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.
Let’s be honest: All the designs here are superb. Pippin‘s is the simplest, featuring a classic circus tent with a few platforms and poles for the acrobatic performers to propel from and land on. In a production built upon all its “magic to do,” even the tent has a nice little vanishing trick at the show’s end. But designer Scott Pask already has five Tonys (the most recent for The Book of Mormon), and considering the strong competition, he isn’t like to garner a sixth this year.
David Rockwell’s multi-tiered Billy Elliot-inspired set for Kinky Boots handsomely allows for movement on multiple levels with a rolling unit that serves as Charlie’s office space among other locales. The Victorian-styled shoe factory is impressive with its brick walls showcasing iron-framed stained-glass windows, and when it’s time for the girls to get their boots on and strut their stuff in Milan, a catwalk takes over, surrounded by Kenneth Posner’s rainbow-colored LEDs. Rockwell was previously nominated for Hairspray, but in an interesting twist, his one other nomination is for this year’s Lucky Guy. So will he be a, um, lucky guy this year? It’s highly unlikely, but if someone were to spoil here, I’d put my money on him.
For The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anna Louizos smartly captures a London Music Hall circa the 19th century with brightly detailed painted flats framed in a gold proscenium that includes boxes for theatergoers. The design is perfectly period, warmly embracing the humor and gaudiness of the production. Nominated twice before (In the Heights, High Fidelity), Louizos has yet to garner her first Tony, but with Drood‘s closing back in March, it’s unlikely to hold much sway when voters have flashier, current production designs to choose from.
And perhaps no design this season is more showy than Rob Howell’s scrabble-tile explosion of a set that showcases the young heroine’s affinity for words. Alternating with shelves upon shelves of books and disappearing behind a imposing school gate for Crunchem Hall, the set for Matilda The Musical is at its most wondrous during the wildly imaginative staging of “School Song” when the older students warn the first-timers what they’re in for. Climbing the steel rungs of the gate to Crunchem Hall, they ingeniously insert lettered tiles into its rectangular gaps, emphasizing the consonants and vowels of the lyrics with each ominous vocal punch:
So you think you’re able / To survive this mess by being a Prince or a Princess / You will soon see (c) / There’s no escaping tragedy / And even / If you put in heaps of effort / You’re just wasting energy / ‘Cause your life as you know it is ancient (H-ent) history
It’s a marvelous grin-inducing moment. There is simply no show on Broadway this season that is as cleverly designed, and sixth-time-nominee Rob Howell will be rightly rewarded with his first Tony.