April 26, 2017

Parsing the Outer Critics Circle Nominations

There's no question that the Tonys are the Oscars, or most desired awards, of the theater world but there are other coveted prizes too. Yesterday, the Outer Critics Circle, of which I'm a proud member, announced our nominations for the best work of the 2016-2017 season. And it's been such a strong year that even if your favorites got slighted (as a couple of mine did) few, if any, of the choices are likely to make you wonder what-were-they-thinking.

The OCC recognizes both off-Broadway and Broadway shows and since there were so many transfers from the former to the latter this year, some of the biggest Broadway titles weren't even considered for this year's OCC awards because they'd already been honored for their earlier runs. Among them were Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, both acknowledged frontrunners for the Tony for Best Musical.

Still, there are plenty of other new musicals to take their places on the ballot and Anastasia (with music by Lynne Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and a book by Terrence McNally) has emerged as the biggest contender with 13 nominations, the most for any show.

Anastasia is up for Outstanding Broadway Musical against Come from Away, Groundhog Day and, surprisingly to me, Holiday Inn. Which means that the recently-opened Amélie, Bandstand, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and War Paint, all failed to make the cut.

But the competition may be the most fierce in the category of Outstanding New Broadway Play, with the contenders being A Doll's House, Part 2, Indecent, Oslo and Sweat.

The acting categories are mainly dominated by big names (Nathan Lane, Bette Midler, Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Christine Ebersole and David Hyde Pierce twice) but I was particularly pleased to see that the lovely young actress Katrina Lenk has won two much-deserved nominations for her performances as a featured actress in the off-Broadway musical The Band's Visit and in the play Indecent. She's got tough competition in both categories but win or lose, she's a talent worth cheering.

This year's categories also include two new additions for Sound Design and Orchestrations, both of which the Tony Awards just announced they'll also be adding to their roster next year. 

The OCC winners will be announced May 15, which will give me just barely enough time to see all the nominated productions before I have to cast my votes. In the meantime, here's the full list of the nominees in case you want to do the same: 

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
A Doll’s House, Part 2
Indecent
Oslo
Sweat

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
Anastasia
A Bronx Tale
Come From Away
Groundhog Day
Holiday Inn

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
If I Forget
Incognito
A Life
Linda
Love, Love, Love

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
The Band’s Visit
Hadestown
Himself and Nora
Kid Victory
Spamilton

OUTSTANDING BOOK OF A MUSICAL (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Terrence McNally     Anastasia
Itamar Moses     The Band’s Visit
Chazz Palminteri     A Bronx Tale
Danny Rubin     Groundhog Day
Irene Sankoff & David Hein     Come From Away

OUTSTANDING NEW SCORE (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens     Anastasia
Alan Menken & Glenn Slater     A Bronx Tale
Tim Minchin     Groundhog Day
Irene Sankoff & David Hein     Come From Away
David Yazbek     The Band’s Visit

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A PLAY (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
The Front Page
Jitney
The Little Foxes
Othello
The Price

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Finian’s Rainbow
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon
Sunset Boulevard
Sweeney Todd

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A PLAY
Lila Neugebauer     The Wolves
Jack O’Brien     The Front Page
Daniel Sullivan     The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman     Indecent
Kate Whoriskey     Sweat

 OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Christopher Ashley     Come From Away
David Cromer     The Band’s Visit
Darko Tresnjak     Anastasia
Matthew Warchus     Groundhog Day
Jerry Zaks     Hello, Dolly!

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHER
Andy Blankenbuehler     Bandstand
Warren Carlyle     Hello, Dolly!
*Savion Glover     Shuffle Along 
Kelly Devine     Come From Away
Denis Jones     Holiday Inn
*from last season since the show wasn't ready to be seen by the 2015-2016 nominators

OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN (Play or Musical)
Alexander Dodge     Anastasia
Nigel Hook     The Play That Goes Wrong

Mimi Lien     Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Scott Pask     The Little Foxes
Douglas W. Schmidt     The Front Page

OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN (Play or Musical)
Linda Cho     Anastasia
Susan Hilferty     Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto     Hello, Dolly!
*Ann Roth     Shuffle Along
Catherine Zuber     War Paint
*from last season since the show wasn't ready to be seen by the 2015-2016 nominators

