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. Those that are listed but not ranked are productions that I was not able to see.
This category is hilarious for three reasons:
Critics were divided on whether or not Terrence McNally’s Master Class is actually a good play (no comment: I’ve never read/seen it), and were just as all over the place regarding Tyne Daly’s portrayal of notorious opera legend Maria Callas. Most found Stephen Wadsworth’s production decent enough to forgive the script’s shortcomings, but seriously: how is this show even nominated? (The answer: if not this, then…what?)
Ditto, Wit. Though most agree that Margaret Edson’s play is a very good piece of writing indeed, they’re a bit wishy-washy on Lynne Meadow’s production. Especially peculiar is that Cynthia Nixon (also nominated) was not overwhelmingly beloved by the press for her work as Vivian Bearing, the brilliant poetry professor who undergoes experimental treatment for cancer. But she’s already got a Tony (Rabbit Hole), so we shan’t feel too bad for her — or this unnecessary revival.
If it were any other year, The Best Man really would be the best man in this category. Michael Wilson’s production is elegantly staged, grippingly paced, and (mostly) superbly cast: James Earl Jones is wonderfully funny, sharp as a tack, and consistently surprising as the ex-President being courted for endorsement by two front runners for the party’s Presidential nomination. He’s well-supported by the absolutely terrific John Larroquette, Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, and Sherman Howard. Eric McCormick and Kerry Butler, the youngest of the cast, don’t fare as well: he works hard to play with the big boys (it shows) and can’t quite manage to keep his southern twang, and she (a bit annoying, actually) thinks she’s still starring in Xanadu (is that an Australian accent??). But the physical production — Derek McClane’s versatile set and Ann Roth’s ’60s business-professional costumes — is spiffy and, in awe, you ponder: Was this really written in 1960? The play may be old-school in form, but Gore Vidal’s political drama is amazingly relevant in this election year, and his language cuts one minute and takes your breath away in another. An incredibly strong production and vastly enjoyable production, The Best Man is merely the runner-up in this Tony Awards season.
Most folks considered Mike Nichol’s recreation of the original 1949 set and score, as well as his traditional staging and his more than capable cast, to be super-brilliant (I wouldn’t know): Philip Seymour Hoffman makes all the right choices in his portrayal of a violent and vulnerable Willy Loman’s anguished fall in what is being called a career milestone performance for the actor, and Andrew Garfield and Linda Emond fare equally as well, both garnering noms themselves. More than a few critics, so moved, declared that experiencing this Death of a Salesman was “like seeing the play for the first time” — before also throwing around multiples of “marvelous” and “triumphant” and other such ecstatic adjectives. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, this was the production of the year not to be missed, and it’s going to be rewarded accordingly.