Maria Aitken - The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson - The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro - August: Osage County Will Win/Should Win
Matthew Warchus - Boeing-Boeing

When you direct the year's best show, it stands to reason that you'll be the person to beat for Best Director.

But Anna D. Shapiro more than earns this honor as she's taken a superb script and excellent ensemble and directed them into something unique that is both heartfelt and visceral. Its dramatic punch hits every bit as hard as the humor. Credit Shapiro with sharpening this play into a razor-edged, whip-smart American classic.

Best Direction of a Musical
Sam Buntrock - Sunday In The Park With George
Thomas Kail - In The Heights
Arthur Laurents - Gypsy
Bartlett Sher - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific Will Win/Should Win

Here's the category about which I'm most conflicted. Make no mistake, I adore just about everything that Arthur Laurents has done to make Gypsy the absolute Best Revival of a Musical this year. But as someone who's now taken his third crack at the work -- and he's been nominated for the 1975 revival -- perhaps it's time to recognize someone else.

That someone else, of course, is Bartlett Sher, whose loving interpretation of South Pacific is both surprisingly innovative yet entirely natural, making his revival majestic. For a show in which racial bigotry is the issue, he also almost imperceptibly underscores the racial divide by slyly segregating what lonely African American troops inhabit this island to the sidelines.

As conflicted as I feel, I am compelled to give it to Sher.

Best Original Score
Music and/or Lyrics Written for the Theatre
Cry-Baby - Music & Lyrics: David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger
In The Heights - Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda Will Win
The Little Mermaid - Music: Alan Menken, Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Passing Strange - Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Lyrics: Stew Should Win

I've had one dear friend question whether this is really a musical. Again, I fear that the ill-conceived marketing campaign has taken its toll at the box office.

But ostensibly, this is a musical through and through with the best new score of the year with lyrics that are among the most witty and intelligent offered by any show in years. Among its competition, In The Heights comes the closest.

Best Book of a Musical
Cry-Baby - Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
In The Heights - Quiara Alegría Hudes
Passing Strange - Stew Will Win/Should Win
Xanadu - Douglas Carter Beane

To anyone wondering whether this musical tells a story, the answer is "YES!" And a pretty profound one at that.

Lest the advertising and marketing campaign has soured you on this show before you even had a chance to see it, take note. This is a great musical with a great story.

Had Xanadu not been all muddled near the end, it could have skated by Passing Strange.

Best Choreography
Rob Ashford - Cry-Baby
Andy Blankenbuehler -
In The Heights Will Win
Christopher Gattelli -
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Knechtges -
Xanadu Should Win

Should Win: Dan Knechtges - Xanadu

Without a doubt, Rob Ashford's work was the best thing about Cry-Baby, and Andy Blankenbuehler certainly provided one of the year's most exhilarating displays of dance on stage in In The Heights, surely making him a Tony favorite. But try doing all that on wheels, and backwards while you're at it.

An essential part of Xanadu's brilliant magic is derived directly from Dan Knechtges' daring roller-boogie choreography. When you consider the miniscule stage of the Helen Hayes Theatre and the injuries notoriously inflicted on certain cast members negotiating their way across it in good old-fashioned roller skates, Knechtges' choreography was clearly fraught with danger. But the very essence of live theatre is danger. And it dazzled all the way.

Best Orchestrations
Jason Carr - Sunday In The Park With George
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman - In The Heights Will Win/Should Win
Stew & Heidi Rodewald -
Passing Strange
Jonathan Tunick -
A Catered Affair

While you may have thought I'd be inclined to go with Stew and Heidi Rodewald yet again (given my love for Passing Strange) it's time to give due props to In The Heights.

Taking Lin-Manuel Miranda's exuberent score and turning it into an even hotter than salsa hip-hop funk, Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman not only succeed in turning up the heat, but they've single-handedly taken In The Heights to the heights I had hoped the rest of the show would be.

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

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 Will Win/Should Win
Kate Fleetwood - Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson - Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton - 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 Will Win/Should Win
Tom Wopat - A Catered Affair

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 Will Win/Should Win
Kelli O’Hara - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Faith Prince - A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell - Sunday In The Park With George

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 Will Win/Should Win
David Pittu - Is He Dead?

