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Who Will Win? 2014 Tony Awards Predictions

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

The 2014 Tony Awards will be handed out Sunday at Radio City Music Hall, in a televised ceremony hosted by Broadway’s favorite brawny man Hugh Jackman. With the six-week long race nearing its finish line, a number of this year's nominees have gained clear momentum while other categories are still anyone’s game, including some of the night’s top honors.

GGLMBway0858rFormer Tony host and A-list gay Neil Patrick Harris is very likely to win for his balls-to-the-wall performance as the titular gender-indeterminate rock goddess in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The show also has a solid chance of taking home Best Revival of a Musical, and director Michael Mayer (American Idiot, Spring Awakening) is a strong competitor in the directing race for his work transforming the downtown cult hit into a big-ticket Broadway smash.

The Best Musical race is still open, though, and Mayer faces stiff competition from director Darko Tresnjak of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the season’s most nominated show and a strong competitor for the evening’s top prize. Though The Bridges of Madison County was edged out of a Best Musical nom and recently closed due to poor sales, Jason Robert Brown is a favorite to win for his soaring, operatic score.

Beautiful_2647Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is also a strong competitor for Best Musical, with the baby-boomer favorite likely to score big in other categories, including a top acting prize for star Jessie Mueller in the title role and a possible win for book writer Douglas McGrath. Cotton-Club style revue After Midnight has also been an audience favorite since opening early in the season, and helmer Warren Carlyle is a likely win for his fiery-footed choreography.

Featured actor races are tight across the board, but the awards may go toward musicals otherwise under recognized—like James Monroe Iglehart for Aladdin or Nick Cordero for Bullets Over Broadway and Linda Emond for Cabaret.

CranstonThe race for leading man in a play seems similarly in the bag for another celebrated TV star, Bryan Cranston for his robust portrayal of LBJ in All the Way. Robert Schenkkan’s presidential drama is also a likely win for Best Play, facing down competition from veteran playwrights Terrence McNally (Mothers and Sons), James Lapine (Act One), Harvey Fierstein (Casa Valentina), and John Patrick Shanley (Outside Mullingar).

Audra McDonald has been showered with acclaim for her sensitive performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (which landed her in the play category despite being mostly sung), and is a longtime favorite of Tony voters (this would mark her sixth, with one in each of the four acting categories). But her competitors for Best Actress have also been critic and audience favorites, including LaTanya Richardson Jackson for her galvanizing performance in A Raisin in the Sun, and previous winners Cherry Jones (The Glass Menagerie) and Tyne Daly (Mothers and Sons).

RylanceFeatured actors from this season’s crop of new and revived plays are in tight competition, including two favorites from A Raisin in the Sun, Anika Noni Rose and Sophie Okonedo. As for supporting men, it’s a case of ‘may the best woman win’ among frock-wearing front-runners Mark Rylance (nominated for his turn as Lady Olivia in the Globe’s all-male production of Twelfth Night) and Reed Birney (playing a straight transvestite in Casa Valentina).  

Best Revival of a Play is also one of the season’s tightest races, between refreshing reboots of American classics (The Glass Menagerie, A Raisin in the Sun) and British imports (Twelfth Night, The Cripple of Inishmaan). For a season unusually packed with Shakespeare on and off Broadway, the Bard may take one home for the 10th anniversary production of director Tim Carroll’s benchmark Globe Theatre production.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:joan marcus, evgenia eliseeva)


Hollywood Snubs and Men in Tights: Rounding Up the 2014 Tony Award Nominations

Hedwig

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Nominees for the 68th annual Tony Awards were announced on Tuesday in a lineup that favors familiar tunes, revitalized classics and breakout performances by new and famous faces.

GM 3Some of the season’s biggest Hollywood names were overlooked, most notably in two star-driven revivals of American classics: Denzel Washington (A Raisin in the Sun) and Zachary Quinto (The Glass Menagerie) were both conspicuously passed over in productions otherwise showered with nominations, including for other cast members and leading actresses LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Cherry Jones. Daniel Radcliffe was unrecognized yet again in his third appearance on Broadway, for his performance in The Cripple of Inishmaan.

Surprising total shut outs were highbrow double bill Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land, starring stage and screen faves Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, and Will Eno’s off-center new play The Realistic Joneses. Though it boasts a full roster of stars, with Michael C. Hall, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts and Marissa Tomei all sharing the stage—it perhaps proved too inaccessible to appeal to voters.  

