Tonys: On the Town With 5 Weeks to Go

THR's awards columnist discusses the significance (or lack thereof) of pre-Tonys awards, the shows that have (and haven't) been able to overcome Tonys snubs at the box office, the view from backstage at the 'Birdman' theatre and more.
Julieta Cervantes
From left: Joe Mantello, Sally Field and Finn Wittrock in 'The Glass Menagerie'

For the fourth year in a row, I've temporarily relocated from Los Angeles to New York to cover the homestretch of Broadway's race to the Tonys, which return to Radio City Music Hall on June 11. This season, in addition to podcast interviews with contenders and later roundtable conversations with six male and six female acting nominees, I'm posting a weekly dispatch about what I'm seeing and hearing during this most exciting time of year. Here's this week's, my third.

It's been a busy week-plus since I last checked in — 'plus' because on Sunday, when I usually file this dispatch, I was consumed with prepping for Monday, when The Hollywood Reporter hosted, at our fourth annual Tonys Actor and Actress Roundtables, 10 of the performers who were Tony-nominated last Tuesday: The Price's Danny DeVito, Dear Evan Hansen's Ben Platt, Six Degrees of Separation's Corey Hawkins, Groundhog Day's Andy Karl, The Great Comet's Josh Groban and Denee Benton, Oslo's Jennifer Ehle, The Little Foxes' Laura Linney, The Glass Menagerie's Sally Field and War Paint's Christine Ebersole. I'm very excited for you to see the resulting conversations and photoshoots in print and online next week.

In the meantime, well ahead of the Tonys, several other awards groups have weighed in on what Broadway insiders are calling one of the most competitive seasons in memory. The Tony implications of the 64th Outer Critics Circle Awards and/or the 82nd New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards and/or the nominations for the 62nd Drama Desk Awards (winners to be announced June 4) are somewhat limited — OCC and DD voting rolls have little overlap with Tonys voters and all three pre-Tonys groups, unlike the Tonys, do not consider shows that they previously considered as off-Broadway productions — but they still sometimes offer hints of which way the wind is blowing. For instance, Dear Evan Hansen and The Great Comet were ineligible with all three groups, but Come From Away and Groundhog Day, against which they'll be competing for the best musical Tony, were not, and Come From Away won the best musical OCC Award over Groundhog Day and was nominated for the best musical DD Award while Groundhog Day was not, suggesting that it could pose the biggest threat to presumptive frontrunners Evan Hansen and Great Comet. (Fun fact: All three shows are neighbors on 45th Street.)

Meanwhile, the same four shows that are Tony-nominated for best play — A Doll's House, Part 2, Indecent, Oslo and Sweat — competed against each other for the best play OCC Award, and Oslo won; Oslo also won the best play NYDCC Award, apparently in a nail-biter over Doll's House 2 and Sweat; and all except Doll's House 2 were nominated for the best play DD Award. Best revival of a play Tony nominees Jitney and The Little Foxes were among the nominees for the best revival of a play OCC Award (Jitney won) and also are the only two Tony nominees up for that prize at the DD Awards; Jitney received a special citation from the NYDCC. And Hello, Dolly! topped fellow best musical revival Tony nominee Miss Saigon to win that prize at the OCC Awards and was nominated opposite fellow best musical revival Tony nominee Falsettos at the DD Awards (where it led the field with 10 noms).

The OCC acting winners are all Tony nominees in the same categories: Present Laughter's Kevin Kline for best actor in a play, The Little Foxes' Linney for best actress in a play, Groundhog Day's Karl for best actor in a musical, Hello, Dolly!'s Bette Midler for best actress in a musical, The Price's DeVito for best featured actor in a play, The Little Foxes' Cynthia Nixon for best featured actress in a play, Hello, Dolly!'s Gavin Creel for best featured actor in a musical and Come From Away's Jenn Colella for best featured actress in a musical. But with the likes of Dear Evan Hansen's Platt ineligible, does any of this actually tell us anything? Hard to say.

Speaking of Evan Hansen, my own theatergoing since the last "On the Town" dispatch began with that show, which I'd previously seen and loved last year, with the same core creative team, on its last day as an off-Broadway production at Second Stage Theatre — and which I enjoyed even more on Tuesday night. (The show's stars received particularly effusive entrance applause, as this was their first performance since a very strong showing in the Tony noms.) I honestly think that may be because this time I knew how the gut-wrenchingly emotional show — the story of a sympathetic, anxiety-riddled high school student who gets caught up in a web of lies — would end, and therefore wasn't as stressed watching it.

Objectively, though, I'm torn about whether or not the show benefits from being in a larger venue, since one of the most impressive things about its intimate former home was that everyone in the house could see up-close just how incredibly deep Platt is digging every performance. Side note: I attended with an actor friend who's roughly the same age as Platt and went into the show somewhat resentful of the fact that the son of top Broadway producer Marc Platt (Wicked) was given the opportunity to lead a show of his own — but by the final curtain, he said that he had to admit that Platt couldn't have been any better and that it would be a crime for him not to win the best actor in a musical Tony.

