Glitter and Glitz: The 2004 Tony Awards
A Guide to Who Will Win and Who Should WinBy Fred Choi
It’s that time of year again, when theater buffs all over the world tune into the Tony Awards, Broadway’s yearly salute to New York City’s most expensive, if not highest quality, theater. It’s no surprise that the industry that has become a glut of commercialist twaddle has reached new levels of “compromise” in its attempts to attract an audience.
Thus the televised ceremony this Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS will be hosted by that genial but bland Broadway-newcomer-with-the-Hollywood-visibility-and-100-watt-smile Hugh Jackman for the second year in a row and feature such entertainers as wholly unconnected with Broadway as Mary J. Blige or as tenuously as Nicole Kidman.
Still, the show, the culmination of a year’s worth of anticipation, will no doubt provide musical fans and fanatics a more or less satisfactory evening of glitz and a glimpse or two of their favorite shows and theater artists. As is the case with most high-profile awards, the people who will win and those who should win are not always the same, especially in the case of the Tonys, where the majority of the voters are producers. Still, unlike some in recent memory, this year offers up more than a few unpredictable races that will have more than a few theater-philes biting their nails for several weeks.
So, it’s time to break out the pencils and start setting up those office betting pools. Here’s The Tech’s guide to the 2004 Tonys to help you figure out the odds.
Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical
First off, there are some clear Tony winners. “Wicked,” the sellout hit that focuses on the lives of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of Oz, is a shoo-in to win the award for Best Musical. Other contenders are “Avenue Q,” a Sesame Street-like musical with an adult twist, featuring alcoholic and depressed puppets and puppeteers; “The Boy From Oz,” the biographical musical on the life of some Australian entertainer named Peter Allen that your parents might remember; and “Caroline, or Change,” a musical about a black maid and the white family she works for in the South in the 1960s and written by no less than Tony Kushner of “Angels in America” fame. Although a clear commercial success, “Wicked” is certainly not Shakespeare. It will win because the only musical among its competitors that has any weight is “Caroline, or Change,” and that show is too uneven to stand up against the bubbly and fun “Wicked.”
The award for Best Revival of a Musical will undoubtedly go to Sondheim and Weidman’s “Assassins,” the musical about the men and women who have attempted to assassinate the American President. The show was, as is Sondheim’s habit, years ahead of its time when first presented Off-Broadway in 1991 during the time of the Persian Gulf War, but it has found a much more attentive audience this season. The show is without a doubt certainly the most deserving of the award in recent years, and towers over its competitors “Big River” (based on Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”), “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town.”
Creative Team and Best Direction of a Musical Awards
Although this year’s Best Musical Award will go to “Wicked,” it is not certain whether it is as likely to sweep all of the creative team and design awards. Winnie Holzman’s adaptation for “Wicked” faces the biggest competition for Best Book of a Musical from Tony Kushner’s book for “Caroline, or Change.” Likewise, Stephen Schwartz of “Wicked” could easily get ousted by Jeanine Tesori’s score for “Caroline,” despite its derivative nature. It should be noted that had Sondheim’s superlative score or Weidman’s book for “Assassins” been eligible, they would have easily outshone all of the competition. However the Tony committee ruled that the show was considered “classic” and not “new,” since it was written in 1991 and since then has been performed in non-Broadway theaters worldwide.
The award for Best Direction of a Musical will be between Joe Mantello for “Assassins” (who was noticeably not nominated for “Wicked,” which he also directed), and George C. Wolfe for “Caroline, or Change.” The award for Best Choreography will likely go to director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s work for the revival of “Wonderful Town,” despite being very straightforward.
The other design awards (Orchestrations, Scenic, Costume, and Lighting, all of which are going to be presented before the actual broadcast) are as usual more unpredictable than most. Michael Starobin should win Best Orchestrations for his masterful evocation of Americana in “Assassins.” Long-time theater veteran Eugene Lee has a good chance of winning Best Scenic Design for his work on “Wicked” (although Robert Brill’s design for “Assassins” is competitive). Likewise, Susan Hilferty is likely to win Best Costume Design for “Wicked,” and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eishenhauer may win Best Lighting Design for “Assassins.”