Cabaret - M. Williams Maybe This Time 0213Other, more expected A-list marquee snubs included Betrayal, starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz and Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom, both early season offerings that enjoyed big business but received lukewarm critical reception. Michelle Williams was also passed over for her turn as Sally Bowles, as was the Roundabout’s remounting of Cabaret in the Best Revival of a Musical category, which it won in 1998 (Alan Cumming was not eligible this time around, having won for his performance the same year).

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder received the most nods, and it’s the only nominee for Best Musical that features a fully original score. Others, including Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and After Midnight, are packed with popular hits from other eras.

Disney’s latest cartoon-inspired offering Aladdin swooped in for the final Best Musical spot, nabbing it from other contenders who might have benefitted from the critical cache and box office juice, including Bullets Over Broadway and The Bridges of Madison County (which today announced it will close May 18). Though Bullets snagged a nomination for Best Book, begging the question of whether Woody will show at the Tonys (not likely).

Shax 1Two of five Best Play nominees, written by preeminent LGBT playwrights Terrence McNally (Mothers and Sons) and Harvey Fierstein (Casa Valentina), tangle with issues of sexuality, while half a dozen men in the acting categories are nominated for performing in women’s clothing—including Samuel Barnett and Mark Rylance for the Globe Theatre’s all-male production of Twelfth Night, and last year’s Tony host Neil Patrick Harris as the title character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Leading stars in men’s clothing are easily recognized from their work on screen, including Bryan Cranston (All the Way), Tony Shalhoub (Act One) and Chris O’Dowd (Of Mice and Men). On the musical side, leading tough guys Andy Karl (Rocky) and Ramin Karimloo (Les Misérables) round out the pack with two gents from A Gentleman’s Guide, Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham.

Bridges247Women turned up underrepresented in creative categories, with just one of eight nominated directors (Leigh Silverman for Violet) and none among the writers of new plays and original scores. In the performance categories, the same week they received nominations, two Broadway favorites—Estelle Parsons in The Velocity of Autumn and Kelli O’Hara in The Bridges of Madison County— saw their shows post closing notices due to slow box office.

Other nominees for leading roles include previous winners Sutton Foster (Violet), Idina Menzel (If/Then) on the musical side and Tyne Daly (Mothers and Sons) and Audra McDonald, nominated in the play category for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill (Ms. McDonald would become the first ever to win in all four acting categories). Two other leading ladies nominated for their performances as iconic musicians, Jessie Mueller (Beautiful) and Marie Bridget Davies (the shuttered A Night with Janis Joplin), were among the seasons biggest breakthroughs.

The Tony Awards, hosted by Hugh Jackman, will be broadcast on CBS from Radio City Musical Hall on Sunday, June 8.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:joan marcus, michael j. lutch)


Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams Open On Broadway in ‘Cabaret:’ REVIEW

Cabaret - Don't Tell Mama wWilliams, Cumming 0065

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

A decade after ending its six-year run on Broadway, directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s acclaimed revival of Cabaret returns to Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54, where it opened on April 24. Stepping back into his Tony-Award-winning turn as the Emcee, Alan Cumming reigns over the evening with an unshakable carnal magnetism, while Michelle Williams makes a brave Broadway debut with a deeply felt, if less than iconic performance as Sally Bowles.

Cabaret - Willlkommen Cumming1464rAs it was then, the theatre is transformed into something closer to its nightlife roots, and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting home for the seedy glam of Cabaret’s Kit Kat Klub than Studio 54. Based on stories by Christopher Isherwood and a play by John Van Druten, the musical by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Joe Masteroff (book) has been on Broadway four times since its debut in 1966. Though reviving a revival could easily seem like a lesson in unoriginality, it feels, in this case, like a welcome homecoming.

And who wouldn’t want to come home to an army of omnisexual pretty young things, writhing, dancing and playing an array of instruments in various states of undress? If not—well, you’ve come to the wrong place. 1930s Berlin is not for the unadventurous, and fortunately, Clifford Bradshaw (Bill Heck), an American writer searching for his novel abroad, is not. Just hours after arriving in town, he’s already gotten chummy with Sally, an itinerant English club singer, and shared a passionate lip-lock with something of a former beau.

Cabaret - engagement party 0397Running parallel to Cliff and Sally’s tryst is the more modest courtship between Fräulein Schneider (Linda Emond), from whom Cliff lets his room, and Herr Schultz (Danny Burstein), owner of the local fruit shop. That the supporting romantic storyline is far more affecting than the first is a testament to both the supreme talents of Broadway vets Ms. Emond and Mr. Burstein (Tony-nominated this week for their performances), and the lukewarm chemistry between Mr. Heck and Ms. Williams.

