I love Tony week. I get to chat with people I speak to once a year -- a.k.a. the majority of Tony voters. This year, I feel pretty confident that my favorite play of the year, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, will win Best Play and my favorite musical, Matilda, will win Best Musical. (There is a groundswell of support for Kinky Boots and I do know people voting for it. I just have faith that the cleverness of Matilda will win out in the end.) That rarely happens.
For my Tony column, I have decided not to pick who I think will be the actual winners come Sunday night. Instead I'm only doing the "Should win" half of the equation. Taking the easy road, some would say. I'm also only writing about three categories, but they are three very important categories.
Best Revival of a Play
Longtime readers of mine may know that through the years I have written about how, when Anne Heche entered Proof, it became, "The situation comedy formerly known as Proof." I love Anne Heche. (Watch Save Me while you still can.) When I was young(er), she played my favorite characters on my favorite soap opera. I completely enjoyed her Proof performance and I sent people to see her. But, with her, the show itself became a different animal. She found humor in material that had never seemed particularly funny to me before. The play became lighter. I discuss this now because of The Trip to Bountiful. Michael Wilson's production is somehow the state fair version of what I once considered to be an elegiac play. His push for laughs transforms the piece, in an odd, not very effective way. Yes, the revival has Cicely Tyson in her acclaimed return to Broadway. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Meanwhile Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was pure genius. A production that forever changed the way I think of the piece in a good way. If it had opened in the spring, there would be no question about its victory. Pam MacKinnon's staging deserves this award.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
I wanted to see Bette Midler in this category. I think she deserved it. Though I don't know who I would take a nomination away from to put her here. All these leading ladies turned in special performances. However Kristine Nielsen was the best of the bunch. She is giving what many see as a featured performance, I know. But it's not her fault the Tony Administration Committee randomly decided to move her up. She should not be penalized for it -- she should win.
I think Metcalf, Morton and Taylor were all wonderful also, but I know Tyson is the front-runner here. Let me tell you something, it's great that Tyson gets up there and delivers such an energetic performance each night. I thought she was really good. But, you know what, if it wasn't her giving that performance, and if she wasn't old, and she hadn't been away from the stage for decades, I don't think she would be the front-runner for a Tony this year. She makes the revival watchable, sure, but she is not giving as good a performance as Nielsen. (And don't get me started on how she doesn't sign autographs and has been rude to fans, that doesn't actually impact my analysis here.) I want all of my readers to think back at the theater season. How many moments have you seen that were better performed than Nielsen's telephone monologue?
Rick Miramontez did not make campaign buttons for Neilsen, but she deserves some promotion. This is the best I can do.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
In my annual poll of Tony voters this past weekend, votes were dispersed among four out of these five leading ladies. (Sorry, Stephanie J. Block. It's an honor just to be nominated.) I feel badly for Lilla Crawford, because I feel like if she was nominated, little orphan Annie just might win. Right now, Patina Miller and Laura Osnes are the front-runners.
I am going to tell you why Carolee Carmello deserves the award: she was the best. I know many Tony voters skipped Scandalous. A few others found it so unwatchable they either a) ignored her performance or b) have blocked the experience out by now. I really believe though that if each voter were to sit now and watch three scenes from every show, they would agree Carmello was giving a better performance than the rest of these women. (I didn't see Miller, actually, because she was out on the night I went. I usually don't like to judge performances I haven't seen in person, so I want to qualify and say there is a chance I would think Miller is so good that she legitimately deserves to beat Carmello. I suspect that chance is very slim however.) Carmello is also a Broadway favorite who has proven to be consistently superb. If only she could have received the Tony for Mamma Mia!, I would have totally given it to her for that too.
Enjoy the Tony Awards Sunday! Please tweet or email me your thoughts.