The end of the Broadway season typically becomes an orgy of self-congratulation on the part of the theatrical community. Not that this is any different from the music or movie industry, but the continual announcements of nominations and award winners does get rather bewildering. Even if awards are really nothing but marketing, the awards season does provide an opportune chance to reflect on what was good about the past season.
On the whole, not a lot. Despite the relatively high number of new musicals on Broadway (eight, if you count Everyday Rapture), I found the actual quality of the shows wanting, to say the least. My overall feel for the season, at least with regard to new musicals, can pretty much be summed up visually by the horrid Tony Awards poster to the left: dull, colorless, and uninspired.
There was an ambitious, well-meaning, but seriously flawed exploration of a relatively unknown African musician and activist (Fela), a partially enjoyable but ultimately derivative would-be feel-good musical (Memphis), a visually stunning but narrative-deficient rock concert (American Idiot), a for-fans-only jukebox musical (Million Dollar Quartet), a for-fans-only songbook revue (Sondheim on Sondheim), a dull-as-dishwater dance concert (Come Fly Away), a jokey but undistinguished piece of prepackaged nostalgia (The Addams Family), and a quasi-autobiographical almost-one-woman cabaret show (Everyday Rapture).
Of course, there were also the musical revivals, which were a lot more successful artistically. Included in this number are some genuinely delightful shows that unfortunately didn't last (Ragtime, Finian's Rainbow), a star-laden barge that ironically failed to twinkle (A Little Night Music), a lovely gem that caught a lot of people off guard (La Cage aux Folles), a colorful-but-colorless star show (Promises, Promises), and an utter abomination before all mankind (Bye Bye Birdie).
Given what the Tony committee had to work with, this year's slate of nominations is actually a fairly accurate indicator of what was relatively good this season. Here are the total nominations by production:
Fela - 11
La Cage aux Folles - 11
Memphis - 8
Ragtime - 7
A Little Night Music - 4
Promises, Promises - 4
American Idiot - 3
Finian's Rainbow - 3
Million Dollar Quartet - 3
The Addams Family - 2
Come Fly Away - 2
Everyday Rapture - 2
Sondheim on Sondheim - 2
Bye Bye Birdie - 0
And here's a selection of the actual nominations by category (musicals only), along with my take on what should have been nominated, who deserves to win, and who's actually going to win.
Million Dollar Quartet
Who's Missing: Come Fly Away, The Addams Family, Sondheim on Sondheim, Everyday Rapture
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Maybe Sondheim on Sondheim, but I'm not gonna make a stink about it. Again, it was a fairly lackluster year,
Who's Gonna Win: Who knows? Who cares? I'd say it's toss-up between Fela and American Idiot. Fela is the prestige choice, simply by virtue of the noble subject matter, but American Idiot gives the Tony voters a chance to show that, heck, theater can be cool.
Who Should Win: None of the above. But, gun to my head, I'd have to choose Fela.
Everyday Rapture, Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Fela, Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Memphis, Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet, Colin Escott and Floyd Matrux
Who's Missing: The Addams Family, Come Fly Away, American Idiot
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I agree with the Tony nominators on this one. None of the omitted shows deserved a nomination, in my humble estimation.
Who's Gonna Win: Probably Fela.
Who Should Win: Again, none of the above. But if I had to choose, it would probably be Fela, if only for being the most experimental of the nominees. Even if it was, IMHO, a failed experiment.
The Addams Family, Andrew Lippa
Enron, Adam Cork, Lucy Prebble
Fences, Branford Marsalis
Memphis, David Bryan, Joe DiPietro
Who's Missing: American Idiot and Fela.
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I have to say that I genuinely enjoyed the music to American Idiot. And the album was conceived as a quasi-theatrical piece. How is this any different from Evita or The Life getting a concept album and then going on to gain a Tony nomination? Heck, The Who's Tommy got a nomination. Hey, The Who's Tommy frickin' won. (It tied with Kiss of the Spiderwoman.) I mean, in a year in which they have to resort to nominating Enron and Fences, why not throw American Idiot a bone?
Who's Gonna Win: Probably Memphis. Enron and Fences got in by default, and there's a decided anti-Addams Family vibe.
Who Should Win: None of the above. I would have given it to American Idiot.
Best Musical Revival
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Who's Missing: Bye Bye Birdie, Promises Promises. And for very good reason.
Who Should Have Been Nominated: No one. The Tony committee got this one spot-on.
Who's Gonna Win: La Cage, all the way. What a delightful surprise. Everyone thought it was too soon to bring the show back, including me. But we were wrong.
Who Should Win: La Cage, all the way.
Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime
Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones, Fela
Who's Missing: American Idiot
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Say what you want about American Idiot, director Michael Mayer has made the show into a compelling visual and auditory feast. It's not his fault the book is thin. (Oh, wait, it is his fault...) Yes, it's style over substance, but I would have given Mayer the nod over Ashley. Memphis is slick, but American Idiot is arresting.