As the pragmatic Schneider, Emond strikes a touching balance of world-weary warmth that’s especially powerful in her commanding performances of ‘So What’ and ‘What Would You Do?’ Burstein is perfectly matched, with his intuitive handling of Schultz’s vacillating pride and vulnerability. Heck’s Clifford seems a bit more inscrutable than hungry for experience, which may help explain his less than magnetic connection with Williams’ Sally.

Standing up to the memory of an indelible, Tony-winning performance by the late Natasha Richardson in the original version of this production is a daunting task, even—and maybe especially—for a young Hollywood star. Williams brings the sort of clever beauty and coy sensibility of a Marilyn Monroe to the role, and a well of readily available emotions to draw upon. She does fine work leading early club numbers like ‘Don’t Tell Mama,’ and passable renditions of more emblematic songs like ‘Maybe This Time’ and the title finale. But to her Sally, chasing pleasure seems more like a whim than an addiction, and most of the company (except for Nazi Erst Ludwig) look to be having more fun.

Cabaret - Williams Don't Tell Mama 0059Of course, pre-Nazi Germany is anything but all fun and games, and the air in the Kit Kat Klub is as thick with danger as it is sexual thrill. Brewing the show’s heady mix of hedonism and doom, carelessness and dread is Cumming’s dynamite Emcee—straddling a line between masculine and feminine and making near bedfellows of everyone in the room. With him at the mic, you have little to no choice but to do as he says and leave your troubles at the door.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:joan marcus)

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Daniel Radcliffe Opens on Broadway in ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan:’ REVIEW

Cripple

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Swapping profanities reaches the level of high art in the first Broadway production of Martin McDonagh’s Tony-nominated 1996 black comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, which opened April 20 at the Cort Theatre. The show features an admirable performance by above-the-title star Daniel Radcliffe and expert work from the cast and creative team behind the production’s acclaimed run on London’s West End.

Cripple1Set on a small group of islands off the western coast of Ireland, the story is based around the filming of an actual 1934 documentary Man of Aran, about daily life there. News of the film crew’s arrival on a neighboring isle shakes up the insular community of Inishmaan—none more so than the one they call ‘Cripple Billy’ (Radcliffe), who’s spent most of this life shuffling to and from the doctor (and, apparently, staring at cows).

Orphaned as a boy, Billy was raised by his biddy aunts Eileen (Gillian Hanna) and Kate (Ingrid Craige), who run a singularly modest general shop specializing in canned peas. They get their daily news from assiduous town gossip Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) and their oft-broken eggs from the hot-tempered, acid-tongued young Helen (Sarah Greene). When Helen and her little brother Bartley (Connor MacNeill) arrange a boat passage with Babbybobby (Pádraic Delaney) to the film set, Billy hitches a ride with dreams of a Hollywood escape.

Cripple2Artfully directed by Michael Grandage with beautifully artless set and costume design by regular collaborator Christopher Oram, the production propels through McDonaugh’s rhythmic dialogue with precision timing, comedic and otherwise. Peppered with repetition and viciously creative insults, the play has a musicality that sings thanks to a gifted company.

Accepting Mr. Radcliffe as an ugly duckling may stretch your imagination, but his portrayal of Billy’s physical deformity goes far to convince. Despite being the title character, Radcliffe plays one of the quieter roles on a stage full of outsized personalities, and turns in a sensitive, engrossing performance. As his pair of hand-wringing, occasionally daffy caregivers, Ms. Hanna and Ms. Craige may be the most entertaining odd couple of the season. And Ms. Greene and Mr. MacNeill provide stiff competition as warring brother and sister.

For all its bitter humor, a certain bleakness and cruelty hover over Inishmaan like fog off the sea. The place feels a lot like the edge of the world, and there’s a looming temptation to peer right over and consider leaping off, for better or worse. Though it’s hardly clear which would come to pass.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:johan persson)


James Franco and Chris O’Dowd Open On Broadway In ‘Of Mice And Men:’ REVIEW

OF MICE AND MEN_ Photo by Richard Phibbs

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

James Franco’s quest for ubiquity now includes a starring role on Broadway, in the revival of John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 drama Of Mice and Men, which opened April 16 at the Longacre Theatre. Anyone hoping for a spectacular crash and burn may have to settle for a gentle sputter, as the pseudo art-star fades against the glare of stage lights and the formidable talents of co-star Chris O’Dowd.

OF MICE AND MEN_ Photo by Richard Phibbs1From the first moments of director Anna D. Shapiro’s imposingly designed production, the familiar story of two men versus the world is writ large. George (Franco) and his companion Lennie (O’Dowd) are migrant ranch hands in Great Depression California, working to survive equally harsh economic and natural hardship. Lennie is preternaturally strong but has the slow mentality of a child, and the dependency of one, too. The two are en route to a new job, having just fled their last on account of some seemingly innocent misbehavior involving Lennie and a woman in a pretty dress.

