Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 Tony Awards: Best Scenic Design for a Musical

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winner will be in orange.


Photo by: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Rob Howell and Jon Driscoll 

George Tsypin

Tobin Ost

Bob Crowley


 Missing: Nice Work If You Can Get It, Derek McLane

Bob Crowley — the brilliant mind behind the dazzling Tony Award-winning set for Mary Poppins — created a warm and earthy open-spaced Irish pub set for Once that is perfectly fitting of the folk musical, but it’s also the least showy by far (and we know voters are drawn to the sparkly and spectacular). First-time nominee Tobin Ost’s massive, rolling, steel scaffold set for Newsies has the opposite effect, but did the turn-of-the-twentieth century newsboy musical really need such a complex and aesthetically (and dramaturgically) dubious design? Sure, its jigsaw-like capabilities are impressive, but like me, critics were torn on its overall effectiveness.

Will Tony voters dare to award The Hottest Mess to Ever Hit Broadway. Ever. with an award? Looks like it: George Tsypin’s comic-book look for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is pretty great, and could have been great fun: grey and black tones are punctuated with bursts of bright colors and 2-D sets are drawn like classic comics, complete with POWS! and KABLAMS! splashed boldly across backdrops. Unfortunately, much of it simply looks cheap (ironic considering the millions of dollars it took to stage and design) and while the technical glitches were many, voters might actually remember the (little) good there was — scenic and costume design — when it comes to the Taymor train wreck.

Though Ghost the Musical is far from a good show — and, really, who expected it to be? — it’s surprising that critics so soured on the eye-popping design by Rob Howell and Jon Driscoll. Sure, Jon Driscoll’s wall-to-wall projections, with their running fluorescent numbers (ghostie Sam worked on Wall Street, remember?), pouring rain, and videos of the sappily in love couple — are a little too reminiscent of the far superior ones created for Enron (which, hey!, were also designed by Jon Driscoll. Imagine that.). And sure, the sheer number of effects are ostentatious and emotionally disconnecting, but hell, I had fun keeping up with the constant whir of the shifting technologies deployed, and since there’s no Tony Award for Best Illusions, I’m going to clump Paul Kieve’s delightful special effects (ghosts jumping out of bodies and hands going through doors) into this category and declare Ghost the winner in my heart. Because no one else is going to.


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