Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 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. Those that are listed but not ranked are performances that I was not able to see.

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL


1. Audra McDonald
THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS

2. Jan Maxwell
FOLLIES

3. Cristin Milioti
ONCE

4. Kelli O’Hara
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Laura Osnes
BONNIE & CLYDE

Critics may have ho-hummed about another middling Wildhornian musical, but they proclaimed Bonnie & Clyde‘s stars criminally talented and immensely better than the material. Jeremy Jordan went on to bigger and better things — and there’s no doubt he’ll win a Tony for it — but Laura Osnes remains tethered to her portrayal of Bonnie, and unfortunately it was too long ago (it closed in December), and there’s been too many better performances this year (a handful of critics faulted her acting, though not her powerful voice). She was the hottest thing to hit musical theatre in December, but unfortunately for her, it’s June now, and she’s but a faint memory.

As the spitfire bootlegger who slyly stows her booze in the cellar of his swanky Long Island mansion in Nice Work If You Can Get It, Kelli O’Hara is in perfect, luminous voice. Unfortunately, when I saw her last week, she looked so bored and indifferent to her love interest (Broderick, also bored, also indifferent) that it was actually offensive — did I really pay good money to watch one of musical theatre’s brightest talents just go through the motions? She may have sparkled during press performances, but in the month that’s passed since opening, this gem has certainly lost her glow. This will decidedly not be the performance that earns O’Hara her first Tony.

Full disclosure: I’m going to be way too hard on Cristin Milioti. As the unnamed Girl in musical-movie-turned-Broadway-musical Once, she’s all deadpan, all the time, delivering cynical one-liners whilst smiling her waifish smile as the Czech immigrant pianist who steals an Irish guitarist’s heart. (“I am always serious. I am Czech.” Ugggghhhhhhhhh.) She and Steve Kazee have a great sparky chemistry, but instead of playing down the the unnecessary quirkiness of Enda Walsh’s book, she amps it up, and for that, she cannot not be forgiven. And she certainly won’t win the Tony.

Is it possible that Jan Maxwell doesn’t have a Tony yet? Well, it’s true, and it’s going to be no less true next year. As the pulled-together Phyllis if Follies, she infuses her character with energy and desire, and though not a strong singer, she acts the hell out of “Could I Leave You?”, fiercely lashing through the pain of an empty marriage. But she can’t act hard enough to distract from the fact that her dance skills are beginner at best. Doesn’t matter, though: we still love you, Jan. But you’re not gonna win.

Nominating four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald in akin to nominating Meryl Streep: It kinda sucks all the fun out the competition. So predictably perfect with that unwavering (almost unnaturally so) talent, McDonald played the flawed, fallen Bess with striking nuance and aching passion. In a fully complex portrayal that was, as ever, gorgeously sung, the queen of musical theatre (Or opera. Or operetta. Or whatever the hell we’ve decided the show is at this moment), elevated this underwhelmingly revisionist Porgy and Bess. Perfection may be boring, but if the alternative is the twee-tastic Milioti, I’ll take boring any day.

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