a theatre, film & pop culture review
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.
I fear I’m about to disappoint Mr. Robert Kaplowitz, Tony Award winning Sound Designer for Fela! (who was kind enough to explain to me — in detail — what a Sound Designer does for a musical here). Based on his comment that “Every musical has an essential sound – a sound it SHOULD be conveying. Did the designer do so successfully?” here’s my attempt to rank this year’s nominees.
Steve Canyon Kennedy’s design for Catch Me If You Can made me feel like I was being aurally attacked — all the way up in the upper balcony of the huge Neil Simon Theatre. Sure, Marc Shaimon’s score is big and brassy (super-similar to his work on Hairspray), but the production’s sound was so aggressive and punchy that I felt as though I was getting whacked in the face repeatedly (not unlike how I felt during American Idiot, but for what was essentially a Green Day concert, that made much more dramaturgical sense).
Beyond Kennedy’s misfire, however, I’m at a loss. One can probably assume that Brian Ronan (who coincidentally designed American Idiot), who is nominated twice here –for The Book of Mormon and Anything Goes — will take home the award for the immensely more popular of two shows, Mormon. He’s also one of the two designers here who’s been previously nominated (Next to Normal), so that doesn’t hurt. (To learn a bit about his approach to design, go here).
Of all the nominees, however, only Peter Hylenski’s work on The Scottsboro Boys (at least to my memory) includes some sound effects in addition to the obligatory amplification of the actors and orchestra. For the tale of the 1930s trial of rape and racism, he creates traffic on bustling Alabama streets and the chilling clink of prison cells locking down. Previously nominated for his design for the loud and cocky Rock of Ages, Hylenski’s work here is the most subtle and thoughtful of the nominees, and it certainly helps that this show, the last of the masterful Kander and Ebb, was a critical darling. But Tony voters tend to have short memories, and Scottsboro is the only of the nominees no longer running, having long since closed in December.