Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Best Actress in 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.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

1. Donna Murphy
The People in the Picture

2. Sutton Foster
Anything Goes

3. Patina Miller
Sister Act

4. Beth Leavel
Baby It’s You!

Critics declared the only reason to see Baby It’s You! — a third, no fourth, no fifth-rate jukebox musical — is its star turn by Beth Leavel as real-life writer/producer Florence Greenberg, who discovered The Shirelles and became the music industry’s first female superstar-executive. This show is the season’s most inept, cramming hit after hit song amidst cheesily manipulated scenes of dialogue, and most unfortunately, Leavel (Elf, Crazy for You) does not rise above the less-than-mediocre material. Appearing to embrace its lazy nostalgia, she camps it up with broad expressions of ambition, excitement, hurt and indignation. Her voice is sound, but this show, and her performance, are not.

In her Broadway debut, Patina Miller is brassy and sassy and full of bravado as the big-voiced Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act. Having grown up adoring the 1992 film, I arrived a skeptical sally and left a delighted devotee. Patina commands the show with her no-nonsense attitude and powerhouse voice, and within minutes you find find yourself wondering “Whoopi who?”

Some critics complain that ever-ingenue Sutton Foster‘s not enough of a “broad” to play Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, but the girl can belt Cole Porter classics like they’re going out of style (they aren’t), boasts impeccable comic timing and manages to keep afloat sequences that would otherwise sink entirely thanks to Joel Grey’s, shall we say, absentmindedness. She conquers a terrific role in a fantastically fun show (never mind that this production’s a drag), and she’ll likely take home the Tony for it.

Even in the most reviled show of the year, Donna Murphy manages to walk away with her dignity and monster-sized talent in tact. The woman can sing like nobody’s business, and she astounds with her dedication to the role of pre-WWI Yiddish theatre star turned increasingly forgetful “Bubbie” in ’70s New York. The People in the Picture grasps desperately at your heartstrings (and boy did I hear sniffles in the audience — oy!), but its cheap sentiment and massively flawed book pulls the entire show down with dreary disappointment. Murphy and clever choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (9 to 5, In the Heights) are the only ones working hard — and successfully — to achieve levels of emotional and creative complexity. For her mastery of a messy, maudlin role, Murphy deserves major props.

 

 

 

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This entry was posted on June 2, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Musical, Theatre, Tony Awards.

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