Here’s the thing, Paul, I almost forgot you were a Paul and not, say, a Paula. Which, I’m guessing, just looking at how purely manly you actually are, is not a thing you heard very often before the Twelfth Night. But like… That’s how good your Maria was. So good I totally forgot she was being played by a man.

On a stage where it would have been easy for Mark Rylance to swallow the sun, to make all the eyes his, your performance stood tall and graceful and refused to be overlooked. That’s pretty fucking cool. Even cooler, that your performance as a woman never felt like a thin substitute for the real deal, someone affecting airs to try and put something past the audience. It felt serious, and carefully considered and about what made Maria human — with all her funny, sharp, lovely curves and angles, her needs and desires and hopes — and relatable to everyone on stage and in the audience. Even when we all knew what was really happening under that dress (shit, we’d watched you put it on!).

So thanks. For doing us ladies proud. And for making us laugh. I hope you enjoy winning the Tony of My Heart even a fraction as much as I enjoyed your performance.

 

Photo: Caitlin McNaney 

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Dear Kelli O’Hara–We’re crying.

We’re crying over Bridges of Madison County‘s untimely closing. We’re crying over the snubbing of your handsome costar Steven Pasquale at this year’s awards. We’re crying because your character, Francesca, lived in a time before WhatsApp, and therefore saw the communication gap between herself and The Photographer of Light, Robert Kinkaid, as hugely insurmountable, even after the death of her husband.

There are so many reason to cry, here!

And yet, we’re shedding a few happy tears, too, because I suspect that 2014 might just be the Year of Kelli O’Hara’s Tony Award Win. After a bazillion nominations for a bazillion perfect performances, we love the idea that you could win for playing a woman and not a dewy-eyed little girl. (Not that we didn’t love those little girls. Clara in Light in the Piazza — basically Francesca on Opposite Day — left us so dreamy-eyed, and so utterly obsessed with her wardrobe, that we considered going blonde and moving to Italy. I mean, more than we already were.)

We hope you win. With all of our weepy, ugly-crying hearts. But even if you don’t, you still get to be half of a Broadway power couple, a complete MILF, and a Broadway legend-in-training. Also, we’re basically counting on you to have the best dress at this year’s ceremony, so trophy or no trophy, we the Tony of Our Hearts is essentially yours.
Photo: Walter McBride

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I mean. It helps that you’re in one of the best musicals we’ve seen in a long time. Gentleman’s Guide is a marvel of technical excellence on basically every level of existence, and your perfectly-pitched performance is no exception.

And, sure, we always have a soft spot for the gal who’s not playing the obvious-choice-willowy-blonde-love interest, being those girls ourselves over here in reality.

But really, we just think you’re super rad and hope to be as cool as you are someday.

So yeah. Your smart, pretty-voiced Phoebe was a great start. But then we found out you’re in a sort of nerdy-cool underground band called Sky Pony that puts on rock performances with a theatrical bent (the ultimate in craptacularity) at like, 54 Below and the Under the Radar Festival and we were like… this girl is our soul sister. And THEN you gave this amazing interview to Playbill and told the world all about how you celebrated your actual Tony nom by bonding with a homeless dude over music on the subway and you nabbed the Tony of My Heart for sure.

The good news this season is that you’re already a winner in our eyes. (That should take a load off your mind! Nothing stressful left to get through now!) But the better news is… well, we dunno, but can we be besties now?

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Sunday night Jeremy Shamos danced across the Kimmel Center stage before taking off into a sudden run and leaping  into Steven Pasquale’s strong arms (where, truth be told, he was caught and held quite tenderly). And Steven Boyer sang the back half of his acceptance speech to the tune provided by his play-off music instead of leaving. And Megan Mullally, struggling with an unruly teleprompter, said “Mary Testa” so many times she couldn’t keep a straight face any longer.

And this, by the way, was before the party even started. This was just the ceremony. Because, sure, there’s a party after the Lucille Lortel Awards, but in a way, the awards themselves are a bit of a party, too. Or at least, a real celebration of the people winning them.

There’s not a lot of pomp and circumstance. There’s an opener, and video presentations from nominated musicals. There’s usually at least one more musical act. And there are tons of star-studded presenters, to be sure. But everyone goes about their business pretty swiftly, no big introduction speeches, no ages and ages of uncomfortable banter. People get up, state the category, read the names, call out the winner.

Because it’s not about these people, not at the Lortels – there’s no race for ratings here. It’s just about off-Broadway, and the people who made it shine in the last year. They are the lifeblood of the community, and they are the ones who get to bask in the spotlight.

Seriously. If you get a chance, you should go some year. Afterward there’s a lovely cocktail party at the top of the Kimmel Center looking out over Washington Square Park. There’s wine, and if you’re very lucky, you might run into Nick Cordero – WHO IS SO TALL AND HANDSOME YOU GUYS – in line for pasta.

This year, though, we were there in your stead. And we asked the off-Broadway stars some questions. Like great off-Broadway experiences. And their favorite books, or pop songs from the 90s. Check out their answers, below:

 

Brian J Smith, Tony Nominee, The Glass Menagerie

M: What’s your favorite off-Broadway show you’ve ever seen?

B: I would say Circle Mirror Transformation, that was really amazing.

M: Favorite mid-to-late 90s pop song?

B: Heart is like, early 90s, right?