There is some difficulty in predicting the creative team and design winners, but it’s probable that, as with the other categories, the yawn-inducing revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” and the ill-conceived and short-lived musical about the life of Boy George entitled “Taboo” will be completely shut out of the Tonys. “Bombay Dreams,” the splashy but fluffy Bollywood-style import from London, and “Henry IV” may be competitive for some of the design categories (“Bombay Dreams” is a longshot to win for Best Choreography), but “Wicked” should have enough momentum to pick up more than a few of them.
The awards for plays often get overlooked in favor of their splashier cousins, the musicals, but there are some interesting races. Although Nilo Cruz’s “Anna in the Tropics,” a play centered on a cigar factory in Florida in 1929, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, it is not likely to win the Tony for Best Play. The biggest competitors for the award are the 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winner, “I Am My Own Wife” by Doug Wright, and “Frozen” by Bryony Lavery.
“I Am My Own Wife,” a gripping story of a German transvestite’s life from World War II on, is a favorite to win, but it may be slightly hurt by the fact that it is a one-man show. “Frozen,” a three-person psychological drama that focuses on a serial killer, the mother of one of his victims, and an American criminologist/psychiatrist, opened late in the season to rave reviews. The fourth nominee, “The Retreat From Moscow” by William Nicholson, was yet another play about a failing marriage that opened and closed without much of a ripple despite its starry cast (John Lithgow, Eileen Atkins, and Ben Chaplin).
The award for Best Revival of a Play and Best Direction of a Play will likely go to “Henry IV” and its director Jack O’Brien, more out of default than for any real sparks. The revival was competent, but at least it was more interesting than “King Lear,” Tom Stoppard’s dull and far too wordy “Jumpers,” and Lorraine Hansberry’s by now familiar “A Raisin in the Sun.” (The latter has proven to be surprisingly popular, no doubt in part due to the addition of P. Diddy to the cast who, unsurprisingly, was the only one in the four-person cast not nominated for an acting award).
Best Performance in a Play Awards
Three time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, the queen of Best Featured Actress Tonys and a magnetic presence in any art form, is a favorite to win the award for Featured Actress in a Play for “A Raisin in the Sun.” Ned Beatty from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” would have been the easy pick for Featured Actor in a Play but he was unjustly snubbed for his candid remarks slighting his amateurish co-stars Ashley Judd and Jason Patric. Instead, the award may go to Aidan Gillen for “The Caretaker” or Brian F. O’Byrne for “Frozen.”
Jefferson Mays’ star-making turn in the one-man show “I Am My Own Wife” is a favorite for Leading Actor in a Play, although he may face some competition from the more famous Kevin Kline, whose fatsuit-clad performance as Falstaff in “Henry IV” was much lauded. It is a real shame that Christopher Plummer is not likely to win for his widely-praised take on one of the world’s greatest tragic roles, Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”
The award for Leading Actress in a Play is a complete toss-up. Phylicia Rashad, of “The Cosby Show” fame, may win for “A Raisin in the Sun,” as may Eileen Atkins for “The Retreat From Moscow.” Likewise, Viola Davis may win for her role as a black seamstress in “Intimate Apparel,” or Swoosie Kurtz for her role in “Frozen.”
Best Performance in a Musical Awards
Without a doubt, the award for Leading Actor in a Musical will go to Hugh Jackman who single-handedly saves the otherwise worthless musical “The Boy From Oz.” The award for Leading Actress in a Musical is much more debatable. Like Jackman, the two-time Tony award winner radiant Donna Murphy single-handedly saves the entertaining but slight revival of “Wonderful Town,” but she faces stiff competition from the two stars of “Wicked,” the bubbly, blonde, and somewhat shrill Broadway darling Kristin Chenoweth and the “Rent” alumna Idina Menzel. Tonya Pinkins is the dark horse nominee for “Caroline, or Change.”
The Featured Actor Awards take a bit of guesswork as well. Michael Cerver may win for his performance as John Wilkes Booth in “Assassins.” Beth Fowler may win for her role as Peter Allen’s mother in “The Boy From Oz,” as may long-time not-quite-a-diva Karen Ziemba in the short-lived Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ wannabe musical “Never Gonna Dance.”
Phew! Whether or not you’re familiar with the shows, the Tonys are always fun to watch, as it features excerpts from the Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical nominees, and no doubt will include some surprise wins, some funny speeches, and some hideous and eye-popping award-show fashion. Whether anything will top the kiss shared between the excited Best Book of a Musical winners, partners Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan for “Hairspray” (from last year’s Tonys), well, you’ll just have to tune in to see.