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 Will Win/Should Win

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 Should Win
Danny Burstein - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Robin De Jesús - In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald - Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines - Gypsy Will Win

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 Will Win/Should Win
Andrea Martin - The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz - In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

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.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Peter McKintosh - The 39 Steps
Scott Pask - Les Liaisons Dangereuses Should Win
Todd Rosenthal - August: Osage County Will Win
Anthony Ward - Macbeth

As evidenced this season by his work on The Ritz, November and Cry-Baby, Scott Pask has been one majorly busy man. But none of his set designs were more elaborate than the mesmerizing and sumptuous Versaillesque milieu he recreated for Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Todd Rosenthal's three-story work for August: Osage County was pretty lofty in its own right, but Pask's set design effectively took me back to 18th Century France.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network - Sunday In The Park With George Will Win/Should Win
Anna Louizos - In The Heights
Robin Wagner - The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Michael Yeargan - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

In a field crowded with very worthy nominees (yes, including Young Frankenstein), one team stands brilliantly apart.

Initially, necessity became Sunday In The Park With George's mother of invention. In its earliest incarnation as the musical was strapped for cash, Tim Bird and The Knifedge Creative Network helped fill in the blanks of David Farley's effectively colorless set design with an enthralling, radiant projection design that is unequivocally the true star of the show. Together, they have made this tuner a gorgeous work of art worthy of a great master.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Gregory Gale - Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Howell - Boeing-Boeing Should Win
Katrina Lindsay - Les Liaisons Dangereuses Will Win
Peter McKintosh - The 39 Steps

Pulling double duty, Rob Howell's ingenious and vibrant red, blue and yellow set and costume designs literally help set the stage for the three flight attendants served up in this tour de farce.

Even though Howell's designs go hand-in-hand, he's only been awarded one nomination. For all of his first-class work, he gets my vote as the best.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
David Farley - Sunday In The Park With George
Martin Pakledinaz - Gypsy Will Win/Should Win
Paul Tazewell - In The Heights
Catherine Zuber - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

One of the key reasons why this Gypsy sparkles so brilliantly is because of Martin Pakledinaz's never-ending razzle-dazzling costume designs ranging from the frumpy to the fabulous.

Even though this is a revival, and we've seen variations on these designs before, Pakledinaz makes them all seem vividly fresh and real, whether it's the unholy trinity of Mazeppa, Electra and Tessie Tura or the metamorphosis of Louise into Gypsy Rose Lee. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Kevin Adams - The 39 Steps
Howard Harrison - Macbeth
Donald Holder - Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Ann G. Wrightson - August: Osage County Will Win/Should Win

There's some serious competition here, but I have to narrow my choices down to Donald Holder and Ann G. Wrightson. My nod must go to the latter.

Whether it was the portentous flashes from the squad car or the flicker of the never-seen television set, Wrightson's subtle illuminations helped drive the drama and humor of August: Osage County even further.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington - Sunday In The Park With George
Howell Binkley - In The Heights
Donald Holder - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific Will Win/Should Win
Natasha Katz - The Little Mermaid

There's also some stiff competition in this lighting category. Here, my choices come down to Howell Binkley and Donald Holder, both of whom expertly captured the movement of the sun into nighttime.

But Holder's artistry in evoking each blissful moment of this gorgeous revival with perfectly drawn brilliance makes South Pacific absolutely radiant. Close call here, but Holder gets my nod.

Best Sound Design of a Play
Simon Baker - Boeing-Boeing
Adam Cork - Macbeth Will Win
Ian Dickson - Rock ‘N’ Roll
Mic Pool - The 39 Steps Should Win

Finally, acknowledgement for the vital work that goes into providing essential sound designs for Broadway shows. This is the first year awards will be bestowed in this category.

While something tells me that the Tony voters will go with the more bombastic (read: LOUD) nominee, whose work often drowned-out the already difficult-to-hear language of the Bard, it was Mic Pool's integral sound design that enabled The 39 Steps' audience to sense where this comedy was going in spite of its simple set design.

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Acme Sound Partners - In The Heights
Sebastian Frost - Sunday In The Park With George
Scott Lehrer - Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific Will Win/Should Win
Dan Moses Schreier - Gypsy

Two words: shower scene. Scott Leher somehow managed to mic Kelli O'Hara in such a way that she lathered up and effortlessly sang "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" in a shower. Without getting electrocuted.

Oh, and the rest of his sound design was pretty fantastic, too.

Whoopi Goldberg will host 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 III (June 6, 2008)
SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Part II (June 5, 2008)
SOB's 2008 Tony Picks - Part I (June 4, 2008)
And The Tony Nominees Go To... (May 12, 2008)

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At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Gil said...

