Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Sound Design of a Play

Let the 2011 Tony-a-thon Begin!

A quick note on my progress:  I have six shows left to see, missed three that closed prior to the nominations (Driving Miss Daisy (zzzzz), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, La Bête), and am worried that I have little to no recollection of some from long, long ago (Bloody, Bloody; Merchant of Venice, Scottsboro Boys). So this could get interesting — or just plain ridiculous.

Before we begin, let us have a moment of silence for Spidey, which sadly, did not manage to open (in time for this year’s awards).

. . .

Aaaand, here we go!

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.

SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY

1. War Horse

2. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

3. Brief Encounter

4. Jerusalem

Due to the near seamlessness of its gorgeous overall design, it’s perhaps all too easy to forget just how well done War Horse‘s particular sound is. Christopher Shutt floats Adrian Sutton’s music softly through the quiet moments and then gives it a heart-pumping intensity for the battles; he weaves John Tams’ alternately folksy songs and stirring anthems with all those sounds of war — tanks crushing the earth, bullets flying through the air, and the endless marching of soldiers. Assisted by the intimacy of the Vivian Beaumont’s thrust stage, Shutt pulls you deep into the heart of the action and envelopes you in the raw, honest emotions of life in war.

Maybe it’s just because I saw it, oh, a few hours ago, and thus its sound is fairly easy to recollect, but Cricket Myers and Acme Sound Partners’s aural atmosphere for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is largely how we know we’re in buzzy, precarious capital of Iraq. The traffic and the muffled Arabic chatter in the streets trickles in and out; foreboding, vaguely Middle Eastern tones waft over and under scenes, filling the space with a detailed intimacy and cultural context that the production otherwise largely lacks. Watch this clip to hear Cricket discuss how she crafted this sound specifically for the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Unfortunately she couldn’t stop Robin Williams (not very much of a Tiger), or most of his fellow castmates, from bellowing their way through the show, but she certainly didn’t amplify their tirades (we can thank Moisés Kaufman’s direction for that).

While Brief Encounter surely will be the favorite in this category, its sound is not unlike the rest of the super-stylized production — larger than life. A living room clock tick-tocks so loudly that we could not possibly miss its meaning (OPPRESSION), swaying vocal chords bemoan despair, a racing locomotive symbolizes the anticipatory adrenaline of a first romantic encounter. It’s all so much — so many feelings —  and yet not enough, at least, for a Broadway theatre. From the balcony of Studio 54, it all seemed tinny, underwhelming, and quite frankly, a little silly. Simon Baker’s design should have swept me up into the romance of it all, but it’s as though it wasn’t reimagined at all for the transfer to a much larger theatre. I suspect this is true of the production in general, which by all accounts, lost much of its magic when it departed the more intimate St. Anne’s Warehouse.

A bit remiss, I’m not sure what Jerusalem is doing here. Many insist that sound design relies on its invisibility — if you don’t notice it, that must mean it’s good — but I can’t say I agree. For the life of me, I can’t recall Jerusalem‘s sound at all, and if I can’t, you know Tony voters won’t either.

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This entry was posted on May 15, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Sound Design, Theatre, Tony Awards.

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