A: You can go with the early 90s, we’ll allow it.

M: I’d say “Alone”, by Heart. I mean, I listen to that on the subway all the time.

Vincent Piazza, Jersey Boys movie, Boardwalk Empire

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway experience?

V: There isn’t one that’s coming to mind right now. I can tell you that the intimacy of a smaller house sometimes gives the most profound experiences. Working off-Broadway, or off-off-Broadway, there is that relationship that you have with the audience, that you may not get in a larger house that’s so special.

M: Do you have a favorite mid-to-late-90s pop song?

V: The end of the 90s is a blur!

M: I always go with Mmmbop, that’s my favorite.

V: Mmmbop, that comes into my head every once in a while. But, let me see, you’ve really stumped me… there was that Free Willy song that was like, a big thing for a while and then of course, there was Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On.”

Shuler Hensley, Encores! Most Happy Fella, The Whale

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway experience, whether it was a show you were in, or something you got to see?

S: For me, definitely The Whale last year was one of those experiences. You’re in a very small house, it’s an immaculate piece of material, and it was embraced by everybody and it was an amazing experience.

M: Do you have a favorite book?

S:I would say To Kill a Mockingbird is tied with All the King’s Men. But my son’s middle name is Atticus, so, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Laura Osnes, Threepenny Opera, Cinderella

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway show you’ve ever seen?

L: I saw Tribes a few years ago. It was a-may-zing. My friend Mare Winningham was in it and I saw it twice, actually, and I cried both times, it was so powerful and so amazing. I love that work like that is being done and it’s not about having to be a commercial hit. Like, that show wouldn’t work in a gigantic space. It’s made for off-Broadway for that reason, and you get to be kind of up close and personal with the actors telling this beautiful story. I would say that was my most amazing off-Broadway experience.

M: If you could dreamcast Sandy in Grease for this live TV show version on Fox, who would it be?

L: Oh gosh, I don’t know. It depends! I don’t know if they have plans to go the movie star route, or the Broadway route. If they’re going the Broadway route, I don’t know if I’m too old but it might be fun if they would have me. [laughs] My agent is probably like “Stay away from Grease!” But it would be fun! Okay, but, people ask me this and I thought of Chloe Grace Moretz. She would be cute.

M: What advice do you have for someone playing the role?

L: I feel like when I did the reality show my goal was just to be myself with a Sandy touch. You can’t try to be anyone you’re not, so it’s like… you have to have a sweet side, but you have to be able to turn on the sexy. I feel like every woman, no matter who they are, has both sides in them. So just have fun, it’s a fun show!

Molly Ranson, Bad Jews, Carrie

M: What’s your favorite off-Broadway show that you got to see?

MR: I really loved Hand to God. That was pretty intense and funny and crazy. Loved that show.

M:  Do you have a favorite memory of working off-Broadway?

MR: I guess one that was pretty incredible was when we [the cast of Bad Jews] made the move from the black box to the Laura Pels. That was pretty exciting because we were the first show in the history of that theater to make that move.

M: Do you have a favorite book?

MR: I’m reading  The Goldfinch right now and really liking it. I would recommend it.

Mortiz von Stuelpnagel, Director, Hand to God

M: Do you have a favorite pop song from the 90s?

MvS: I mean, where do you start? Okay, well, let’s start with Milli Vanilli, just incredible… But also, anything They Might Be Giants, anything Pearl Jam, anything Nirvana, late Pixies. There’s a lot of really amazing things to choose from in there.

M: Okay, so what if I held a gun to your head and made you choose a favorite.

MvS: If you held a gun to my head, then perhaps we’d have to go with “November Rain” by Guns and Roses. It’s epic, okay.

Tracee Chimo, Bad Jews

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway show you’ve ever gotten to see?

T: I’m blanking because I just saw Cabaret and I was so blown away from that – my mind is melted – but that’s on Broadway. Well… when I first moved to New York they did The Last Sunday in June and that was off-Broadway at the old Signature Theater and that was awesome. That blew my mind, and I remember that.

M: Do you have a favorite pop song from the 90s?

T: Good one! “Pump up the Jam”? Does that count? I love that song, that’s on my gym mix!

Steven Boyer, Winner, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play for Hand to God

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway show that you’ve ever seen?

S: EVER? Oh, man. There are so many. I’m really, oh my god, this is like… I’m drawing a huge blank right now because I feel like I’ve seen so many amazing things.

M: Anything really recent that you liked a lot?

S: Yeah, I saw Good Person of Szechwan this season and I loved it. I thought it was amazing, thought Taylor Mac was incredible and the entire cast was like… Usually in a show there’s like, one or two people you can’t stop watching? Every single person in that show, I couldn’t stop watching them. I couldn’t take my eyes off each person because they were so unique and so different and so vibrant.

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway experience of yours?

S: You know what, I really, really enjoyed doing Modern Terrorism last year at Second Stage. I think Jon Kern is hilarious and a really amazing writer and I thought that play really divided the audience and I really loved that about it. Some people just were not having it, they thought that the subject matter was too touchy. And the people that loved it absolutely loved it. I think it’s really cool that off-Broadway you can do plays that divide people in that way and ake people feel passionately about the work that they’re seeing.

M: Okay, what’s your favorite 90s pop song?

