THE RACE IS ON: HANDICAPPING THE TONYS by Jeannie Lieberman
BOYS NIGHT OUT - History Boys and Jersey Boys in the lead
New and revived musicals duke it out!
The most exciting contest in the Tonys is the neck and neck race for Best New Musical between sleeper Drowsy Chaperone and Jersey Boys which will pit old school musical theater purists vs.a high end jukebox musical. About 25% of voters represent the regionals and The Jersey Boys will be easier to tour than Drowsy Chaperone because it has a smaller cast with simpler scenery, name recognition (Frankie Valli and the colorful state of New Jersey) and (a lesson to producers on the importance of a name) Drowsy Chaperone is an obscure, less attractive title for a musical. While both are "feel good" shows, the less sophisticated and/or younger audiences may not appreciate Drowsy's better constructed homage to old fashioned musicals as much as the POW effect generated onstage by the Boys. And, not to be overlooked, the producers invited the voters back for a second look - very smart! Winner: Jersey Boys by a nose.
Similarly the race for Musical Revival pits three very different shows against each other: Pajama Game, a feel good, sentimental favorite from the Golden Age of Musicals infused with new energy and pop appeal by hunky, charismatic Harry Connick, Jr who breaks free with a jazz solo in the middle of the show vs. an iconoclastic, edgy version of a gritty Sondheim classic (Teeny) Sweeney Todd, a brilliant reduction with Patti LuPone, Michael Cerveris and a small cast playing instruments in lieu of an orchestra that focuses on the weird drama of the story vs. and the controversial, outrageously revised Three Penny Opera that stars like Jim Dale, Alan Cumming & Cyndi Lauper may not be able to save. Could be a generational gap in voting but Pajama is the current box office draw (although who knows what will happen when Connick leaves and the show moves to another theater with another cast) and a crowd pleaser...Winner: Pajama Game by a length.
Best Play The History Boys A literate but accessible drama, beautifully written, directed and performed by the original British cast about the value of education over the high pressured preparation of a group of boys for entrance exams for top Universities. Makes you feel smart when you leave. Winner: History Boys A runaway winner!.
Best Revival of a Play: Odets' vintage play, with Ben Gazzara & Mark Ruffalo resonated with critics and public! The Constant Wife (the best of the lot but too long ago), Edward Albee's Seascape (visually arresting but Albee's had his day) Faith Healer (obscure - soporific, will fail for the same reasons it did in the past) Winner: Awake and Sing No contest!
Lead Actor in a Play Richard Griffiths' touching, sad but inspirational performance as teacher will ride the coattails of The History Boys' success overriding the panache of fellow Brit movie star Ralph Fiennes and Zeljko Ivanek's Captian Queeg but show closed before voters got to it. Oliver Platt, Shining City, gave an amazing performance from a former comic actor. Winner: Richard Griffiths odds on favorite
Leading Actress in a Play Judy Kaye deserves it for Souvenir, Lynn Redgrave was strong and magnificent in The Constant Wife, but show ran a long time (same problem for Kate Burton), Cynthia Nixon, Rabbit Hole, a luminous performance in a pedestrian play but still a novelty onstage. Winner: Cynthia Nixon, slow track
Lead Actor in a Musical Another tight one. Broadway darling Micheal Cerveris had his day in Assassins Bob Martin, Chaperone's writer/narrator didn't dance, sang a few bars at end but very endearing, Harry Connick, Jr.,would be criminal not to reward this philanthropic, multi talented charismatic singer who reinterpreted role with his silky non-Bway voice, John Lloyd Young, Jersey Boys hard working boy wonder, deserves to win but young. Winner: John Lloyd Young photo finish with Harry Connick, Jr.
Lead Actress in a Musical The best performance came from Grey Gardens Christine Ebersole but Off Broadway overshadowing living legends Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, recent winner Sutton Foster vs. newcomers, LaChanze, Kelli O'Hara. Winner: Kelli O'Hara long shot
Featured Actor in a Play Winner: Mark Ruffalo, Awake and Sing! (gutsy role- took over the stage when on)
Featured Actress in a Play Winner: Tyne Daly, Rabbit Hole (everyone misses her - this could be her welcome back)
Featured Actor in a Musical Winner: Jim Dale, The Threepenny Opera (yes! a trouper who overcame the production)
Featured Actress in a Musical Winner: Beth Leavel, The Drowsy Chaperone (will ride the tails of the favorite)
Best Direction of a Play Winner: Nicholas Hytner, History Boys
Best Direction of a Musical: Winner: John Doyle, Sweeney Todd
Best Choreography Winner: Casey Nicholaw, The Drowsy Chaperone
Best Original Score Winner: Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison The Drowsy Chaperone
Best Book of a Musical WInner: Bob Martin and Don McKellar, The Drowsy Chaperone
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Winner: Santo Loquasto, Three Days of Rain
Best Scenic Design of a Musical Winner:David Gallo, The Drowsy Chaperone
Best Costume Design of a Play Winner: Catherine Zuber, Seascape
Best Costume Design of a Musical Winner: Gregg Barnes, The Drowsy Chaperone
In the oddest note of the process The Tony Committee voted to award a Special Tony to Sarah Jones' solo Bridge & Tunnel but failed to utilize their new category of Best Replacement by an Actor or Actress in a Recreated Role, created to accommodate Jonathan Pryce in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof. Pryce was quoted as saying "I don't want this to sound like sour grapes - that I should have won the award or anything - but I found it ultimately insulting to all of us who were eligible," and "By not giving the award, Tony officials left the impression "that none of us is worthy." When the news came out Pryce was reported as remarking to his fellow cast members: "I apologize for not being worthy enough." Fierstein says he thinks the replacement award is "creepy" adding "it's sort of a backhanded slap at the person you're replacing."
Well, those are my guesses, not of who deserves to win, but whom the Tony voters will choose.
Tune in 2006 Tony Awards, Radio City Music Hall, CBS 8 to 11 PM ET. Sunday, June 11 and New York 1 for Red Carpet coverage.
Jeanne Lieberman is editor of Theaterscene.net