Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 Tony Awards: Best Direction of 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. Those that are listed but not ranked are productions that I was not able to see.

 

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL


1. John Tiffany
ONCE

2. Jeff Calhoun
NEWSIES

3. Diane Paulus
THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS

4. Kathleen Marshall
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Proficiently directed by Kathleen Marshall, he prohibition-era romantic comedy Nice Work If You Can Get It is quickly paced and the action is tightly packed, even if the dancing isn’t: Marshall indulges half of her director-choreographer hyphenate by overstuffing and elongating the movement sequences of this Gershwin songbook musical. She also fails to draw out any kind of chemistry from her two leads: Broderick and O’Hara are like a brother and sister who can’t even really muster the energy to tease (flirt with?) each other. Awkwwward.

For all that hand-wringing about a revisionist Porgy and Bess, Diane Paulus sure didn’t take (m)any risks with the direction. While Suzan-Lori Park’s “update” of the book consisted of plenty o’ nuthin’, Paulus’s biggest change was freeing Porgy from his goat cart (which, though hell on the actor, I kinda missed), and the promised upbeat ending (shudder) simply became ambiguously hopeful. Frankly, the production’s overall vision was rather ambiguous, though Paulus did cultivate some fabulous performances — including the sure-to-be winner, Audra McDonald.

Director Jeff Calhoun’s winningest attribute is his ability to keep the Newsies moving at a pleasurable clip. Even if Christopher Gattelli’s choreography becomes redundant, Calhoun’s staging never does: the boys may be leaping again and again, but they’re leaping through a constantly transitioning set (thanks, Tobin Ost!) and on top of tables and across newspaper wagons. Considering the constant movement, there’s little stage clutter and always clarity of plot and character. Newsies is a tightly-helmed Mouse House machine.

Despite my grievances with Once, John Tiffany’s direction is not one of them. Collaborating with Steven Hoggett on movement, the songs and story flow in one non-stop dreamy sequence that is beautifully assisted by Tiffany’s choice design team.Utilizing the entirety of Bob Crowley’s open scenic design to its best advantage, Tiffany keeps the chorus-musicians waiting in the wings until plucks and positions them as needed, whether sprawling the lot across the stage in a whimsical jig, or pulling focus tightly to the pianist and guitarist center stage. Despite the large space, Once always feels intimate, and the chemistry that Tiffany has cultivated between his leads, always feels immediate and true.

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