S: I mean, I’m not sure if it counts as pop… It doesn’t count as pop, but I like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Lynn Cohen, Sex and the City, Hunger Games, EVERYTHING EVER SHE IS THE BEST

M: What was it like working on The Sonnet Project with the New York Shakespeare Exchange?

L: I loved it. It was shot by somebody wonderful, my husband was in the one that I filmed – and he did his own, too! – but it was really wonderful. It was very, very special. And I could pick the one I wanted, so of course it was all about my husband.

M: Do you have a favorite book?

L: Oh, sure I do. There’s War and Peace, by Tolstoy, and The Great Gatsby, and then Camus’ first Notebooks, they’re in my dressing room – it’s everything about what an artist is, and the courage you have to have.

Jeremy Shamos, Winner, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play for Dinner with Friends

M: Famous Shamos! Can I ask you a few questions?

J: Please, I would be honored, and I would be insulted if you didn’t.

M:Yay! Do you have a favorite off-Broadway sho—

J: No!

M: Wow!

J: Actually, someone asked me that earlier and I was really lame…  I really haven’t had a good schedule to see things this year, so what’d I see… I saw Appropriate. I saw that and it was very enjoyable.

M: Okay, well, what’s a great book that you’ve read recently?

J: I started reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to my kids. I know I remember reading it, but I’m still surprised by little plot twists I don’t remember that well. And my kids at first were like ‘this is boring…’ and then they just got quieter and quieter and they just got really into it, so, it’s great. So now I guess I’m committing to The Chronicles of Narnia. And we’re going to start doing Harry Potter soon.

Barrett Weed, Heathers

M: When you first saw the Heathers script, what did you think when you read it?

B: That… I don’t know what I have to do to get this part, but I have to get it. I have to get it. I’m convinced  it’s the greatest part that’s been written for a woman in contemporary musical theater in the past like, 10 years.

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway show that you’ve seen recently?

B: Oh my gosh, well, it’s not running right now, but I saw Bad Jews and I lost my shit over it. I thought it was amazing.

M: One more question. Do you have a favorite pop song from the 90s?

B: I mean, probably “Wannabe”. Does that count? That’s the first thing that came to mind. I was obsessed with the Spice Girls when I was a kid.

Kyle Riabko, What’s it All About

M: Favorite off-Broadway show that you’ve seen like, ever?

K: You know what? This was the year! I mean, I loved Natasha [Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812] I loved Here Lies Love. It’s really hard to pick. And this is my first experience off-Broadway, really. I come from music, not theater, so it’s all a little new to me. But it seems like this year was a good year.

M: I know you’ve been on Broadway, so what did you like about working off-Broadway?

K:  You can push the edges of the form out a little bit further, or at least try and experiment, and you have people looking back at you who are accepting of that experimentation. It’s nice.

M: Okay, two music questions. Number one: favorite Bacharach song.

K: That’s a tricky one, but, “This Guy’s in Love With You” has always been close to my heart.

M: Number two, favorite pop song from the 90s.

K: I was just jamming with my friend on Oasis the other day. We were doing “Wonderwall” and I hadn’t thought of that song in a while. I love “Wonderwall.”

Lucas Steele, Winner, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway show that you’ve gotten to see recently?

L: I appreciate a ton of work they do down at The Public, but you caught me with my pants down on this question…

M: Well, then, do you have a favorite experience working on Natasha, Pierre…?

L: My favorite experience working on Comet was the night before we closed. We had an incredible audience in the house, it was pretty much all peers, and people whose work that you’ve known for years. Everybody always builds up closing as being a momentous event, but I feel like somehow because people know that it’s closing, it becomes something… It’s not the best representation of the show. The night before we closed was an experience I’ll never forget. Just the reaction at the end. And feeling like, all the people that have been working and hitting the streets for years are here, appreciating this.

M: Favorite pop song from the 90s?

L: Ugh. “I Want it That Way!”

Of note: Lucas came and found me at the after-party to let me know he’d felt terribly that he didn’t have a better answer for my question about favorite off-Broadway shows, so he’d thought about it all night. His answer? Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill at New York Theater Workshop. YOU GUYS IT WAS SO SWEET AND THOUGHTFUL AND HE’S SO HANDSOME I ALMOST FELL OVER AND DIED.

Alexandra Socha, Fun Home

M: Do you have a favorite off-Broadway show that you’ve ever seen?

A: I don’t know! Does Sleep No More count as off-Broadway?

M: I’m counting it!

A: I went to Sleep No More for my birthday, which was not even a month ago, so I think that’s the last thing I went to.  And that was amazing.

M: Do you have a favorite pop song from the 90s?

A: That’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child! I guess anything by the Spice Girls. Just anything. Can I say the Soundtrack to Spice World? Can that be my answer?

David Byrne, Here Lies Love

M: I know this is the first off-Broadway show you’ve brought to the stage, but have you seen a lot of off-Broadway theater?

D: Oh, yeah!

M: Do you have a favorite?

D: Oh my gosh, there was a show that was part of Under the Radar last year. It was called Life and Times Part 1 & 2, and the entire thing was sung. I loved it.

M: Do you have a favorite pop song from the 90s?

D: Oh jeez, I probably do! I probably covered some of them. Is Whitney Houston 90s? I did a cover of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

Carson Elrod, The Heir Apparent, The Explorers Club

M: Favorite pop song from the 90s?

