Tuning in to the Tony Awards
Jim Gladstone READ TIME: 6 MIN.
In anticipation of the 76th annual Tony Awards, which will be presented this Sunday, June 11 at 5pm on CBS and Paramount+, I traveled to New York last week to see some of the nominated productions and performances along with the first show official show of next season. Here are some of my notes and nit-picks from a Big Apple binge.
Sondheim Revival Redux
In the wake of last year's Best Revival of a Musical win for Steven Sondheim's "Company," this year finds the late composer-lyricist's valedictory trophy case likely to get even more crowded as two of his most popular works, "Sweeney Todd" and the now-closed "Into the Woods," compete for that same honor.
It's hard to imagine that "Sweeney Todd" won't be this year's big winner. It's a hugely satisfying production with a 26-piece orchestra that pulls the entire theater into its dark embrace.
Annaleigh Ashford, who plays Mrs. Lovett, should take Best Actress in a Leading Role for one of the most precisely calibrated performances I've ever seen. Her exquisitely timed shrugs, eye rolls and sideward glances cut through the grand operatic gloom of the production to make it human, and very funny.
Josh Groban, while solidly enjoyable, is less of a sure thing for Best Actor in the title role. His singing outshines his acting, and he doesn't quite hit the strange balance of sympathetic and sinister required by the role of the demon barber.
Ten days after the Tonys, San Francisco theatergoers will have a chance to make their own judgements about "Into the Woods" as Best Director nominee Lear deBessonet's production plays the Curran Theatre. The cast includes four of the revival's original Broadway cast members, including past Tony winners Stephanie J. Block (Best Actress in a Leading Role, "The Cher Show") and Gavin Creel (Best Featured Actor, "Hello Dolly!").
"Sweeney Todd," open-ended run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with a tour announced, beginning 2025. Local dates not confirmed.
"Into the Woods," June 20-25. Curran Theatre. www.broadwaysf.com
Best Original Musical
I caught both leading candidates in this category, and they couldn't be more different from each other. "Some Like It Hot" – quite loosely based on the classic film – is a big, brash, cheerful spectacle, with songs by Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman (past Tony winners for "Hairspray"). "Kimberly Akimbo" is an intimate coming-of-age dramedy in the "Dear Evan Hansen" mold with music by past winner Jeanine Tesori ("Fun Home").
As the latter's titular Kimberly, a 16-year-old with a genetic condition that causes her to physically age four times as fast as normal, Victoria Clark turns in a delicately nuanced performance that straddles two eras of social awkwardness: Adolescence and senior citizenry. She will likely win Best Actress.
"Some Like It Hot" succeeds in lighting upon serious issues of race and sexuality within what is fundamentally a showcase for old-fashioned comedy and tap-dancing razzamatazz, whereas "Kimberly Akimbo" stumbles a bit when it tries to force crowd-pleasing comedy into its more earnest storytelling (There are way too many jokes about how lousy it is to live in New Jersey).
For clarity of tone and mission, I'd pick "Some Like It Hot" for the win.
"Kimberly Akimbo," open-ended run at Booth Theatre. www.kimberlyakimbothemusical.com
Tour begins Fall 2024. Local dates not confirmed.
"Some Like It Hot," Shubert Theatre.
Tour begins Fall 2024. Local dates not confirmed.
Jack Be Nimble
Bay Area audiences had a chance to see the stage talents of Sean Hayes (Jack from television's "Will and Grace") when he played the Almighty in the one-man comedy "An Act of God" at the Golden Gate Theatre back in 2016.
"Goodnight, Oscar," in which Hayes plays the real-life character Oscar Levant, a B-list actor, popular talk show quipster and one-time piano prodigy who is plagued by mental illness and prescription drug addiction, has a cast of seven but amounts to a one-man show, nonetheless.
Hayes cracks wise, breaks down, and plays a smashing rendition of "Rhapsody in Blue" in a scenery-gobbling tour de force that is no less impressive for its self-indulgence. This is a bespoke play, written for Hayes by Doug Wright ("Gray Gardens"). It doesn't really have much to say, but Hayes has truly remarkable chops to display.
It'll be hard to begrudge the enormously entertaining Hayes a Best Actor win, but one wishes the script was more substantial. If he does win, the name of another Tony-nominated new play will also come to the top of my mind: "Fat Ham."
"Goodnight, Oscar," through Aug. 27. Belasco Theatre.
The first Broadway show of the official 2023-2024 season is "Grey House," a horror story starring Laurie Metcalf, the brilliant stage actress best known for playing Roseanne's sister on TV. But despite uniformly excellent performances, the show – about a spooky house in the woods haunted by tragedy – is all ambiguity with no central coherence.
Produced in-part by internet influencers, the script's endless mysteries, symbols, and muddled meanings have been spun into Reddit threads and online communities of folks who are already dissecting this show like true crime fanatics. But it's a pile of hints without any solvability.
On the night I saw it, the audience included a large proportion of teenagers, many of whom had already seen the show multiple times during its preview run.
If there was a Tony for marketing innovation, "Grey House" would be next year's big winner.
"Grey House," open-ended run at the Lyceum Theatre.
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