Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 Tony Awards Preview: Best Play

On April 29th, the American Theater Wing will announce its nominees for the 68th Annual Tony Awards, which will be hosted by Tony winner Hugh Jackman. Before the big announcement, I wanted to take a quick look at the top categories. The first one on deck is the Best Revival of a Play

1. Mothers and Sons - Tyne Daly has won a total of six Emmys, but only one Tony, 24 years ago for her role in Gypsy. But it looks like she could be back in the race for this AIDs drama co-starring Frederick Weller. The film is getting strong reviews, particularly for Daly, who will probably find herself among the nominees for Best Actress in a Play, and it tackles a subject matter that many in the Broadway community take to heart. The Normal Heart and Rent are great examples of plays/musicals that fared well with the American Theater Wing while tackling the important issue of AIDS.

2. Casa Valentina - One of the last contenders to emerge (its opening night is actually not until this Wednesday) nonetheless has already accrued a decent amount of buzz heading into the Tony Nominations on April 29th. It is about a group of heterosexual men who have found a place where they can live out their alternate lives as women, or at least dressing like them. They must decide whether to go public with their secret and risk their personal lives, or stay in the dark. Starring bankable Broadway stars including John Cullum and Reed Birney, as well as last year's Tony Winner for Featured Actor in a Musical Gabriel Ebert. It boasts an impressive resume, and it promises to be a compelling and fun romp. Reviews will appear later this week as it premieres, which will give us a better idea. But if it lives up to the hype, it could be a major Tony contender.

3. All the Way - Bryan Cranston is hot right now. The finale of Breaking Bad was months ago, and yet people are still buzzing about it as it enters its final Emmy season (Cranston has three on his mantle for the show) as the reigning Drama Series champ. He stars in the upcoming blockbuster Godzilla (which looks like more than your average summer action flick), and he has now turned his sights towards Broadway, playing LBJ in Robert Schenkkan's new play All the Way. So far it has done well at the box office, and the reviews, both for Cranston and for the work as a whole, have been pretty good. While the American Theater Wing sometimes chooses its favorites over big screen stars (Tracey Letts over Tom Hanks last year), but I would bet that Cranston will be a top Lead Actor contender come Tony night.

4. The Realistic Joneses - Speaking of big-screen star power, look no further than the new comedy from Sam Gold and Will Eno, The Realistic Jones, which stars Michael C. Hall, Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei, and last year's Best Actor in a Play Tracey Letts. The reviews have been fantastic, calling it weird, funny, and incredibly powerful, particularly the incredible cast. This is not surprising considering the actors involved, and they all could hear their names come Tony nomination morning. Remember last year's winner Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike went on to win Best Play, and three of its stars (surprisingly Sigourney Weaver was the one snubbed) went on to Tony nominations. This has a similar vibe and it could end with similar results.

5. Outside Mullingar - John Patrick Shanley has had his share of Broadway and film hits (look no further than the Oscar, Tony, and Pulitzer on his mantle), but he hasn't really knocked it out of the park in a while, according to theater critics. Outside Mullingar looks to be his best effort in a while though, as it has gotten a lot more press (and an actual Broadway debut, some of his recent ones have only made it to off-Broadway), and while most of the reviews are mixed, there does seem to be a consistency that this is one of his better works, and some of them have been out-right positive. I don't think it is going to be as big of contender as the four contenders listed below, but do not discount the popularity of Shanley, and of the stars Debra Messing (making her Broadway debut) and Tony winner Brian F. O'Byrne.

6. Act One - Tony Shalhoub and Santina Fontana are said to be great in this new play from James Lapine adapted from the autobiography of Moss Hart. Fontana was nominated last year for the first time for the revival of Cinderella, and Shalhoub seeks his third nomination after what has been, so far, a storied stage career. But the box office hasn't been great, and the reviews are mixed at best. Most seem to praise the performances, but feel the production as a whole is a bit flat. But there are enough positive fans out there to boost its credentials and it comes from Lapine, who has three Tonys and a Pulitzer so far, in his long and storied career on the stage. Don't discount a legend when it comes to Tony voters.

7. The Velocity of Autumn - Oscar winner Estelle Parsons joins forces with two-time Tony winner Stephen Spinella in the Broadway version of The Velocity of Autumn, which originated from a DC theater. The play is apparently warm and funny, but I wonder if it has the same bite or enough prestige to break into what seems like a competitive race for four slots in the Best Play race. But expect it to be a part of the conversation for sure (its reviews alone will ensure that), and Parsons and Spinella, both legends at this point are certainly going to be enticing to voters on their ballots.

8. The Snow Geese - This show premiered to mixed reviews a ways back, and it didn't make too much of an impact. But its star was Mary-Louis Parker, a Tony and Emmy winner, and its cast is large and varied enough to spark attention. I think a nomination for Parker will probably be its only chances, but alas, when talent such as this is involved, it is never safe to count it out for more prospects.

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