Editors' Note: With the 65th annual Tony Awards taking place Sunday night, 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, what it means to be a Tony Award voter and who he thinks are the favorites to take away some of the night’s biggest awards.
For four years, I have participated in the Tony Awards voting ritual. There are around 700 theatre industry professionals — half based in New York and the remaining half scattered throughout the United States — who vote each year. One of the caveats to voting in any category is that you see all of the shows that have been nominated in that category. That makes for a busy schedule — in the past year I have seen around 35 Broadway shows in preparation for the voting season.
It is an honor to be a Tony voter and a responsibility that I take very seriously. I am eligible to vote because I am a member of The Broadway League (the national trade association for the Broadway industry) AND qualify in two classes: Out of Town (outside NYC) Theatre Operator AND Presenter.
It’s important for The Hobby Center to have a voice in the industry because we are dependent upon the product coming out of NYC for our Gexa Energy Broadway Series. I’m grateful for the opportunities that membership in the Broadway League provides us. We get to participate in the industry in meaningful ways.
With that said, here is my take on some of this year’s Tony nominated shows.
By the Book
The Book of Mormon is one of, if not THE most, talked about shows on Broadway right now. It received the most Tony nominations with 14 and I think it will sweep the Tonys this year. (The only other shows to receive more nominations are The Producers in 2001 and Billy Elliot, the Musical in 2009.) The two leading men of Mormon are dueling it out in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.
While it is one of the most popular shows right now, it is also one of the most seriously controversial. It’s an equal opportunity offender with plenty of crude humor and profanity. However, at the end of the day it is still incredibly clever.
The show is written by the authors of South Park and Avenue Q, which if you have seen those shows, will give you an idea of the type of humor I am talking about. Audiences who love those works won't be disappointed.
A real War Horse
Next up — War Horse. Simply put, it is exquisite. Theatre truly doesn't get any better than this.
I highly recommend War Horse as your straight play choice, a nice departure from the usual big and flashy musicals (of which there are many fabulous ones lighting up Broadway right now). If you don’t get a chance to see this in New York, all is not lost. The National Theatre of Great Britain just announced its production of War Horse will go on a 20-city national tour in 2012. No word yet if we will have the pleasure of having this show on the Hobby Center stage.
War Horse is nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play and Best Direction of a Play.
Now for big and flashy musicals. To me, Priscilla Queen of the Desert defines big and flashy! The show is an incredibly fun night in the theatre. Fans of the movie (1994 Academy Award winner The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) will be pleased as it stays true to the movie storyline, including many of the costumes and fabulous dance tunes. The score is Americanized slightly with the addition of some Madonna tunes.
For those unfamiliar with the show or movie here is a brief synopsis: Disco, drag queens, a rock-star-worthy bus and the Australian Outback … need I say more?
Tony Sheldon, reprising the same role from the London stage as Bernadette, steals the show. He's nominated for a Tony for his appearance (Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical). Priscilla Queen of the Desert is also up for Best Costume Design of a Musical.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is one of the two revivals competing for Best Revival of a Musical. This is a smart show and a fun revival really well done. It is nice to see Daniel Radcliffe, who stars as J. Pierrepont Finch, sans his now iconic Harry Potter scar and glasses and in a non-dramatic stage role (his last turn on Broadway was the much more serious and dark Equus). The sets are great, and the supporting cast is phenomenal with a very skilled dancing ensemble.
John Larroquette (five-time Emmy winner for Night Court) making his Broadway debut as J. B. Biggley, was the perfect foil to Radcliffe. Larroquette is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical.
This show certainly succeeds in doing justice to a Broadway classic and received eight Tony nominations.
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: War Horse
Best Musical: Book of Mormon
Best Book of a Musical: Book of Mormon
Best Original Score: Book of Mormon
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Jump Ball – all strong contenders
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Al Pacino, The Merchant of Venice
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Vanessa Redgrave, Driving Miss Daisy
Best Direction of a Musical: Casey Nicholaw/Trey Parker – Book of Mormon
Best Direction of a Play: Marianne Elliott/Tom Morris – War Horse
Best Choreography: Casey Nicholaw – Book of Mormon
The Gexa Energy Broadway Series at The Hobby Center 2011-2012 Season begins in October with Memphis – a winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. For more information on the entire season, click here.