Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Tony Awards 2010: Best Play and Best Musical


1. Enron (Lucy Prebble)

2. Next Fall (Geoffrey Nauffts)

3. In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (Sarah Ruhl)

4. Red (John Logan)

Time Stands Still (Donald Margulies)

What’s that you say?  Enron can’t win because it wasn’t nominated?  Huh. So the single new play of the year that was political but accessible, intelligent but not condescending or pretentious, artistically integrative with score and movement, cleverly designed, not stifled in realism but highly theatrical, written (most impressively) by a 29-year-old woman, and not to mention, thrilling…that play wasn’t nominated? Really?


No, really.

It really wasn’t.

Food for thought from London critic Michael Billington:

One reason for the attacks [such as Ben Brantley’s negative review] is the entrenched American view that visual pyrotechnics and razzle-dazzle are the province of the musical. Plays, on the other hand, are judged by their fidelity to what a critic once called “the visible and audible surfaces of everyday life”. It’s permissible for Wicked or –Legally Blonde to deploy expressionist –techniques but, on Broadway at least, plays are expected to conform to the realist rules.

With the exception of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, I can think of no play that has successfully violated that tradition. It is notable that when –writers such as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee grew more experimental with age, they were quickly kicked into touch. What hope had Enron, with its demon-eyed raptors, Jedi knights and Siamese twins? (For the full article, go here.)

I can’t help but think he’s on to something…and that something is depressing.


Total Production Nominations: 4 (Missing: Best Performance by a Lead Actor nomination for the incomparable Norbert Leo Butz)

Instead, we have the static, dramaturgically flawed — and let’s face it, fairly pretentious — British import,  Red, about life and art, that’s high on talk and low on action. What Red has going for it — and it’s a lot — has little to do with John Logan’s script and everything to do with the production: Red is a showcase for two of the best performances of the year (Alfred Molina – Best Leading Actor nominee and Eddie Redmayne -Best Featured Actor nominee) and the hands-down most collaborative and inspired artistic team (Best Sound Design nominee, Best Direction nominee, Best Lighting nominee, Best Scenic Design nominee). One has to at least wonder if the Tony committee can discern between play and production.

Total Production Nominations: 7

Actor-writer Geoffrey Nauffts penned Next Fall, an urban dramedy that is heartfelt, highly humorous, sensitive, and incredibly moving. A dryly-humored atheist New Yorker and his younger, sweeter, innocent Christian Southern-born boyfriend provide the central focus of this play about global struggle with sexuality, faith, and family. The characters are vividly drawn and the story is tightly plotted, so does it matter if it’s all a bit clichéd? In this dry spell of a year, we’ll take what we can get, and this is clearly the most solid and affecting work of the bunch.

Total Production Nominations: 2

Critics rave over and fans flock to the works of Sarah Ruhl due to her reputation for heightened, poetic language. Fair enough. But the favor bestowed on In the Next Room, or the vibrator play may be due a bit more to the fact it’s about women’s sexuality — their relationships with men, with each other, and with their own bodies. Explored through the comical, but historically true medical practice of treating women diagnosed with “hysteria” with vibrators. As one can imagine, this inherently hysterical premise offers an abundance of opportunities for hilarious “treatments” in the doctor’s room and dramatic, emotive revelations by the central female characters (and Best Featured Actress nominee Maria Dizzia). Finely constructed with funny, warm, and sensitive characters, Ruhl offers another solid, if not terribly exciting, work.

Total Production Nominations: 3

Time Stands Still (unseen)
Total Production Nominations: 2


American Idiot, Fela!, Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet

These can’t be put in any kind of order because not one stands out as a superior musical. Memphis, of course, will win due to reasons already given (conventional, cohesive, original book/score), but none of its elements is stellar. While Million Dollar Quartet is surprisingly enjoyable, that’s due almost entirely to the performances (and the unoriginal score). The furiously energized American Idiot rides high and fast on its awesome rock score — but again, it’s unoriginal music with just the thinnest of story lines. Fela! is certainly the most admirable and substantial of the nominees, but co-writer/director/choreographer Bill T. Jones takes on too much, and the overly ambitious musical is a bit of a mess both tonally and dramaturgically. To come right down to it: none of the nominees thrilled this year. Even more troubling is that only one offers an original score. What are all the theatre composers? Or, more accurately: why won’t producers take a chance on them?

American Idiot
Total Nominations: 3
(Missing: Best Choreography nomination for Steven Hoggett)

Total Nominations: 11

Total Nominations: 8

Million Dollar Quartet
Total Nominations:  3

Fill out your own ballot for tonight’s 2010 Tony Awards, and New York Times will score it for you!


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This entry was posted on June 13, 2010 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Musical, Theatre, Tony Awards.



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