Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 Tony Awards: Best Sound Design for a Musical

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Photo by Joan Marcus

1. ONCE
Clive Goodwin 

2. THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS
Acme Sound Partners 

3. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Brian Ronan 

4. FOLLIES
Kai Harada 

Every time I tackle these sound categories, I become more and more self-conscious. For some reason, these blogs bring out the Broadway professionals who, luckily, have been generous with their explications of the craft, but even so: This category is still a super-struggle for my critical abilities. So, if you’re a sound designer (I know y’all are out there), please continue to be kind.

“Every musical has an essential sound – a sound it SHOULD be conveying. Did the designer do so successfully?”

and

“The only way to evaluate the sound designer’s work is whether there was clarity and warmth”

– these are the guidelines I’m working with, folks. That’s it.

The only sound design I remember clearly (hating) is first-time nominee Kai Harada’s work on Follies. Entering the Marquis was like walking into a bad haunted house, and while I’m sure I was meant to hear an eerie wind, what I actually experienced was cheesetastic ghosty effects wafting past the just-as-cheesily adorned walls of the theatre house. It pains me to say that, as Harada created the sound for LaChiusa’s The Wild Party (so I have a fondness in my heart for him, just by association), but while I’m also fully aware of the hot mess that is the Marquis’s acoustics, it has to be admitted that, sitting in the back half of the theatre’s balcony, I had a hard time discerning lyrics, so that’s a no-go for me (though I blame some of the performers for that as well).

A double nominee last year, Brian Ronan won for his sparkling work on The Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, Nice Work If You Can Get It is not God’s Favorite Musical, and folks are likely to shy away from awarding him a second time in a row for  this, a less-than-stellar Gerswhin-songbook musical — even if the songs sound bright (though the actors don’t — but that’s not his fault..).

Speaking of Gershwin: always a nominee and never a winner, Acme Sound Partners has more than a decent shot of finally taking home a Tony for the group’s crisply clear work with the warm and earthy tones of the operatic Porgy and Bess. At the time of production, Acme was made up of sound gurus Tom Clark, Mark Menard, and Nevin Steinberg, but Steinberg has since left to pursue a career as an independent designer — will this alter their aural mojo, one wonders? (Their work on Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was haunting.)

Clive Goodwin makes his Broadway debut with Once — and there’s more than a good chance the show will also mark his first Tony win. Broadway’s subtle charmer (according to most, anyway), Once is provided a simple amplification by Goodwin, who carefully allows its folksy tunes and ballads a more intuitive than earnest inflection. And, unlike co-nominee Follies, the few effects utilized here — seagulls and crashing waves — are refreshingly natural and effective. The popular and critical favorite (and the one not hated by Sondheim), Once has a leg up on the competition in most of its nominated categories.

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2 comments on “2012 Tony Awards: Best Sound Design for a Musical

  1. Dan
    June 4, 2012

    Clicked through the Meadow Brook Facebook link… (and we met through Gretchen last year…)
    …and I am STUNNED at your FOLLIES experience! I saw it twice – once from the back of the balcony, in previews – and I was totally blown away by the clarity of the vocals and how every one of the 24 glorious instruments was audible and mixed perfectly. And in the awful Marquis!! Since then, I’ve been saying that if Harada doesn’t win the Tony, the voters are clueless (but what else is new)…

    • Julie
      June 4, 2012

      Hey Dan – thanks for your comment. I fully acknowledge that I maintain the opposite experience of Follies from most (I did not care for this production as a whole). I’m going to hold firm on the cheesy ghosty effects (UGH), but regarding the clarity of vocals: perhaps I was just there on a bad night (I saw it post-opening), who knows? (that theatre is wretched, as we know)… and as far as the mixing of the instruments: I’ll certainly defer to you and your musical expertise. However, I’d be absolutely shocked if Harada wins. Then again, sound design is clearly not my realm, so anything could happen!

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