C: It’s like The Matrix in my head right now, there’s like a whole catalogue that’s coming down. I don’t know why “Steal My Sunshine” is coming into my head? That’s coming into my head. “Alive” by Pearl Jam is coming into my head. Oh, oh! “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim, that’s coming into my head. Man… “Steal My Sunshine” where did that even come from?

Uzo Aduba, Venice, Orange is the New Black

M: Do you have a favorite pop song from the 90s?

U: Oh, anything ‘N Sync. Like, anything. “No Strings Attached” goes right to my head, right away. Or “Pop”!

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Spoiler alert, love does not win in awards season…
Sure we may not have loved everything about this multi-million dollar tuner but this is shocking. Rocky was not nominated for Best Musical. Or Best Score (okay, that one’s not shocking). Or Best Direction. Or Best Actress in a Featured Role. Or… Lots of things , clearly, because the show received a grand total of only four nominations, three of them in design categories that, while well deserved are, let’s face it, not exactly lucrative prizes for a struggling show. The dearth of nominations here is especially shocking given that not only does Disney musical Aladdin — typically no favorites at the Tonys — have more nominations, but Beautiful, a show with a lukewarm critical response much like the one Rocky received, has a full three more nominations. As does jukebox musical revue After Midnight. That’s just harsh.

Your mom’s favorite show gets the shaft…
It feels kind of lame to be mad about four Tony nominations, but fuck that. We’re pretty mad. The lovely Bridges of Madison County was overlooked in so many important categories, including Best Musical. This feels especially touchy because Bridges, with its front-and-center female lead, emotional sensibility, and themes of love and family, makes it a show squarely geared toward women in a season of burly boxers and half-naked showgirls. If a great show for and about women is rewarded for its efforts with a tepid shrug from the Tony nominating committee, what the hell are we in for next season? More dick jokes from Woody Allen? Let’s hope not.

No one is keeping up with the Joneses…
Not a single nomination for The Realistic Joneses. Even with a wonderful (all-star) cast featuring past Tony winners, not a single nod. This just seems like an obvious, noteworthy stand-out, even if Joneses wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This was unexpected.

It was an outside shot, but…
We’re not sure she was even eligible in the Featured Actress in a Musical category, but we were a little sad that Keala Settle’s Tony luck didn’t span two seasons with another nomination for Les Miserables. She’s basically playing the best, most crass, most evil Madame Thenardier we’ve ever seen, and she walks off with all the show’s laughs.

Poor Daniel Radcliffe, yo…
Jesu Maria, team, what does the consistently excellent, unbelievably hardworking Daniel Radcliffe have to do to get some Tony Nomination love? I mean. He played a cripple (his body morphing so completely the disability seemed more a part of him than an affectation). He learned to dance like a mofo, and sing, too (his hardworking charm giving just the extra bit of shine to his performance as power-hungry upstart J Pierrepont Finch). He even fucking got ass-naked, letting his meat and two veg dangle right on out there in the cold NYC air, which is typically the kind of shit that wins you an Oscar. And here Radcakes is, wanting for even a Tony NOMINATION over here on the Broadway. We’re sorry, bro. We really do adore you, and the fact that you keep coming back for more grinding punishment on our boards. And we’ll be sad to see you go. So please, give it at least one more try? Next time we’ll buy our way onto the nominating committee, or something. We swear.

Sorry you weren’t nominated Steven Pasquale… now take your shirt off…
Are you kidding me right now? To see this fine actor (and we do mean fiiine) left out of this category shattered our hearts to bits, and frankly left us a little baffled. Did the nominating committee sleep through the season? Were they too dazzled and distracted by Kelli O’Hara’s boobs to notice the other performance onstage in The Bridges of Madison County? Is Laura Benanti shoving pins into a voodoo doll somewhere? Whatever the reason, Steven’s omission feels terribly unfair. We’re chalking it up to a strong season for leading men (I mean, shit, when is it not?), because we can’t honestly say we’d trade any of the other very deserving nominees for this one. But couldn’t they sneak in a fifth nominee just on the grounds of sexiness, blazing blue eyes, and notes that float to the ears of God on the wings of chubby angels? Ok, maybe not. At any rate, Steven Pasquale may not have a Tony nomination, but he still gets to be Steven Pasquale. That, we think, certainly counts for something.

Alex Timbers gets… WHAT?!
Okay. So we’re going to be totally calm about this BUT NEVERMIND — FUCK IT ALL — ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY SHITTING US YOU DIDN’T NOMINATE ALEX TIMBERS FOR BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL? What did he ever do to you, besides take a sub-par musical and — purely through the power of his direction — turn it into something vital, gripping, authentic and wholly modern? But seriously. Did he murder someone on the nominating committee’s mother? Beloved cat? Steal someone’s girlfriend? Is his hair too perfect? You don’t have to love Rocky. You don’t even have to like it. But to look at the work on that stage — the new style of stage fighting, the marriage of old-school stage magic with modern technology, the balls-to-the-wall bravura and refusal to accept the impossible — and say that it wasn’t of the absolutely highest caliber of direction Broadway has maybe ever seen is just bullshit. Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine don’t choreograph that show the way they did without him. Christopher Barecca doesn’t craft a set that remarkable without Alex’s vision. Andy Karl doesn’t give the same authentic, gentle, intricate performance without Alex drawing it out. None of any of that even exists without Timbers basically reinventing the the direction of musicals on Broadway altogether and fuck you for overlooking that. I hope he lights Radio City Musical Hall on fire come June. We’ll dance in the flames. He can film it and take it to Hollywood, because Broadway doesn’t even deserve him anymore.