Wait, really? You really think Xanadu's going to win just because of a usually-not-all-that-funny marketing campaign?

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Gil, You and I may agree that the viral campaign is usually not all that funny, and in fact may be a bit annoying, but the truth is that folks are eating it up. And let's not forget how the same folks ate up the campaign for Avenue Q a few short years ago. Since we already know Xanadu is a favorite of many, the campaign may be just enough to tip it over the finish line.

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Gil said...

Are they in fact eating it up? OK... I suppose there are many on the message boards who have been loving this stuff, but I have to disagree with you on your comparison to the Avenue Q/Wicked thing. It's a little different this year.

With Avenue Q, they did a "you should vote for us because you truly do think we're the better show". Not too different from Xanadu's campaign today, I suppose. But during that famous pizza party at Johns, they also basically said, "you out-of-towners should vote for us because you already know Wicked is going to play well on tour, but if Avenue Q wins the tony, then it will also play well on tour." In other words, they were submitting it as a win-win scenario... vote for Avenue Q, and you get *two* shows that play well afterwards.

Now under the really broad assumption that the whole which-show-does-well-out-of-town thing is entirely based on which one wins Best Musical, then the out-of-towners who want to vote for a show that will fill their touring seats don't get that win/win scenario that Avenue Q was presenting. They're probably skipping over Passing Strange (sigh) and looking at whether In The Heights or Xanadu plays better across the country. I think those who want to see Xanadu on tour will already plan to see it Tony or not, so the out-of-town theater owners I think will still go for In The Heights.

Oh, and don't get me wrong, I'm just trying to play Oracle, I really loved Xanadu. I wish the Cubby things were as genius as Xanadu's book.

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I was going to say something about how Tony voters, with all of their decades of experience and theatrical expertise, would never be swayed by a marketing campaign, no matter how funny. But now that you mention Avenue Q ...

I haven't seen Xanadu. As much as I like and admire Passing Strange, and as clever and poignant as I think the songs are, In the Heights is the musical that really won my heart. Even though the Cubby buzz has overtaken it a bit, I think it'll pull ahead for the win.

But the category I'm most excited about is Best Featured Actress in a Musical. I'm really pulling for Rondi Reed. Besides giving a terrific performance, I'll always remember the half-hour (at least!) we spent with her at the stage door. What a delightful, funny, gracious and talented woman.

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Gil, Appreciate the rationale counterpoint. And I agree in theory with what you've laid out for the Avenue Q/Wicked race, even if the former took its marbles and headed to Vegas first in an infamous b****-slap to the curb of the out-of-towners.

Xanadu's little campaign has embraced those very out-of-towners. They're feeling the love. And I'm also guessing that they're not quite so sure how well this "sure-bet" will actually go on tour.

Again, just a hunch, but I'm hearing plenty of chatter singing and Ka-chinging the familiar strains of "Xanadu."

Of course, I'm personally holding out hope that Passing Strange will ultimately be the beneficiary here.

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Esther. Unlike the Oscars, calibrated Tony campaigns were unheard of until Avenue Q came along....

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Gil said...

Well, what could happen is, the people who want to choose the best out-of-town musical may now be split between Xanadu and Heights, and Passing Strange could then sneak in...

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Gil, That's what I'm hoping will happen. But if I were betting money, right now I'd bet on Xanadu.

At 10 June, 2008, Blogger Bluelyric7 said...

Hey guys!

Only six days ‘til the Tony Awards! That gives you approximately 144 hours to place bets, bake award-shaped sheet cakes and get that seven layer dip recipe from your Aunt Margaret (I’m only assuming you have an Aunt Margaret)!


Just wanted to give a heads up to Tony junkies that we’ll actually be live-blogging from the event on Sunday (we’re excited!).

Also, we’ve posted a ton of videos so you can meet the nominees and see clips of the shows nominated before flipping on the television Sunday night. This afternoon, Best Play will be posted as our final installment. Just head on over to http://mybroadway.com/ and tap the “channels” button!

See you on Sunday!


At 10 June, 2008, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...


I said it before and I will say it again, In the Heights will win BEST MUSICAL. Avenue Q won as a counter-reaction to the Wicked hysteria. As much as I loved Xanadu, I just don't see voters voting for another low-budget musical.

At 11 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

BB, A week ago, I would have agreed with you, but I have detected a swing in momentum for Xanadu. We'll know for sure if it was enough in just a few days!


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