I meant to file a couple of preview/prognostication pieces before Sunday’s night’s big, big show. But…twas not to be, as a man of the theatre once said.
It started like this…
“The Tony Awards are upon us…and where plays are concerned look for the Union Jack to fly high over Broadway tomorrow night. I fully expect to see a British invasion at Radio City Music Hall tomorrow night, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which critics and audiences have embraced since fall, feeling the love in multiple categories, including Best Play for playwright Simon Stephens and Best Actor for the deeply affecting Alex Sharp, too. The technical categories should go its way as well–a shame that the Tonys don’t recognize sound design anymore, a short-sighted move on the organization’s part.
I was less moved, finding the play and its design a little familiar. Speaking of which–Wolf Hall, which, after a pair of books and a miniseries, confirms that it’s Thomas Cromwell’s world and we’re just living in it, centuries after the fact. The two-play Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation is lucid, blackly funny (Paul Jesson’s wry Cardinal Wolsey, one of about a half-dozen Thomases history has saddled confused audiences with, is the standout performance, though the Cromwell of Ben Miles, the Henry VIII of Nathaniel Parker, and the Anne Boleyn of Lydia Leonard most impressed nominators).”
And it didn’t get much farther than that. But…I was right. I was going to say that the Brits were going to sweep the play awards, and that’s pretty much what happened. In a second piece (such plans!) I was going to say that Fun Home, the musical that best captures the zeitgeist, would romp through those categories. Ka-ching! The “experts” who thought otherwise should stick to their aisle seats and forget about handicapping.
(Oh, and, hey, Gold Derby, with the Off Broadway-birthed Fun Home this year’s big winner, and the Off Broadway-birthed Hamilton likely to be next year’s, are the Tony’s becoming more and more like the Drama Desks? What, no answer? Didn’t think so…)
I mean, really. Curious Incident? Lock. (Design categories, too.) Helen Mirren? Lock. (She’s EOT now, just missing the Grammy–might I suggest a CD of favorite British rockers, The Queen: Live at the Palace?) And, come on, a musical about gay repression and gay expression, even a dour and kind of dull one like Fun Home*, not winning a sheaf of Tonys around the same time the Supreme Court renders a milestone verdict on same-sex marriage? Get out of town. (To win the out of town vote, it was wise of the producers to announce a national tour, giving voters one more reason not to vote for An American in Paris, a beautifully staged and designed, but clunkily adapted and fusty, movie musical-into-stage-musical crowdpleaser.)
Surprises? Only two, richly deserved. (Three, if you count Ruthie Ann Miles, also deserving, swiping her King and I Tony from a passel of Fun Home performers.) As Harold Wilson in The Audience, Richard McCabe supplies the heart to Helen Mirren’s soul as her prime ministerial bestie, and their last scene together is intensely moving, one of those great “pin drop” (as in “you could hear a …”) moments in theater. The two actors, umm, “complete” each other. The other unanticipated win, to the (mock) horror of telecast co-host and closest competitor Kristin Chenoweth, was King and I star Kelli O’Hara, a five-time bridesmaid, finally a Tony winner, for a graceful yet steely performance in a superlative revival. (Not that the category couldn’t have included Side Show, my favorite musical revival.)
The show? The usual, less hard sell than some, except for frequent mentions of host network CBS, which Chenoweth and Alan Cumming began to riff on. They were charming, and the musicals put their best feet forward, probably selling a few tickets to On the Town and It Shoulda Been You, which could use the business. It felt less cluttered than in some years, not that the writing and design categories should be shuffled off as bumpers, again, as usual. Ratings were down, again, etc. Unless they plunge dramatically I can’t see why CBS wouldn’t run it forever–it’s still the classiest thing TV has going on in the dog days, though I think theatre fan Jimmy Fallon would really run with it as host if it were to move to NBC, and PBS, say, would give every nominated category a crack at the dais. (Maybe they’d bring back sound design, too.)
The 2015-2016 Broadway season got off to a false start (again, the usual) with the poorly reviewed Jim Parsons comedy An Act of God but Hamilton is just around the corner to shake things up. Lock–unless the Great White Way has a surprise or two in store for us.
*Truth be told, I was also wrong, too. But that was then and Sunday night was Sunday night.