Five Tony Award Performances I Can’t Wait to See

Gianluca Russo

It’s hard to believe that this year’s Tony Awards are only four days away! As the anticipation builds rapidly, I could not have been more excited to hear the shows performing on this year’s telecast. I’ve been fortunate to see a few of these musicals over the past few months, and I know first-hand how talent-filled this Broadway season has been. As I anxiously wait to see which awards Hamilton doesn’t take home, I went ahead and compileda list of the five performances I am most excited to see on Sunday’s event.

Bright Star

Two words: Carmen Cusack. To be honest, I had never heard of this powerhouse performer before seeing Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s new musical, and boy was I surprised last week upon sitting only feet away from the stage at the Cort Theatre. There are only a few times I have cried in a theatre before: watching Sutton Foster in Violet, seeing Daddy Long Legs Off-Broadway, and at a regional theatre production of The Trip To Bountiful. Yet, I found myself bawling like a child while witnessing the masterpiece that is Bright Star. Aside from the show’s moving, well developed book and beautiful score, Carmen Cusack delivers one of the most, if not THE most, complex, touching, gut wrenching, soul searching, Tony Award deserving performance I have ever seen. And to make it even better, she is paired alongside a phenomenal cast including Paul Alexander Nolan, A.J. Shively, and Hannah Elless. This show is a must see and I am desperately hoping that its Tony performance will boost ticket sales significantly.

The Color Purple

Why is it that my favorite two leading ladies this season (Carmen Cusack and Cynthia Erivo) are both from the West End? Clearly there is some talent across the pond that needs to make its way to Broadway now! I’ve seen The Color Purple before and already had a strong love for the show before witnessing this revival. But this production is something like no other. Everything from the sets to the direction is marvelously worked to perfection. And at the center of it all if Cynthia Erivo. Words cannot even begin to explain the talent that comes from this only 29 year old star. There’s a reason tickets to this show are so hard to come by: a reason you all shall see come Sunday.

Waitress

I’m not sure how she does it, but Jessie Mueller seems to somehow completely change the way she acts and sounds for each different show she is cast in. If there was an award for most versatile performer, she would win it ever year. Matched with Sara Bareilles’ score, the show has been doing great at the box office and is expected to have a very good run on the Great White Way. But let’s not forget about the others in the cast including Tony Nominee Keala Settle who blows the roof off the Brooks Atkinson Theatre every night.

School of Rock

Few can rock as hard as Tony Nominee Alex Brightman. I still am unable to grasp how he is able to deliver such a powerful and demanding performance eight times a week at the Winter Garden Theatre, but he somehow does it. Though Andrew Lloyd Webber is mostly known for his operatic and classical musicals, his adaption of School of Rock is a fun, exhilarating, extremely entertaining production that will live on for years. While many musicals this season are much more emotional and soul clenching, this one is an up building and energetic show that features a cast of some extremely talented young performers. If these kids are the future of Broadway, I have full confidence in the future of the Great White Way.

Shuffle Along

C’mon, have you seen this cast? I don’t think it would be possible with the show’s budget to get more of our favorite Broadway stars in this production. And not only are Audra, Billy, Brandon, and more singing their faces off each night, but the choreography by Savion Glover is remarkable. I am quite glad the creative team took some extra time to work on this masterpiece because it is, and will remain to be, one of my favorite shows.

Hamilton: A Gateway to a Larger Theatre Community?

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist
  • Twitter: @A_J_Piccione

In less than a week, it will be that time of year again. I suspect many readers of this blog – not unlike me – will watch the 2016 Tony Awards on television, just as they do every year. However, let’s be honest: We shouldn’t feel too surprised about what will happen on Sunday night, when it is highly likely that Hamilton will win BIG at the award ceremony.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I am writing this column as someone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure of seeing this show with his own eyes, which is why – as someone who prefers to wait and judge a show until he sees it in its entirety – I haven’t written a column dedicated specifically to this show up until now. 

However, it is still impossible to ignore the fact that it has become a pop culture phenomenon in a way that is very rare among Broadway musicals today. Even when you put aside the fact that its soundtrack alone sounds breathtaking, or that everyone I know who has seen it says that it lives up to the hype, it is hard not to notice how it is a hot topic even outside of the theatre community, with rappers and politicians and everyone in-between heaping praise.

With that said…is Hamilton really a game-changing musical, like many have suggested? If so, what does its success mean to the rest of the theatre community in the long-term? At this point, I think I’ve already heard just enough about the show – and the reaction it has received from critics and audiences alike – to venture a fair guess as to what it MIGHT mean to the future of musical theatre. Read on, and you’ll understand why I say that.

I’ve already heard some people talk about the potentially lasting impact of this musical, and have been comparing the Hamilton phenomenon to that of other highly popular musicals that have received both critical acclaim and mainstream appeal over the past couple of decades. However, there is something I notice about Hamilton that I believe might make this cultural phenomenon different: This musical is, certainly not the first, but inarguably the most successful example of musical theatre to date that incorporates elements of hip-hop into its production.

