Theater Knowledge

And the winners at the Tony Awards are . . . A voter breaks down the contenders & pretenders

And the winners at the Tony Awards are . . . A voter breaks down the contenders & pretenders

Tony Awards, June 2012, Linda Lavin, The Lyons
The Lyons provides a rare opportunity to see a star of such caliber as Linda Lavin live onstage (Lavin shown here with Dick Latessa). ArtsyFartsyBlog
Tony Awards, June 2012, Stockard Channing, Other Desert Cities
Stockard Channing has played the matriarch Polly Wyeth in Other Desert Cities since the show began off Broadway in 2011. Broadway.com
Tony Awards, June 2012, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman
After seeing the new production of Death of a Salesman, I can honestly say that acting doesn’t get any stronger than Philip Seymour Hoffman. Broadway.com
Tony Awards
The Tony Awards will be broadcast on Channel 11 Sunday night at 7.
Tony Awards, June 2012, Linda Lavin, The Lyons
Tony Awards, June 2012, Stockard Channing, Other Desert Cities
Tony Awards, June 2012, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman
Tony Awards

Editors' Note: In what is becoming a CultureMap tradition, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts president and Tony Award voter Fran Macferran shares his take on some of the latest shows to hit Broadway and the favorites at the 66th Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.

This is my fifth year participating in the Tony Awards voting ritual and it is an honor to do so. I am one of around 700 theatre professionals throughout the country who participate and it is vital for the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts to have a voice in this industry because we are dependent on the product that comes out of New York for our Gexa Energy Broadway Series.

This year’s Tony Awards are set to be completely different from last year. In 2011, we had extremely strong productions — Book of Mormon and War Horse — that were shoe-ins in virtually every category in which they were nominated.

 This year it is more of an even-level playing field in that so many shows stand to show strongly in one or two categories. 

This year it is more of an even-level playing field in that so many shows stand to show strongly in one or two categories. In fact, this year it is the note-worthy actors and actresses who have graced our television and silver screens that are garnering a lot of attention, with stand-out performances by Stockard Channing, Judith Light, Linda Lavin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christian Borle.

Channing has played the matriarch Polly Wyeth in Other Desert Cities since the show began off Broadway in 2011. Judith Light plays the protagonist’s alcoholic aunt Silda Grauman, and both Channing and Light have been nominated for Best Actress in a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Play respectively.

This funny and searing work by Jon Robin Baitz (creator of TV’s Brothers & Sisters), received universal acclaim in its off-Broadway debut, is filled with clever exchanges among family members who know exactly how to push one another’s buttons.

Other Desert Cities is truly amazing — Lincoln Center Theater work at its best. The strength of the award-winning cast and a compelling script allows your sympathy for characters to really switch back and forth during the show. I hope this one tours.

The Lyons provides a rare opportunity to see a star of such caliber as Linda Lavin live onstage. Her impeccable timing and delivery, along with her command of the stage, make her truly deserving of her nomination for Best Actress in a Play. She is a true stage character actress and her ability to communicate without saying a word is sublime to watch. Lavin makes the show, billed as a dark comedy, easy to enjoy.

That being said, I think it is either going to be a tie or a very close call between Lavin and Nina Arianda, of Venus in Fur, for the Tony Award. Another very strong contender in this category is Cynthia Nixon in Wit.

I was quite moved by Nixon'soff-the-charts amazing performance and incredibly realistic embodiment of a professor facing her final hours of life. She is a great crafts person and a real actress.

Acting Chops

After seeing the new production of Death of a Salesman, I can honestly say that acting doesn’t get any stronger than Philip Seymour Hoffman and, rightly so, he has been nominated for Best Actor in a Play, which I think he will win. With the strength of Hoffman’s performance, an extremely talented cast, and direction by eight-time Tony Award winner Mike Nichols (nominated for Best Direction of a Play), it is no surprise that it played to full houses and broke the Ethel Barrymore Theatre’s attendance record eight times during its limited run (the last performance was on June 2).

Another actor who has recently developed a strong following playing songwriter Tom Levitt in the new NBC series Smash is Best Featured Actor in a Play nominee Christian Borle of Peter and the Starcatcher. This play received the most Tony Award nominations with nine in total, including Best Play and Best Direction of a Play. Commissioned by Disney Theatrical Productions, 12 actors play more than 100 characters — and they do such an amazing job that you think there are actually 100 actors!

 Newsies is up for Best Musical and who would have thought this lesser known movie would become a massively popular Broadway show? 

 It is the prequel to the classic Peter Pan and is based on the book by Ridley Pearson and the country’s preeminent comedic writer Dave Barry. If you are familiar with Barry’s comedy, you know you are in for a treat as this is a hilarious and definitely new way to tell the story of how Peter Pan became The Boy Who Never Grew Up.

One of the most buzzed about musicals of the season was Once and it did not disappoint. Once is based on an independent film of the same name about an Irish musician and Czech immigrant, drawn together by their shared love of music, and features the Oscar winning song “Falling Slowly.”

Like our recent show in the Gexa Energy Broadway 2011-2012 season, Million Dollar Quartet, the actors in Once play all of their own instruments live on stage with no orchestra — now that’s what I call talent! This is another show I really hope will hit the road bound for a play in Houston.

Newsies is up for Best Musical and who would have thought this lesser-known movie would become a massively popular Broadway show? It became a cult classic/pop culture phenomenon when it premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, then was such a success on Broadway (consistently played to packed houses) that its run has been extended.

The musical is a Disney production and is based on the 1992 movie of the same name about the 1899 newsboy strike. The show has a young and energetic cast, which is needed in this fast-paced musical that incorporates innovative choreography and catchy songs by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid).

Visual Wows

One of the shows that has received a lot of media attention is Spider-Man Turn off the Dark. It received nominations in Best Costume Design and Best Scenic Design for a musical.  This show is one of the most visually compelling musicals to hit Broadway in quite some time. 

While we are on musicals, the Best Musical Revival category has some well-known shows nominated this year with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, and the lavish re-working of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

Tony Award votes are cast by secret ballot, but there is of course a lot of speculation and buzz about who will take each award category. The “Rumored Favorites” below reflect my opinions only, and not necessarily even my personal favorites. They include:

Best Play: Peter and the Starcatcher
Best Musical: Once
Best Play Revival: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
Best Musical Revival: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Best Actor in a Play: Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman)
Best Actress in a Play: Tie between Nina Arianda (Venus in Furr) and Linda Lavin (The Lyons)
Best Actor in a Musical: Tie between Steve Kazee (Once) and Norm Lewis (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess)
Best Actress in a Musical: Audra McDonald (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess)
Best Choreography: Chistopher Gattelli (Newsies)

The Gexa Energy Broadway at the Hobby Center 2012-2013 Season begins in September with Beauty and the Beast  a Tony Award winner for Best Costume. For more information on the entire season, visit thehobbycenter.org.