Looking Ahead to the Tonys

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06/04/2008 12:00 AM |

Overheard on the ticket line to In the Heights (nominated for 13 Tony awards): 

"Have the Tony nominations changed ticket sales?" 

Usher’s reply:  "Oh my god; we’re close to sold out for this performance." 

There’s little doubt that the nominations create a buzz that is good for Broadway. Variety reports that In the Heights sales improved by six figures, and Passing Strange had an $80,000 bump — ast year’s Tony-award winner for Best Musical, Spring Awakening, had a $150,000 surge. This year’s Tony Awards, at Radio City on June 15th, is being hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, and you could make some pretty good money on a pool this year, with some long shots ready to pay out.

2007-2008 wasn’t the easiest year for Broadway, with a stagehand strike in November that lasted for 19 days. Still, it was a year that reminded us why Broadway attracts tourists and why New Yorkers can still feel good about it. This season saw a feast of serious, legitimate dramas and innovative musicals that expanded the whole concept of "showtune." At the same time, behemoths like Young Frankenstein, which sold "premium tickets" for  $400, and Disney’s latest movie-turned-musical, The Little Mermaid, got only three and two noms each. Life is good.

You can check off Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County for Best Play — it’s already won the Pulitzer, and this grand family American drama, in the tradition of O’Neill, with an ensemble from Chicago’s Steppenwolf, demonstrates the best in American acting. It has a total of seven noms, and will probably win Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for Deanna Dunagan. Competition includes Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer (McPherson directed, and got nominated for that as well), Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’Roll, and Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps. Go see The 39 Steps (the others have closed) — the four-person spoof of the Hitchcock film has warmth, heart and imagination. Its director Maria Aitken should get Best Direction of a Play — but Anna D. Shapiro will probably get it for August (comedy is hard).  

 for Best Musical: In the Heights, written by 27-year old Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars, brings salsa, rap and hip-hop to Broadway, while Passing Strange brings Broadway into a rock concert. Stew’s fictionalized autobiography of a black kid passing for ghetto in Europe feels newer, so, personally, I’d check Best Musical for Passing Strange, which could also take Best Original Score. Miranda will probably get Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, and Andy Blankenbuehler from In the Heights will take Best Choreography. Best Book? The campy Xanadu, by Douglas Carter Beane. Best Direction? Arthur Laurents for the acclaimed revival of his Gypsy (check Patti Lupone for Best Actress in a musical) or Sam Buntrock for his innovative, animation-rich Sunday in the Park with George. George’s Composer Stephen Sondheim will receive a lifetime achievement award.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play could go to Patrick Stewart for Macbeth or Laurence Fishburne for Thurgood, but anybody who’s seen Mark Rylance’s sweet, naïve straight man in the 60s sex farce Boeing-Boeing knows better. Rylance brings such truthfulness (he was the AD of the Globe Theatre in London) to farce that the result is candy heaven. Boeing-Boeing‘s decidedly politically incorrect portrayal of a serial womanizer is weirdly refreshing, too. Check it for Best Revival of a Play. B.B.’s Mary McCormack also got a Featured Actress nom for her dominating German flight attendant, but Sinead Cusack’s turn in Rock ‘n’ Roll was truly heartrending. For Best Featured Actor in a Play, check David Pittu who pranced through several comic roles in Is He Dead, a show that actually debuted on Broadway (it didn’t hurt that the script was by Mark Twain, adapted by David Ives). Musical revivals this year were strong too but, for once, overshadowed — still, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific has a teensy edge over Gypsy.  

What is a sure bet, though, is that the Tonys will be worth watching this year—like the shows they will reward.