Wednesday brought a double-header of musicals-adapted-from-movies that largely were ignored by the Tonys nominating committee, but still are thriving at the box office, in part due to the strength of their brands with young people: a matinee of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (zero noms) and an evening performance of Anastasia (just two noms, one for excellent featured actress Mary Beth Peil and the other for costume design). Both are entertaining, if not groundbreaking, and both are selling well enough to withstand the lack of Tony love, unlike Amelie, which on Thursday became this season's first Tonys casualty — it will close May 21. (Charlie might be sustained solely by the proceeds from $20 "golden tickets" that kids were roping their parents into buying for them on the way out of the theater — I'm contemplating buying a color printer and starting a new side career.)

On Thursday, I experienced a considerable change of pace with the play A Doll's House, Part 2, which imagines what would have happened to Ibsen's famous characters if, 15 years after slamming the door on her family, Nora knocked on it again. It's a 90-minute pressure-cooker of a show — there's no intermission, and if you need to go to the bathroom you can't return to your seat — starring four thesps at the top of their game, none more so than lead Laurie Metcalf as Nora (although Chris Cooper, back on Broadway for the first time in 37 years, is also pitch-perfect as Torvald). A few days after seeing it, another great actress, Sarah Paulson, told me that she regards the show as "one of the more profound experiences I have been lucky enough to have as an audience member," adding, "I would watch it daily if I could." Talk about high praise!

Because of the short runtime of Doll's House 2, I was able to make it over to the Imperial Theatre in time to catch the closing number of Dave Malloy's first-ever performance on Broadway in the leading role of his show The Great Comet, followed by a full-company champagne toast to him. (Malloy, who wrote the music, lyrics, book and orchestrations, and played the role of Pierre in the off-Broadway production, is stepping back into it because Tony nominee Josh Groban has to miss 10 performances due to concert commitments.) The intricately staged show marks the Broadway debut of not only Malloy and Groban, but an astounding 23 of the 33 performers, as well as director Rachel Chavkin, and all still were on a high from the recent news that theirs is the year's most Tony-nominated show. (I had a funny chat with one rookie, lovely ensemble member Ashley Pérez Flanagan, who shared with me some of the funnier and weirder things that she's dealt with when she has to sit on a random audience member's lap mid-performance. Suffice it to say she has exhibited a lot more graciousness than I would under the circumstances!)

On Friday, I caught Sam Gold's stripped-down version of The Glass Menagerie — the seventh revival of the show since the 1945 original, coming just four years after the sixth — and I'm glad that I saw it when I did because word came down on Tuesday that it's a goner on May 21 due to poor ticket sales. This fate seemed inevitable to me when I looked around and saw about half of the orchestra seats uninhabited, and it strikes me as a shame, not because the show is flawless — THR's chief theater critic David Rooney pointed out a number of reasons why it is not in his review — but because it's a rare treat to see leading lady Field on stage (her only previous Broadway appearance came 15 years ago), and as hysterical Amanda Wingfield, the 70-year-old legend certainly pulls her weight (she's the show's sole nominee, in the category of best actress in a play).

I had another interesting double-header on Saturday, beginning with the matinee of The Little Foxes, followed by an evening performance of Present Laughter. The former is being performed in rep at the Manhattan Theatre Club, with Linney and Nixon alternating between the roles of Regina and Birdie (I caught Linney as Regina and Nixon as Birdie, the parts for which they are Tony-nominated). The latter marks two-time Tony winner Kline's first work on Broadway in a decade, and indeed he is the glue that keeps Noel Coward's slightly longwinded farce together. (I had the opportunity to go backstage and onstage after Present Laughter — at the St. James Theatre, where much of Oscar winner Birdman was shot — and was blown away by the intricacy of the scenic design, right down to the smallest details that no audience member ever could see. It's a shame that it wasn't recognized.)

Finally, on Sunday, I caught up with Sunset Boulevard, the revival of the 1994 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical starring — then and now — Glenn Close as faded movie queen Norma Desmond, who first was portrayed in Billy Wilder's classic 1950 film noir of the same title. (Considering the subject matter, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me to run into Feud creator Ryan Murphy during intermission!) For her original interpretation of this same part, Close won the best actress in a musical Tony 22 years ago, and her return to it has been hailed by The New York Times' chief theater critic Ben Brantley as "one of the great stage performances of this century." While that might be a tad hyperbolic, Close does play the part to the hilt, and she received a massive ovation and two encores, which is the most I've seen at any show this year. Unfortunately for her, her previous win for this same part rendered her ineligible for another nomination. And unfortunately for the show, the Tonys nom-com decided to pick three, not four, nominees for best revival of a musical, and Sunset Boulevard was not among them.

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