Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2013 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Sound Design of a Play

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.


The Nance Lyceum Theatre

Leon Rothenberg

John Gromada

Mel Mercier

Peter John Still & Marc Salzberg

Ah, sound design, how elusive you are to my memory. Do the majority of voters recall such specifics? Somehow I doubt it. At any rate, I shall do my best.

Of the four nominees, Mel Mercier has, by far, the least chance of winning. True, the first-time nominee won the Drama Desk Award for The Testament of Mary, but the competition there consisted mostly of Off-Broadway plays (none of the other Tony nominees here were DDA nominees). Interestingly, his only other Broadway competition for the Drama Desk was Alan Cumming’s one-man Macbeth, which was completely shut out of the Tonys, but which features a very similar horror-movie-like soundscape. Many found Mary‘s sound, like her staging, to be so busy and over-designed as to the point of distraction. (Personally, I enjoyed all the busyness, but perhaps that’s because I have theatrical ADD.)

John Gromada’s design for The Trip to Bountiful consists of a plethora of urban accents (traffic noise, radio music) to help situate and differentiate the Watts’s Houston home from Bountiful’s small-town with all its natural melodies (birdsong, crickets). Additionally, his original musical compositions are quite lovely and affecting. Gromada, a first-time nominee though he’s garnered a couple Drama Desks, hasn’t created the flashiest design, but one notable for its suitable subtlety. Alas, it looks like that won’t be enough.

This race is really between two. First-time nominees (who also designed the 2006 revival of Odets’s Awake and Sing!) Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg’s design for Golden Boy combines popular ’20s and ’30 tunes with string arrangements and the roar of a crowd of boxing fans. Good will is strong for the show, which very well may carry over to these smaller categories despite a January closing.

I didn’t see (hear) Golden Boy, so I have to believe The Nance will take it home. Leon Rothenberg aurally recreated 1930s vaudeville with his comical effects that include wailing police sirens, pounding judges’ gavels and other punchy effects that perfectly amp up the already over-the-top material. The show also boasts a small (unseen) band, for which  Rothenberg provides subtle amplification for. This is the designer’s second nomination (his other was in 2009 for the revival of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone), and he’s got a great shot at nabbing it this time around.

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