 

Photo: Christopher Anderson

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Let’s give Woody Allen some things because Woody Allen doesn’t have enough things…
Rightfully ignored in most of the major musical categories (Best Musical, directing, the lead acting categories), of course Bullets Over Broadway scores a bookwriting nomination for one of the most annoying and pernicious celebrities of our times, Woody Allen. Clearly they chose Allen for his legacy and Hollywood cred, because it wasn’t for the quality of his Bullets book, which wedges songs into places where they don’t belong and panders heavily to lame stereotypes. We’re guessing he won’t win – seriously, who wants to sit through that acceptance speech? – but his inclusion here had us rolling our eyes at the nominating committee’s lapse into its old (and we do mean old), biased ways.

And now some showgirls will tap dance on top of a train…
Shuffle ball change, you guys! And with that, we give you the basic ethos of Susan Stroman’s Bullets Over Broadway choreography. We’ve liked Stroman’s splashy showgirl work in the past, but this show leaves them to blandly pitter-pat along in dances that feel wooden and stupidly literal. (This song is about tigers! Dance like a tiger! Rawr!) The gangster dance is kind of fun, but unfortunately for Stroman, Guys and Dolls already exists.

Mary Bridget Davies is a blast from the actual and pretend past…
We’re more conflicted about this than indignant. We liked watching Mary Bridget Davies screlt her face off as Janice Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin. Her performance was easily the best thing about this wet sock of a show, which whitewashed hard-drinking, hard-drugging rock and roll royalty into a sentimental space cadet who likes the occasional swig of Jack. But we had to wonder: Is this really a fully realized acting performance, or is it more of an impersonation? Goodness knows, Tony nominations have spanned every kind of performance, rewarding actors who don’t sing a word, spend most of the show behind the piano, or appear onstage for all of five minutes. But to put Mary Bridget Davies in this category before Michelle Williams or even Krysta Rodriguez feels a little strange. Davies has talent to burn and her inclusion here honors that. We just wish it was showcased in a more authentic-feeling show.

And the fifth nomination goes to…
We spend the winter changing the rules, so there can be up to five nominees for the highly-coveted Best Musical honor, and then Broadway gives you a season chock-full of new musicals, some of them very good, and then… you only nominate four musicals? Are you trolling us, Nominating Committee? Or do you really dislike Bridges of Madison County and If/Then that much? Also, why? Also, ugh.

Actually, WTF Best Musical Nominees just in general…
So. Of the four nominees for best musical we are allowed, three of them do not have wholly original scores composed for Broadway (Aladdin, Beautiful & After Midnight)? And two of those three are actually jukebox musicals (Beautiful & After Midnight)? And one of those is actually more of a musical revue than a book musical (After Midnight)? At what point are you not just making a mockery of yourselves and the award itself? Some years the pickings are slim, and no one is calling If/Then the masterpiece of our times. But with a handful of new musicals with entirely new books and scores this year, how is it Gentleman’s Guide is the only really new production that managed to make the cut this year? Absolute shit-show, folks. If Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t win, we’re probably quitting theater.

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Welp. Here we go. The nominations have been announced, the feteeing and campaigning and dress shopping is about to begin, and basically everyone in the Theater District just went on an even stricter diet or added a few extra push-ups to their daily regimen so they’re in ship shape for the big show on June 8th. (Okay, except Ramin Karimloo and Andy Karl, who are pefect as they are and will not fit in tuxedos if they get any buffer.) Before things get any crazier, we’re going to give y’all a quick run down of our feelings — the good, the bad, and the totally baffled — because… that’s what the internet is for.


A Gentleman’s Guide to getting all the nominations, forever and ever…
Do you know why this show got ten Tony nominations? Because it’s perfect. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is funny, sure, and dastardly clever. But this weird little musical has been heaped with accolades because it represents something relatively rare: It shows an audience what it means to perform musical theater at its absolute highest level. This is a show without bum notes, without lags in its efficiently trotting action, and without a single song that doesn’t work directly in service of the story. Even the costumes are flawless; they deftly channel goofiness or refinement or madness, all with a kind of effortless restraint. It is a technical marvel, a kind of Ferrari of musicals, and it inspires one of our favorite adjectives that we use whenever we see this in a show: It’s Mormon-y. Does all of this blaze of flawlessness occasionally leave us a little cold? Sure. After all, craptacularity, shirtlessness, and abject sentimentality should always be the highest goals in musical-theater-making. But frankly, if the nominations committee needs to heap prizes on a single show this year, this is the one that deserves all of them.

Bullets Over Broadway stays where it belongs — out of the Best Musical category…
We try not to cheer too loudly when bad shows fail. But we do when bad shows are given fair treatment by awards committees who have, in past years, been keen to heap trophies on terrible shows for their commercial potential instead of their artistic merit. Bullets Over Broadway’s omission in the Best Musical and major acting categories felt right this year. It didn’t feel awesome. But it felt right. To put Zach Braff alongside Jefferson Mayes or Andy Karl in the Leading Actor in a Musical category would have felt silly – and undeserved. Hooray for Hollywood and everything, but the nominating committee did well to keep this year’s major categories filled with the good stuff, instead of the flashy stuff.

