It wasn’t one of the greater seasons on record, but the Tony Awards committee did manage to come up with an eclectic list of nominees for the June 10 awards ceremony that included newbies and veterans alike – and left out a few surprising performers once thought to be a sure thing.
That certainly applies to Raul Esparza, whose Leap of Faith received a Best Musical nomination despite a tepid critical reception. Conventional wisdom had it that Esparza would win his first Tony for the vehicle, an overdue honor since his Company perf got passed over for David Hyde Pierce in Curtains a half-decade ago. Well, Esparza’s out and Follies boys Danny Burstein and Ron Raines are in, along with Newsies’ Jeremy Jordan, Once’s Steve Kazee, and Norm Lewis for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Will this be Jordan’s Thoroughly Modern Millie moment? Or will veteran Burstein emerge with his own long-overdue first win on Tony night?
The Best Actor in a Drama field seems like a fait accompli – Philip Seymour Hoffman will win for Mike Nichols’ current Death of a Salesman revival, though I found his performance over-studied and less alive that of fellow nominee James Corden of One Man, Two Guvnors, a play many thought would make the Best Play field. (It didn’t, falling to a quartet of plays that transferred from Off-Broadway perches either last season or the one before). Also, James Earl Jones was solid in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, but Best Actor-worthy? Over a terrific John Larroquette in a true leading role? That’s absurd.
The Best Actress categories have been far more interesting to clock over the season, and while the five chosen for Lead Actress in a Drama are a solid bunch, the list leaves out Angela Bassett for The Mountaintop, Tyne Daly in Master Class, and, saddest of all, the wonderful Jennifer Lim in Chinglish. Venus in Fur’s Nina Arianda will give Bennett a run for her money, though I think the latter has it, to some controversy, since the most impressive aspects of her performance as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow are the musical, not the dramatic ones.
The announcement of a special Tony Award going to Bernadette Peters for her charitable works fueled speculation that she might not get a Lead Actress in a Musical nomination for Follies, and, sure enough, she did not. Instead the field includes one four-time winner – Porgy’s Audra McDonald – and four women who’ve never won, including Jan Maxwell, Peters’ Follies co-star. Dare I say that I’m pulling for a dual Burstein-Maxwell victory? I was also pleased to see Laura Osnes make the cut for Bonnie and Clyde. The show had plenty of problems , particularly a misguided book, but performances were not one of them. (I even prefer Jordan as Clyde to his Newsies turn this year).
Which is why I am saddened that Melissa van der Schyff was left off the Featured Actress in a Musical list for Clyde, especially to make way for Once’s Elizabeth A. Davis. I am, however, happy to see On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’s Jessie Mueller, and hope she makes it to the podium. Josh Young, great but sometimes absent from Jesus Christ Superstar, also scored an early career coup with his nod, but I think Philip Boykin for Porgy has the award. (Lo siento, Ricky Martin – Tony nominators only threw Evita love to more polished co-star Michael Cerveris.)
The featured acting in a play categories are also exciting; nominators certainly threw bones to certain plays that might have gone unrecognized otherwise, like Don’t Dress for Dinner (Spencer Kayden) and Stick Fly (Condola Rashad). Andrew Garfield in Salesman never won me over, but his un-nominated co-star Finn Wittrock did. I also would have liked to see The Lyons’ Michael Esper score a nod, or Thomas Sadoski, who departed Other Desert Cities fairly early in its Broadway run but was terrific. Ditto for his co-star, Judith Light, taking over for Linda Lavin after Desert’s Lincoln Center run. Follow this trail of Broadway casting bread crumbs: Lavin declined reprising the Desert role that went to Light to play Hattie in Follies at the Kennedy Center, a role that Jayne Houdyshell then took on for Broadway so Lavin could take on the lead role in The Lyons. All three ended up with Tony nods. Well played.
Here’s a full list of this year’s Tony nominees below. I’ll have my official predictions in a few weeks.
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