a theatre, film & pop culture review
In Red, Eddie Redmayne is properly earnest and assiduous as protege to Molina’s masterful Rothko, and David Alan Grier, who surprisingly has more than a few Broadway (musical!) credits under his belt, energetically went head-to-head with co-star James Spader in the David Mamet drama, Race. But Jon Michael Hill stepped it up a notch with his frisky performance in the otherwise forgettable and sentimental Superior Donuts, and with all his boundless energy, it’s amazing that none of it wore off on his spiritless co-star, Michael McKean. While I have more than a soft spot in my heart for Enron‘s nefarious nebbish portrayed with glee by Stephen Kunken, the August Wilson regular, Stephen Mckinley Henderson, is likely to go home with the coveted award. As Bono, Henderson acts as the constant, the quietly restrained moral compass to Washington’s impetuous braggadocio. Certainly his is the least showy of the performances, but that makes Henderson’s ability to arrest our attention so much more noteworthy.
These ladies are all so smart and fabulous — though I missed seeing Rosemary Harris, I’m quite positive she belongs here — that it’s actually uncomfortably difficult to pick a winner. Maria Dizzia hilariously vacillates between chilly prudishness and orgasmic hysteria. The performances in A View from the Bridge are so finely intertwined as to form a true ensemble, and as such, placing Jessica Hecht‘s staunchly vigilant Beatrice above Scarlett Johansson‘s burgeoning self-awareness as Catherine, seems rather pointless; it does not seem possible for one to exist as such without the other. But it’s Jan Maxwell‘s comic genius as the temperamental Italian wife of the titular tenor. With the snap of a finger, she instantaneously switches from railing against her dopey husband (in Italian, no less) to cooing sweet nothings to flinging herself in and out of doors, onto sofas, onto beds, into closets, and into fits of tears and tirades of abuse . The best part? You can tell she’s having so much fun doing it (check out a clip of her as the Italian diva here).
Bobby Steggert is the throwaway nominee here; few things stands out in Ragtime‘s sub-par revival and his stoic performance as Brother, the near-terrorist-in-the-making, is simply not one of them. The adorable Robin de Jesús (La Cage aux Folles) has energy to spare as the boundlessly enthusiastic assistant to the glam chanteuse ZaZa, and Christopher Fitzgerald‘s feisty leprechaun has all the luck — and cheekiness — of the Irish in Finian’s Rainbow. It’s the rare performer who can rival the scene-stealing abilities of musical theatre’s #1 funny man, Nathan Lane, but Kevin Chamberlin holds his own and then some in the dreadful-cute Addams Family. His Uncle Fester is less melancholic than he is whimsical; pining romantically after the moon, Chamberlin is never ironic or condescending in his portrayal of the one true optimistic Addams; he genuinely delights in his character’s eccentricities, and because of this, we do too. But Levi Kreis epitomizes the flamboyant, effusive showman, Jerry Lee Lewis (Million Dollar Quartet). Kreis (who more than slightly resembles Harry Connick Jr. in not only musical talents, but handsomeness as well) enthusiastically imbues a production full of mellow performances with the endless energy and charisma it would otherwise lack, and dramatically needs.
The competition here is really only between two. The rest, marvelous as they may be, are all terribly restricted by the confines of underdeveloped — or entirely undefined — characters in this exceedingly depressing year for female musical roles (the dearth of which is the only explanation for dancer Karine Plantadit‘s nomination). Poor Barbara Cook (Sondheim on Sondheim) is stuck and directionless in the biggest show choir spectacular of the year, and Lillias White (Fela!), for all her vocal prowess and aplomb, is offered no motivation as Fela Kuti’s mysteriously estranged mother. On the other hand, Angela Lansbury wins even if she doesn’t: as the spicy Madam Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, she’s just as wickedly funny and deliciously on pointe as she was thirty years ago in the original Sweeney Todd. But because Dame Lansbury took home the Tony last year (for Best Leading Actress in Blithe Spirit), Tony voters will more than likely award Katie Finneran‘s scene-stealing, smashlingly funny turn as the boozy floozy in Promises, Promises. And they should: Finneran’s randy and brash Marge MacDougall doesn’t just fling, but practically launches herself at, Sean Hayes’s unassuming Chuck Baxter, in a too-short performance that is riotous good fun.