Rocky gets some love for its staging…
There were some problems with Rocky, to be sure. Namely, a totally boring score whose absolute highlight was a pop-song featured in a movie like, thirty years ago. But those problems did NOT extend to the creative work done in bringing Rocky Balboa’s North Philly world to life on stage. With an utterly jaw-dropping set inspired by Trainspotting/Nine Inch Nails/David Fincher, an actual fucking boxing ring that rolls right on out into the audience, transforming the Winter Garden into the Philadelphia Spectrum, and some full-contact fight choreography the likes of which Broadway has never seen, the team behind Rocky’s staging — Christopher Barecca, Christopher Akerlind, Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine — totally knocked it out of the park. We were stoked to see their work recognized, which was a least something of a panacea for our Alex-Timbers-snub-shattered souls. (Alright, it wasn’t, but it was real nice, okay?!)

In which we throw Jason Robert Brown a bone or two…
Being what is basically the opposite of a fan of Jason Robert Brown, I (The Mick) am the last person on earth who ever thought she’s say this, but THANK GOD JRB got nominated for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for his work on The Bridges of Madison County. In a season where the nominating committee was incredibly hard on musicals with completely original scores, and even harder on Bridges in particular, it’s just good to see that at least SOMEWHERE this beautiful, emotional, adult musical gets a shot at glory. Besides, JRB’s score is gorgeous, and his lyrics are so swoon-worthy that I’m debating having some of them tattooed on my back using Steven Pasquale’s blood as ink. Too much? WHATEVER. IT ALL FADES AWAY BUT YOU.

Dear Broadway, let’s practice pronouncing Ramin Karimloo…
If you had told us, sitting before the disastrously delicious original London production of Love Never Dies, that its handsome star Ramin Karmiloo would be nominated for a Tony Award a scant three years later, we would have believed you. In fact, we would have thought it would happen sooner. Ramin’s talent, you see, is simply too huge and strange and expectation-defying to be confined to those tiny British Isles. Here on Broadway, he hasn’t just given Jean Valjean a youthful facelift (and ab-lift, as it were). He’s given the hoary old man a hit of adrenaline, a fastidiously religious soul, and a whiff of carefully controlled violence. His inclusion on the nominations list is surprising, entirely deserved, and hopefully the first of many — if we can keep him on this side of the pond. We would say “hats off!,” but of course what we really mean is, “panties off!” to this nomination.

Andy Karl makes the cut…
And for once, that cut doesn’t involve having his eyelid sliced open… We already had an enormous boner for Andy Karl going in to Rocky. And then we saw his gentle, finely-crafted performance as Rocky Balboa, the big dumb jock with a hell of a heart, and oh damn were we ass over teakettle in love with that man. Watching Karl’s performance as Balboa was, in turns, swoon-inducingly sweet, squirm-inducingly awkward, and cheer-inducingly brave. We cringed as he clumsily fought for Adrian’s affection, held our breath as we waited for them to kiss, and cheered him on as he prepared for the final bout. Karl took us on a journey, man. But it was the small things — the way he embodied Rocky the outsider, the loner, the galoot — as much as his championship performance and big voice that we loved. Needless to say we’re glad Karl made it through all 15 rounds and snagged that nomination.

Is the sixth time a charm for Kelli O’Hara?
Will someone just give this woman a damn Tony already? She’s been nominated five times without a win, and we can’t help thinking that Kelli’s lonely housewife in The Bridges of Madison County is the one that will clinch the prize for her. And the performance is a stunner, too, a journey from frustration to liberation to understanding, all done in a pretty Neapolitan accent. If she doesn’t win this year, we’re not sure what she has to do, or which role she has to play – Hedda Gabler: The Musical? – to actually take home the prize. Hopefully the Tony voters will spare us, and Kelly, the agony this year.

Hell yeah, Joshua Henry!
It’s not just that Joshua Henry is handsome. Or that some small part of us is still 100% gutted by his 2011 Tony-Nominated performance as Haywood Patterson in The Scottsboro Boys. Or that he looks real good in a uniform, as proved by both 2010′s American Idiot and this year’s Violet. We’re damn glad to see Mr. Henry managed to snag a slot in the Featured Actor category not just for his well-wrought performance as Flick, a military-man vying for Violet’s heart, but because he sang his everloving face off . Like, we almost had to be scraped out of our seats after his performance of “Let It Sing.” And THAT is Tony-worthy to us.

Samuel Barnett is remembered…
In a production where it would have been incredibly easy for Mark Rylance to suck all the air out of the room, and all the awards-season attention from the cast around him, Samuel Barnett’s performance as Viola — a man, playing a woman, playing a man — was a thing of beauty. Marked by the careful grace of his movement and an expressive face that opened like a window into Viola’s soul, and imbued with an intelligence, sensitivity and utter humanity that completely transcended gender, there was just nothing about Barnett’s performance that was not a complete home-run. Needless to say we were thrilled to see it remembered, even months after Twelfth Night closed. So, huzzah to that! (And huzzah to hopefully seeing more of Barnett’s beautiful face this awards season. He’s our favorite flavor of smart, sensitive, talented cutie, and we never want to stop looking at him and fantasizing about drinking tea and reading books in a sunny window seat beside him, so… Yeah. We’re pleased.)