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN (Play or Musical)
Christopher Akerlind     Indecent
Donald Holder     Anastasia
Natasha Katz     Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King     Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Kenneth Posner     War Paint

OUTSTANDING PROJECTION DESIGN (Play or Musical)
Duncan McLean     Privacy
Jared Mezzocchi     Vietgone
Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions     Oslo
Aaron Rhyne     Anastasia
Tal Yarden     Indecent

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN (Play or Musical)
Gareth Fry & Pete Malkin     The Encounter
Gareth Owen     Come From Away
Nicholas Pope     Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Matt Stine     Sweeney Todd
Nevin Steinberg     Bandstand

OUTSTANDING ORCHESTRATIONS
Doug Besterman     Anastasia
Larry Blank     Holiday Inn
Bill Elliott & Greg Anthony Rassen     Bandstand
Larry Hochman     Hello, Dolly!
Jamshied Sharifi     The Band’s Visit

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Craig     Othello
Michael Emerson     Wakey, Wakey

Kevin Kline     Present Laughter
David Oyelowo     Othello
David Hyde Pierce     A Life

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Janie Dee     Linda
Sally Field     The Glass Menagerie
Allison Janney     Six Degrees of Separation
Laura Linney     The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf     A Doll’s House, Part 2

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Christian Borle     Falsettos
Nick Cordero     A Bronx Tale
Andy Karl     Groundhog Day
David Hyde Pierce     Hello, Dolly!
Tony Shalhoub     The Band’s Visit

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Christy Altomare     Anastasia
Christine Ebersole     War Paint
Katrina Lenk     The Band’s Visit
Patti LuPone     War Paint
Bette Midler     Hello, Dolly!

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Michael Aronov     Oslo
Danny DeVito     The Price
Nathan Lane     The Front Page
Richard Thomas     The Little Foxes
Richard Topol     Indecent

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Johanna Day     Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell     A Doll’s House, Part 2
Katrina Lenk     Indecent
Nana Mensah     Man From Nebraska
Cynthia Nixon     The Little Foxes

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
John Bolton     Anastasia
Jeffry Denman     Kid Victory
Gavin Creel     Hello, Dolly!
Shuler Hensley     Sweet Charity
Andrew Rannells     Falsettos

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Kate Baldwin     Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block     Falsettos
Jenn Colella     Come From Away
Caroline O’Connor     Anastasia  
Mary Beth Peil     Anastasia

OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE
Ed Dixon     Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose
Marin Ireland     On the Exhale
Sarah Jones     Sell / Buy / Date
Judith Light     All the Ways to Say I Love You
Simon McBurney     The Encounter

JOHN GASSNER AWARD
(Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Jaclyn Backhaus     Men on Boats
Sarah DeLappe     The Wolves
Paola Lázaro     Tell Hector I Miss Him
Qui Nguyen     Vietgone
Bess Wohl     Small Mouth Sounds


April 22, 2017

The Tony Talk Podcast, Episode 5: Supporting Players

The Tonys may be the top dog in awards season but it's not the only one in the game. Lots of other groups also celebrate the best of the theater season. The nominations for the Lucille Lortel Awards, which honor off-Broadway productions (click here to see the full list) were announced last week. This week brought the Drama League nominations which encompass Broadway and off-Broadway (click here for its full list). And this coming Tuesday, the Outer Critics Circle, of which I'm a member, will weigh in with its choices for both Broadway and off-Broadway as well (check back here on Wednesday for my thoughts about them).

Some categories are easier than others. Even in this jam-packed season, there are only 10 plays and nine revivals vying for one of the four slots in their respective categories and each of them has, at most, two people who would qualify for Lead Performer in a Play. But, depending on who you count, there are about 120 actors praying to hear their names when the nominations for Best Featured Actor or Actress in a Play are called out.

There are lots of reasons to single out one of those supporting players: maybe the actor managed to give a great performance in a so-so production, or perhaps a newcomer made an auspicious debut or a journeyman showed a different side of himself and dug deeper than he ever has before, or maybe an actress simply gave an unforgettable performance.