Who's Gonna Win: Terry Johnson, hands down, no contest, thank you for coming. Johnson made La Cage into the delightful diadem that should hopefully be ensconced at the Longacre Theater for many months to come.
Who Should Win: Again, Terry Johnson.
Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones, Fela
Lynne Page, La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away
Who's Missing: Sergio Trujillo, Memphis and Addams Family
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I'm really kind of stunned that Trujillo was left off this list. His work on Addams Family is laughable, but the dance in Memphis is electrifying. It's one of the best reasons to see the show. Whereas Rob Ashford's work on Promises, Promises is pedestrian at best.
Who's Gonna Win: This one's tough. Tharp and Jones have both won before, which often factors into the Tony voters' decision process. I think it might go to Lynne Page simply because of the La Cage momentum.
Who Should Win: I liked Bill T. Jones' work on Fela much more than that of his Tony-winning Spring Awakening. The dance in Fela is sensational, and in my opinion deserves recognition.
Best Actor in a Musical
Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises Promises
Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela
Who's Missing: Nathan Lane, Kevin Mambo, John Gallagher Jr., Stark Sands, Cheyenne Jackson, Alexander Hanson, Ron Bohmer, Robert Petkoff.
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I feel bad for Kevin Mambo, who shares the role of Fela with Sahr Ngaujah. I saw both, and Ngaujah is electrifying, whereas Mambo is thoroughly competent. I still would have given the nod to Ngaujah, but it's gotta be tough for Mambo to work in that shadow. I could easily have substituted Ron Bohmer for either Kelsey Grammer or Sean Hayes. Bohmer brought a palpable humanity to the role of Father in Ragtime, which is no small feat.
Who's Gonna Win: I'm gonna say Hodge, because it's such a flashy, mannered role.
Who Should Win: I'd give it to Ngaujah, in one of the most stunning debuts I've ever seen.
Best Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Catherine Zeta Jones, A Little Night Music
Who's Missing: Bebe Neuwirth, Kristen Chenoweth
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I'm pretty solid with the nominees here, mostly because I wasn't all that impressed by either Neuwirth or Chenoweth in their respective roles.
Who's Gonna Win: I think the Tony voters are going to go for star quality here and give it to CZJ.
Who Should Win: I'm thrilled that both Kate Baldwin and Christine Noll were nominated, but I'd take Christine Noll, by a hair.
Best Featured Actor in a Musical
Kevin Chamberlin, The Addams Family
Robin de Jesus, La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggart, Ragtime
Who's Missing: Jim Norton, Euan Morton, Tony Vincent
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Much as I love Kevin Chamberlin, I might have substituted Jim Norton in on this one.
Who's Gonna Win: Fitzgerald is a Broadway favorite, and people are pretty high on Bobby Steggart right now, and for good reason. But Robin de Jesus might get this one, in a La Cage sweep.
Who Should Win: I've been enamored of Bobby Steggart since I first saw him in 110 in the Shade. I've thoroughly enjoyed him in The Slug Bearers of Kayroll Island and especially in Yank. And his Younger Brother in Ragtime was smoldering and explosive. So, I'm really hoping it's Bobby.
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran, Promises Promises
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lilias White, Fela
Who's Missing: Terri White, Jackie Hoffman, Vanessa Williams, Cass Morgan, Carolee Carmello, Leigh Ann Larkin
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I genuinely love me some Jackie Hoffman, and probably would have substituted her in for the Come Fly Away dancer.
Who's Gonna Win: Katie Finneran is really the only reason to see Promises, Promises. Yes, she's won the Tony before, for Noises Off. But her delicious performance as Marge MacDougall is a Tony-worthy bow if ever there was one.
Who Should Win: K-K-K-Katie all the way.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
La Cage aux Folles
Who's Missing: Sondheim on Sondheim, The Addams Family
Who Should Have Been Nominated: This is certainly one category in which the Tony committee is demonstrating a clear anti-Addams Family bias. Say what you want about the show itself, the set is phenomenal, including the modular staircases and the ingenious curtain system. And the set for Sondheim on Sondheim is a technical wonder, but also serves the show extremely well.
Who's Gonna Win: I'm thinking maybe America Idiot, unless the Tony voters go for a La Cage sweep.
Who Should Win: I personally thought the set to Ragtime was marvelous, looking both spare and grand at the same time. It gave the show a monumental feel without upstaging the proceedings. So I'm gonna go with Ragtime.
Best Costume Design for a Musical
La Cage aux Folles
Who's Missing: Promises, Promises, The Addams Family, A Little Night Music
Who Should Have Been Nominated: I'm fine with the current crop of nominees.
Who's Gonna Win: I'm going to say La Cage, again assuming a wave of Tony love for the show.
Who Should Win: I would love to see Ragtime take this one. Period pieces often have the edge in costume categories. Plus, I'd love to see the short-lived revival get some retrospective attention.