Nick Cordero is gangsta…
Ok, so Bullets Over Broadway made our eyes and ears bleed with all of its shouty pointlessness and creepy/dirty humor. But hiding in the midst of it was Nick Cordero giving a splendid performance as a gangster-turned-writer who plays book doctor to a pretentious play. His nomination feels spot-on, and not just because it injects a bit of actual charm and pathos into a train wreck of a show. It stands easily on its own as one of the best of the year.

 

Photo: Joan Marcus

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Well. The nominations are out. So, it’s like… time for Tony Fever and stuff. We here at The Craptacular are getting into the spirit by asking today’s most burning question of some of theater’s finest.

That’s right. We’re asking what it’s like to NOT be nominated for a Tony Award today. Strap in and get ready for some real insider insight.

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Actor F Michael Haynie, Holler If Ya Hear Me

 

When I the heard the nominations were gonna be announced I started to get all nervous. This was the first time I have ever been eligible. You don’t wanna stress out too much and you don’t wanna not call your mom, even though you know it’s all she’ll ask you about. So you simply let the days tick by and wait. The “you deserve it”s and the “I mean, OBVIOUSLY you’re gonna get the Nom’s make you smile like the Grinch, but you MUST keep perspective.

Then it happens: the announcement is made. It’s the closest thing to the old “did I make the spring musical” list-checking feeling you’ve felt since your high school days. But after you’ve read the list ten times in a row, you have to come to terms with it… You didn’t get nominated. The well-wishes and hyperboles turn into a sour-tasting pit in your stomach. It’s not about who got it, cause it’s a great list, but… ugh. You just sit there watching your phone and Facebook feed fill with “shocked” and “appalled” and “how DARE they”.

But the hardest part is the phone call to you mom. And the hardest sentence you’ve ever uttered takes “places” in your throat: “Mom, I didn’t get nominated for the Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for Best Broadway Replacement.”

Then you head to rehearsal for Holler If Ya Hear Me only to feel as if you’re being pelted by the non-stop group praise being heaped on Ben Thompson (nominated for his portrayal as Trunchbull over the last couple months). All the “OH MY GOD, YOUR TRUNCHBULL WAS SO GREAT” followed by his “it’s an honor to be nominated”! Over and over and over.

So now I’ll be stuck sitting in the Palace Theatre every day covering his role in Holler and covering my face as the Broadway.com Audience Award committee sees the show and beats me up for my lunch money after. And all I can do is hope to keep my chin up in the midst of this heartbreaking and career-altering snub from this prestigious institution. I guess my Boq wasn’t good enough. Next time Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards, next time.

…Wait, you said Tonys? Oh, who cares: Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder for the sweep. BAM! *mic drop*

 

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Actor Andrew Kober, Les Miserables

I was at home with my wife and dog. We had just finished putting up all the streamers and balloons, and the big “Congratulations, Andrew, on your Tony Nomination” sign. I had about 40 close friends here to celebrate what we were all sure would be a big morning for me. We hired a New Orleans-style brass band. Six-foot inflatable Tony statues. We really went for it.

Of course, I’ve heard it from friends, colleagues, folks at the stage door, that I was basically a lock for a nomination for my work as “Innkeeper/Babet” in Les Miz. But I tried to keep it all in perspective, and I didn’t want to seem like I was taking it for granted.

Having read a lot of “reaction pieces” over the years, I did what I understand most new Tony nominees do: I got in bed and waited for a call from my agent (I had the rest of the party wait in the living room for my tearfully surprised emergence).

8:40 came and went.

8:50 came and went.

9:00 came and went.

I called my agents office just to make sure it wasn’t on fire or something, but no such luck. The trombonist came in to inform me that I had been, once again, snubbed.

I’ll be honest. It hurts. More financially than in any other way, since I shelled out all this cash for my nomination morning party, and I’ve already purchased several tuxedos for the Tonys themselves, as well as the myriad events leading up to them.

I’m delighted for the actors that were nominated in my category, Danny, Nick, Josh, James, and Jarrod (names which, without last names or context, read like the members of a One Direction cover band as opposed to the incredible actors I know them to be). This, too, shall pass. I will spend today like all of my snubbed brethren, tweeting to my friends that were nominated about how proud I am of them. And tonight, when I take the stage at the Imperial Theater, I will do so with the knowledge that I have done my best, and will continue to until the Tony Nominating Committee sees fit to honor me, at which point I will immediately give my two-weeks notice and move to Hollywood.

(In all seriousness, I’m stupid-nerdy-lame excited about our 3 nominations for Les Miz, especially the one for Ramin, who is only a jerk some of the time).

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Composer Drew Gasparini

So I wasn’t nominated… Okay that’s fine. I’m not mad…………………….. I’M PISSED!!!! We GET it, Les Miz! Now make room for some of the other musicals out there!

Here are the reasons I should win a Tony this year despite the fact that nothing I’ve written has even made it to Broadway:

1) John Johnson has produced shows of mine. Everything the man touches gets nominated for a Tony. NOT ME!!!
2) Matthew Murphy has taken my press shots and production shots. Everything the man takes a picture of gets launched into the Tonysphere! NOT DREW!!!
3) Jason Robert Brown does all my orchestrations!!!! (This is a slight fabrication)
And
4) Hugh Jackman owes me one!!! When I went to see his last Wolverine movie, the movie projector broke and I was promised a refund. IT NEVER CAME!!! So at the very least, he can hand me a fuckin Tony!!!