In this episode of the Tony Talk podcast, my pals, Chris Caggiano, Bill Tynan and I talk about our strategies for choosing actors for the four featured categories, as well as some of the week's other Tony-related news. Click the orange button below to hear what we have to say. You can also check out all the Tony Talk podcasts on SoundCloud by clicking here or on our new Tony Talk show page, which you can find here.



April 19, 2017

"The Profane" Seeks The Moral High Ground

Playwrights Horizons hasn't made a big deal of it but over the past year, the company seems to have gone out of its way to tell stories about people whose lives rarely get shown onstage and to try to sidestep stereotypes that tend to get used when telling them. Last spring, Danai Gurira's Familiar looked at Zimbabwean immigrants adjusting to an upper-middle class life in the U.S.  In the fall, Julia Cho's Aubergine focused on the uneasy relationship between a Korean-American chef and his dying father. And now, The Profane, Zayd Dohrn's play about two Muslim families, is running through May 9.

The Profane won the 2016 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New Play but it's received only lukewarm reviews. In some ways, that's understandable. The play exudes a heavy-handed earnestness that wouldn't be out of place on one of those network TV shows that like to take on the latest hot-button topic. And yet, the fact that there is a show about Muslims in which the subject of terrorism isn't even a subplot strikes me as something to be applauded.

The plot here centers around the romance between two young people, both from families who have immigrated to—and done very well in—the U.S.  Emina is the younger daughter of a novelist dad and a former dancer mom who are secular and proudly assimilated. Sam is the only son of a small business owner who sells restaurant equipment and his hijab-wearing wife who are culturally conservative and religiously observant.

Tensions arise when Emina and Sam announce their engagement and Emina's folks object to the idea of their progressively-raised child marrying into such a traditional family. Their fears allows playwright Dohrn to explore the internecine divisions that will be familiar to the members of just about every ethnic group and he's scrupulously even-handed about it. Probably too much so.

Every point gets a counterpoint. Emina is discovering her faith; Sam is beginning to doubt his. Her free-spirited parents are less tolerant than one might expect; his traditional parents are more forgiving than one might suspect. Even the settings are evenly divided with Act 1 taking place in Emina's family home (a book-lined apartment in Greenwich Village) and Act 2 in Sam's (a beautiful, if bland, house in White Plains).

But a lot of the criticism has been directed at the fact that despite his ambiguous sounding surname, Dohrn is white, the son of the former Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. The naysayers complain that his outsider status has produced characters who are too generic and that his treatment of them is too p.c. 

I agree that a playwright of Middle Eastern descent like Ayad Akhtar or Mona Mansour might have provided more nuance but I don't think that Dohrn's effort should be automatically dissed. The issues of class and identity that he raises are valid. And he and director Kip Fagan treat them with respect and sensitivity.

The Profane has also given its seven-member cast the rare chance to stand center stage (click here to read a group interview with them).  Not one of those actors has appeared in a Playwrights Horizons production before this one. Here's hoping that this isn't the last time we see them there, in other plays about Muslim life and in ones about life in general too.

April 15, 2017

The Tony Talk Podcast, Episode 4: Too Much of A Good Thing

If you love musicals, this is the season for you. Fourteen new ones will have opened by the time the season officially ends on April 27. And they range from small edgy chamber pieces to big family-friendly spectacles, which means that whatever kind of musical you prefer, there's bound to be at least one show you'll like.

But if you produce musicals, this is a nail-biting season.  At most, only five shows can be nominated for the top Tony prize. And most of the media attention—along with a chunk of the ticket sales—is likely to go to those shows too. Everyone expects Dear Evan Hansen, Natasha Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and this year's surprise hit Come From Away to get on the ballot so that only leaves two spots for all the other contenders.

There are also nine original plays opening but most of them are doing only so-so at the box office and, again, since there will only be room for five, the nominators will have to do some triage, which means the runs for some shows—including good ones—may end prematurely.

In fact, a few shows have already posted their closing notices and there's a strong chance that others will follow after the nominations are announced on May 2. 

So in this episode of Tony Talk, my pals Chris Caggiano, Patrick Pacheco and I talk about which shows seem most at risk. [Note: today's podcast was recorded before Andy Karl injured himself during a preview performance of Groundhog Day.Click the orange button below to hear what we have to say or check out all the Tony Talk podcasts on SoundCloud by clicking here