The pair encounters a host of characters at the new ranch, including old-timer Candy (a venerable Jim Norton), who soon joins in their dream of owning a plot of land; Curley (Alex Morf) the owner’s hot-headed son, who instantly spells trouble; and his flirty, restless wife (Leighton Meester), who likewise leaves behind the scent of trouble every time she leaves a room.

OF MICE AND MEN_ Photo by Richard Phibbs2Steinbeck’s story is full of visible landmines, and Shapiro’s production navigates them with a certain finesse, thanks in large part to a sensitive and engrossing performance by Mr. O’Dowd. Known best for his starring role in Bridesmaids, the Irish actor does an exceptional job crafting Lennie’s myopic world and inviting viewers inside with every gesture and look of wonder.

As is no surprise by now, Franco also inhabits his own unique world, which doesn’t quite do him the same credit on stage as it may off. George and Lennie have a shared dream—that one of them has control of his wits only makes him more determined to escape their bum fates. But Franco’s George often registers as little more than resentful. With a few notable exceptions, his harshness toward Lennie feels flat rather than mixed with the brotherly love on which the story hinges.

OF MICE AND MEN_ Photo by Richard Phibbs3Lacking a credible bond between the two marquee leads, the production struggles to take off, despite some fine performances from its supporting cast. Norton brings his usual level of ease and expertise to Candy, as does Ron Cephas Jones in the role of the isolated black workman Crooks. Ms. Meester (late of Gossip Girl), cuts a pretty figure and is admirably poised in her major theatre debut, but falters when called on for emotional depth.

Despite ending with a bang, stakes remain low in the escalation to this production’s climax. If Steinbeck’s play relies on our investment in the American dreams of his characters—for George to be a landowner, for Lennie to be a tender of bunny rabbits, for Candy and Crooks to live out their final years with dignity, for Curley’s wife to be a Hollywood star—believing in some, but not all, makes for a soft landing.  

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:richard phibbs)


Harvey Fierstein On Straight Men In Stockings And His New Broadway Play 'Casa Valentina': INTERVIEW

Harvey Fierstein photo by Bruce Glikas

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Harvey Fierstein knows that a play about straight transvestites is bound to raise eyebrows, and he’s hoping it does more than that. Casa Valentina, which opened on Broadway last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre, has already riled up some severe backlash. “I wrote a play that you’re either going to walk away from with all of your prejudices pushed aside or brought forward,” says Fierstein.

CV1After one preview, the Tony-winner explains, a woman waited at the stage door to tell every actor the play was “absolute garbage,” because no woman would ever marry a man who wears dresses.

But the play is in fact based on true stories, from men who frequented the Chevalier d’Eon Resort in the Catskills during the 50s and 60s. Think of it as summer camp for guys who prefer makeup kits to toolboxes and makeovers to car repairs. Most of the guests were family men, who escaped there to “express the girl within,” donning women’s clothes, sharing meals and performing sing-alongs.

Casa Valentina begins as what might have been a typical summer at the resort, but for the arrival of Charlotte (played by Reed Birney), a character based on Virginia Prince. An activist for transgendered men and the publisher of Transvestia magazine, Prince was also virulently anti-homosexual.

CS3In the play, Charlotte attempts to recruit the guests of Casa Valentina to her nationally recognized sorority of transvestite men—on the condition they agree to ban gays from their ranks. If a straight man in a dress is the first hard pill to swallow, a perfectly coiffed and intensely homophobic one is even more outrageous.

I spoke to Harvey about gay people’s responses to the play, if homophobia can ever be justified, and whether you should feel bad about saying ‘tranny.’

Naveen Kumar: What was your initial approach to writing this play?

Harvey Fierstein: I knew about the resort from my childhood, because my father grew up in the Catskills. Years later I saw the book of photographs, Casa Susanna [published in 2005 by Michael Hurst and Robert Swope, who discovered a wealth of snaps from the resort at a New York flea market]. [A group of producers] came to me and begged me to write a play. I thought, you know it’s cute—a bunch of straight guys go up and put on dresses, but really? A play?

CS1But there’s something about the photographs. There’s a certain calmness, a happiness and a freedom [to them]. It’s not like looking at pictures of drag queens. There’s a nervous energy to drag queens—they’re projecting forward, they’re pushing out at you, they’re trying to show you something. They’re not being. These people in these photographs, there’s a sort of relaxed happiness, which I didn’t understand.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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