Sorry. It’s just that I’ve been busting my hump for almost 10 years…. 9 years…. Okay… 8 years… FINE!!! 7 years!!! And I think it’s time that my genius was recognized!!!!

Tony??? Bologna!!!

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bridgesofmadisoncounty_

The thing about The Bridges of Madison County, that swoony romantic dreamboat of a show, is that its action exists in this wonderful, only-in-theater universe where nothing makes sense, yet everything makes sense. Singing out your emotions? No problem. The famous bridge is a single beam of wood with a spotlight on it? Cool. Hunter Foster on a tractor? I’m imagining it right now and it makes perfect sense. A woman gets in a stranger’s truck? If the stranger looks like Steven Pasquale, sure.

Of course, all of theater is like this. No one leaves the Majestic Theater wondering if Norm Lewis’s brain is actually on the outside of his head, or if Andy Karl heads off to the emergency room after curtain call every night to have his eye stitched back together. But the contradictions and belief suspensions in The Bridges of Madison County – the show that wins all the Tonys of our heaving hearts — do seem a little special after the lights come up. Here’s a list of stuff about Bridges that no one rationally believes, well… except for those of us  who are obsessed with the story of a pretty Iowa lady and her prettier photographer and stuff.

Also, this is chock full of spoilers, so if you need something else to do, you can just go look at some shirtless men on Broadway.

1. That Kello O’Hara is Italian

2. That Steven Pasquale is not Italian

3. That Derek Klena is 16

4. That Kelli O’Hara is old enough to be Derek Klena’s mother

5. That a cow matters this much

6. That beautiful, talented, passionate men die sad and alone

7. That Bud has his come-to-Jesus moment only when he is literally with Jesus

8. That in the sixties, it took an entire person in an entire office with an entire phone to wait for one voicemail

9. That Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale immediately look a decade older when they wear glasses

10. That Steven Pasquale can have sex without taking his jeans off

11. That nobody notices when Carolyn marries her mother’s dead Italian former fiance

12. That Bud is singin’ while he’s dyin’, like all great characters in musical theater

13. That the lucky shirt does a damn bit of good

14. That the lucky shirt actually fits Derek Klena

15. That, again, 40% of this show is about a cow

16. That we’re all just standing around joking about kale

17. That Hunter Foster wins

Photo: Joan Marcus

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I dunno, guys. Sometimes you see a kind of wonky musical and you just love it anyway.

A recent example of this? Violet – the story of a disfigured young woman on a pilgrimage for a cure, who meets two handsome military men, Monty and Flick, on the bus to Tulsa – whose Roundabout Theatre production just opened at the American Airlines on Sunday night.

Watching the show – with Skylar Astin mere rows away from me, obvi – I couldn’t help but understand Violet‘s long, slow road to Broadway. After all, this puppy made it’s off-Broadway debut seventeen years ago and is only just now receiving its first Broadway production. Something must have held it back, right? Like, you know… a story that feels a little thin and characters that are just slightly under-baked, a fault which can mostly be attributed to Brian Crawley’s book. Sure his dialog is beautiful, when it happens, but watching this production, there were times when I felt as if I was seeing a concert staging,  with the book and dialog cut back just a bit too far for my taste.

But you know what? Put a handful of performers as charming and talented as Sutton Foster (Violet), Colin Donnell (Monty) and Joshua Henry (Flick) on that stage, and at the end of the day, no one will give any fucks that the book is a little weak. Because they will be too busy gaping, open mouthed, at Henry as he drops a sick melisma on our ears, or fighting tears while Foster and Alexander Gemignani duet through Violet’s breakdown, or swooning over Colin Donnell’s sensitive transformation (and bangin’ biceps).

It hurts exactly nothing – NOTHING – that Jeanine Tesori’s score is absolutely stunning, full of the kinds of music that sound perfectly natural to be surrounding these characters. And Crawley’s lyrics do a wonderful job of balancing a musical’s need for clarity and story-telling, with modern music’s language of poetry and emotion. In Violet, the music is where it’s at — where all the fear and hope and sadness and joy in these characters’ lives find their best expression.

Plus, who doesn’t want to see Sutton Foster, one of Broadway’s very, very, very, very best on stage? Especially here, where there’s nary a tap shoe or brassy broad in sight. Just Violet, vulnerable and learning to locate a brave spirit inside. Singing in full, beautiful voice clear through the journey. This performance is so good, so detailed and internal and carefully composed, that you won’t miss any version of Sutton you’ve ever seen before.

So sure. I kind of wished for a little more detail in the story telling. Especially between Violet and Flick. But I was carried on an emotional journey that had me feeling engaged and alive and unable to stay still in my seat – I bopped to a gospel number, shrank away as characters struggled, surged forward as songs swelled with emotion. And that comes down to a handful of perfect performances bringing this beautiful score to life.

All in all, and flaws aside, I loved Violet. And hey. Maybe someday I’ll understand why the hell Sutton Foster was complaining about her face when she had two dudes as handsome and charming and sure as Colin Donnell and Joshua Henry fighting for her love. Miracles could happen!

 

Photo: Joan Marcus

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