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 must confess that I love each and every one of these men and their respective performances, and I honestly don’t think the committee could’ve chosen better. In fact, they pleasantly surprised me by nominating Stark, when I predicted Annie‘s Anthony Warlow.
Though Stark Sands is adorable and well-cast in Kinky Boots, Harvey Fierstein’s muddled book does Sands’s vanilla character no favors: Charlie Price, warm-hearted and accepting from the start, has absolutely no conflict to overcome, no character arc to make. The endearing Sands (previously nominated in 2007 for Journey’s End) does what he can, rigorously working to portray an inherently not-that-interesting role, but through no real fault of his own, he seems a bit dull when placed alongside such dynamic personalities as Billy Porter’s Lola.
Chaplin‘s leading man, on the other hand, immediately proved himself a bright, shining star despite the hindrances of a messy book and banal score. Perfectly embodying the little tramp, both physically and emotionally, Rob McClure received near universal raves, and if it wasn’t such a fantastic year for male performances — and regardless of the fact that the show closed back in January — this award would be his.
But Santino Fontana would’ve given McClure a run for his money. In Cinderella, Fontana’s Prince Topher best strikes the balance between Douglas Carter Beane’s too-jokey book and R & H’s earnest score: an effortlessly funny actor who can float Oscar Wilde witticisms before sharply landing the social satire (and who I — still — cannot stop laughing at here), Fontana gently shapes a prince who is both goofily clueless and sincerely well-intentioned. His comic timing is impeccable, downplaying the jokiness while emphasizing the character, and his beautiful baritone delivery of R & H sincerity is absolutely lovely. It is no exaggeration to say that Fontana is cut from the same cloth as the impeccable Norbert Leo Butz : nearly universally well-received in every role he takes on, he shines in classics, musicals, comedies and dramas alike. He’s an absolute gem of a performer.
But no straight man could hope to compete with first-time nominee Billy Porter‘s flashy and fabulous drag queen in Kinky Boots. Porter was born to play Lola, plain and simple. It’s not that he hasn’t portrayed similar roles before — Belize in Angels in America, even a King Lear in drag (he was fabulous, by the way) — but those were just stepping stones to this. As Lola, he’s electrifying, with enough verve and sass to strut it, and shut it down over and over again — and in scarily high heels, no less. His delivery is all seductive swagger, and even when Fierstein’s jokes aren’t all that clever, Porter lands them, pricelessly, with a snarl and a snap. But don’t be fooled by the fierceness: Underneath the diva, when the wig is off and a suit is donned, the shy and wounded Simon, disowned by his father, is revealed, and Porter switches fully and sensitively between the two. Add to this his versatile, husky vocals and you have a stunning Tony Award-winning performance.
Except, maybe not. The Tony Awards Administration Committee deemed Bertie Carvel’s performance as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical as leading (which the show’s producers, of course, pushed for), thus forcing the two best male performances in musicals this year to compete against each other when they needn’t, and shouldn’t. Regardless, Roald Dahl would revel in Carvel’s twisted performance: played in the English pantomime style, the horrid headmistress is a towering, linebacker of a woman with a gigantic bosom that sags to her cinched waist. One would imagine such an imposing figure to lurch heavily about the stage, but no: Carvel performs her as though on twinkle toes (he even marvelously and delicately plays the ribbons), floating threateningly from child to child. When angered, which is all the time, her right hand raises to her chest, folded at the wrist and quivering, like the truncated arm of a T-Rex. Carvel’s physicality is perfection, and his voice, not exactly high-pitched, but womanly, betrays the insecurity behind the sadistic narcissism.
Bertie Carvel’s virtuosic performance has already won the actor an Olivier, but will it garner him a Tony as well? That’s the big question. Porter’s Lola is a fully rounded character with a clear and heartwarming arc, who is on stage 90% of the show, while Carvel’s Trunchbull is the villainous foil to a little leading lady, the latter of which is the one on stage 90% of the show (and yet the committee deemed her ineligible for nomination — but I digress). If that doesn’t sound like a lead performance vs. a supporting performance, I don’t know what does. Couple that with the facts that the ecstatically reviewed Matilda now suffers from a growing number of dissenters and that Americans are revealing themselves as suspicious of (very good) British musicals, and the edge goes to Porter.
Billy and Bertie, you both deserve awards, I say. Perhaps you can tie? I mean, it happened at the Oscars.