This also seems to be one of the reasons why the very small number of people I’ve seen say something negative about Hamilton have done so. For the most part, these seem to be the exact same people who have been decrying my generation for listening to what they don’t consider to be “real music”. Yet the truth is that hip-hop has always been highly popular among both my generation and younger generations, both as a music genre and as a cultural force. Even those around my age who aren’t huge fans are, for the most part, at least willing to acknowledge its legitimacy. Say what you want about Kanye West, but when he stated in 2013 that “rap is the new rock and roll”, he wasn’t wrong. 

So if older theatergoers truly care about the future of theatre, they should consider the fact that it will be these same people who will decide its future growth and relevance as an art form, and thus be more receptive to musicals with music that may have more appeal to a younger crowd.

Consider this: I think it’s a fair assumption that many people who grow up to become successful artists in theatre – whether we’re talking about playwrights, actors, directors, etc. – do so after having seen at least one example of live theatre or performance at some point in their lives. By this logic, the more people who go to see theatre as kids or teenagers, the more of them could be inspired to one day follow in the footsteps of the people who made those shows come to life. With this in mind, it wouldn’t hurt – at least, in some cases – to think about what kinds of shows might have more appeal to these younger audiences, when producing newer works. 

In past columns, I’ve spoken about the future of theatre, and how I have concerns over the ability to appeal to potential theatergoers who aren’t rushing to buy tickets to our shows. One of the biggest issues that gets me thinking about this – and it’s an unfair issue that I had to deal with far too often when I was a teenager – is the perception by some people that being in a show isn’t as cool or as fun as, say, being on the school football team. If the future of musical theatre involves at least as much rapping as it does singing, it just might become more likely that kids and teens – especially those who otherwise might not be rushing out to opening night of their local theatre production – go on to become new long-term theatergoers, if not new artists in our theatre community.

Again, I have yet to see Hamilton in person, so I don’t want to judge it much more beyond what I’ve already said. However, in terms of what I’ve said about the elements of hip-hop included in the show – and what that especially means, in terms of its long-term influence – I think it is something that all of us ought to be thinking about when we are discussing the subject of musical theatre’s future, or even when discussing just Hamilton itself. While it will certainly be a big achievement if/when Hamilton does, in fact, win big at the Tonys on Sunday, it will be what happens after the award ceremony that will determine just how significant the legacy of this highly popular musical will be.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).

 

Tony Nominations 2015: Surprises, Snubs and Predictions

Chris Peterson

Well the Tony Awards Nominations were announced last week which set off a flurry of activity on 42nd St. Tickets are sold at a rapid pace(Fun Home) and shows prepare to close(Doctor Zhivago). 

This year will feature some of the tightest races I can remember, so needless to say things are going to be exciting over the next month. Let's go through some of the major categories and discuss the surprises, snubs and of course, predict who will be taking home the coveted Tony Award. 

Best Choreography

Joshua Bergasse, On the Town
Christopher Gattelli, The King and I
Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten! 
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Will Win: Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Should Win: Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

A lot of writers were surprised to see Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett get a nod for their creative movement in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I wasn't surprised at all. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has some of the most inventive staged movement seen in recent years. I would've been shocked if it wasn't recognized. This also wasn't a terribly deep year for Choreography. There isn't much in The Last Ship, Fun Home or Side Show. Honeymoon in Vegas, It Shoulda Been You and Doctor Zhivago weren't going to get any love and Joshua Bergasse's work in Gigi was so-so and he was already recognized for On The Town. So by process of elimination, these were the ones left standing. 

But that doesn't take away from the incredible work that Christopher Wheeldon has done with the Gene Kelly classic. Variety said in its review, "It’s hard to breathe during the dreamy, 14-minute ballet that brings the show to a close with the lovers locked at last in each other’s arms — not only because the love story is so romantic, but because we rarely see this kind of dancing on Broadway and it’s hard to let it go."

With that kind of praise, it's easy to see that Wheeldon deserves the trophy. 

Best Score

Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron
The Last Ship by Sting
Something Rotten! by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
The Visit by John Kander and Fred Ebb

Will Win: Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron

Should Win: Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron

Look, this is Jeanine Tesori's year. After three previous nominations, which she rightfully lost to some of the best scores in my lifetime, she deserves the Tony for, undoubtedly, her best work. I was a little surprised by Sting's nod, but the score was probably the best thing about The Last Ship and the rest of the eligible shows in the category weren't nearly up to snuff. 

