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5/14/08
Tony Tonys
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Reality check: The Tony Awards aren’t about theater in New York—they are about a certain kind of theater in New York, namely the expensive, mainstream one found on Broadway. Which is fine, but let’s not forget that there’s a lot more to the stage than the Great White Way. For instance, you’d have no way of knowing it by looking at the list of nominees, but one of the most inventive musicals of the season is The Adding Machine, and it is still playing—Off Broadway.

That said, I might as well admit that the Tonys sure are fun! In fact if you follow Broadway, the level of excitment is unbearable—it’s like the World Series, a presidential election and the grand finale of Project Runway rolled into one.And overall I have to say this was a pretty good year, which is reflected in the nominations. As the Magic 8-Ball would say, Outlook Good Especially If You Come From Off Broadway or England.

The season had started off shakily with a stagehand strike and Mel Brooks’s hubris both casting a pall on the fall. Guess what: they’re both forgotten now! Considering that Brooks’s mammoth Young Frankenstein got only a paltry three nominations, this looks like a deliberate slap. On the other hand, the show is mediocre so its being ignored feels not like retribution but mere justice. Compare this gaudy fiasco with In the Heights and Passing Strange, two winning transfers from Off Broadway and you start believing in the farm system again.

I’m not going to start making predictions, so here are just a few observations:

Have we ever had two women nominated for Best Direction before? Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think so. In this case it’s in the play category, with Maria Aitken for The 39 Steps and Anna D. Shapiro for August: Osage County. And there were more who didn’t make the cut:Debbie Allen for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and in the musical category Young Frankenstein’s Susan Stroman and Passing Strange’s Annie Dorsen. All in all, another encouraging sign.

Four out of five nominees for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play are British; two of of four nominees for Best Direction of a Play are British, one is Irish. Overall I don’t mind: Quality has no passport. What’s more depressing to me is that when it comes to directing, Americans are lagging farther and farther behind. They don’t seem able to think conceptually at all, and do poorly on a purely visual level as well. And the same applies to opera.

Comedy is traditionally overlooked at awards ceremonies but it’s not doing too bad this year. I find it exciting that director Matthew Warchus and actors Mark Rylance and Mary McCormack all got nods for Boeing-Boeing, which is all about staging and acting since the play itself is merely a canvas. Similarly, it’s great to see an acknowledgment of Kerry Butler’s hilarious turn in Xanadu. (Unfortunately, her equally worthy costar Cheyenne Jackson was ignored, while Tom Wopat’s “sensitive” performance in the dour A Catered Affair was nominated.)

Finally, no, I won’t go into the whole Patti LuPone/Kelli O’Hara debate here, but feel free to chip in. Of course I have my favorite in this race, which is the most heated of them all. Isn’t it the best part of awards time?

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.