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Victoria Clark, Gigi 
Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Sydney Lucas, Fun Home
Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I
Emily Skeggs, Fun Home

Will Win:  Sydney Lucas, Fun Home

Should Win: Sydney Lucas, Fun Home

I would be shocked if Lucas doesn't tie Daisy Eagan as the youngest ever to win a Tony Award, but if they give it to Kuhn and Skeggs as a three way tie, I wouldn't have a problem with that either. One of the few snubs with this year's nominations, is in this category with It Shoulda Been You's Lisa Howard being left off the list. 

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Christian Borle, Something Rotten! 
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten! 
Brandon Uranowitz, An American in Paris
Max von Essen, An American in Paris

Will Win: Christian Borle, Something Rotten! 

Should Win: Brad Oscar, Something Rotten! 

I do think Borle's profile will carry him to the top, but look out for Oscar who basically steals the show. I have no idea why Brandon Uranowitz is on this list. 

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Annaleigh Ashford, You Can’t Take It With You
Patricia Clarkson, The Elephant Man
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Sarah Stiles, Hand to God
Julie White, Airline Highway

Will Win: Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two

Should Win: Julie White, Airline Highway

Missing from this list is Caroline Neff from Airline Highway, but that's besides the point. I think this will be one of the only times you'll hear Wolf Hall Parts One & Two called to the stage. 

Best Featured Actor in a Play:

Matthew Beard, Skylight
K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway
Richard McCabe, The Audience
Alessandro Nivola, The Elephant Man
Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Micah Stock, It’s Only a Play

Will Win: K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway

Should Win: Micah Stock, It’s Only a Play

Since Airline Highway was much better received than It's Only a Play, I think Todd Freeman has the edge. But if you saw It's Only a Play, you can't deny that Stock gave one of the best performances of the year. Given that this is his debut, I doubt this will be the last time we hear of Micah Stock. 

Best Leading Actress in a Musical

Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Beth Malone, Fun Home
Kelli O’Hara, The King and I
Chita Rivera, The Visit

Will Win: Chita Rivera, The Visit

Should Win: Kelli O’Hara, The King and I

With apologies to LaChanze and Jessie Mueller, O'Hara should have two Tonys by now. And while I certainly want O'Hara to walk across that stage to accept a well deserved award, I have a gut feeling it won't be this year. It's been said that this will be Rivera's last role on Broadway, there's no chance the American Theatre Wing is going to let her go home empty handed.  

Best Leading Actor in a Musical

Michael Cerveris, Fun Home
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten! 
Ken Watanabe, The King and I
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town

Will Win: Michael Cerveris, Fun Home

Should Win: Michael Cerveris, Fun Home

There are justified reasons for every other person in this category not to win, except for Cerveris. One of the most underrated actors of my generation should rightfully take home the prize for arguably the best performance of his career. 

Best Leading Actress in a Play

Geneva Carr, Hand to God
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Elisabeth Moss, The Heidi Chronicles
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Ruth Wilson, Constellations

Will Win: Helen Mirren, The Audience

Should Win: Geneva Carr, Hand to God

I don't know about you, but I have a little bit of an issue with someone winning a Tony with a portrayal they've already won an Oscar for. But I would put my money on Mirren taking home the Tony, even though Carr's performance is outstanding. Another snub with this category with Glenn Close and Blythe Danner not being considered over Moss and Wilson. 

Best Leading Actor in a Play

Steven Boyer, Hand to God
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Bill Nighy, Skylight
Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Will Win: Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Should Win: Steven Boyer, Hand to God

One of the tightest races of the year, I would give the edge to Sharp over Boyer with Cooper finishing a close third. I probably would have put John Lithgow in this category over Nighy as well. 

Best Revival of a Musical

On the Town
On the Twentieth Century
The King and I

Will Win: On the Twentieth Century

Should Win: On the Twentieth Century

One of the best revivals in recent memory, hands down. 

Best Revival of a Play

Skylight
The Elephant Man
This Is Our Youth
You Can’t Take It With You

Will Win: The Elephant Man

Should Win: This Is Our Youth

With all four productions being filled with Hollywood stars, I do expect to see The Elephant Man to take this one home. While its certainly Tony worthy, I do feel This Is Our Youth was one of the most underrated gems of the season, so I would love to see it win here. I am also shocked to not see A Delicate Balance on here. 

Best Play

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
Hand to God by Robert Askins
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens
Wolf Hall Parts One & Two by Hilary Mantel and Mike Poulton

Will Win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens

Should Win: Hand to God by Robert Askins

Another really tough category to call because I think it could go to either The Curious Incident.... or Hand to God

Best Musical

An American in Paris
Fun Home
Something Rotten! 
The Visit

Will Win: Fun Home

Should Win: Fun Home

Deceivingly not as tight of a race as you would think, I expect Fun Home to take home the prize. Pieces like this don't come around often and it would be a shame for it not to earn the recognition it deserves. While I certainly believe that Finding Neverland's shut out has more to do with Harvey Weinstein bullying his way around Broadway than the quality of the show, I don't think it deserved to be on this list. 

We'll release our picks for all the categories before the big night on June 7th!