Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2013 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Scenic 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.


John Lee Beatty

David Rockwell

Santo Loquasto

Michael Yeargan

With all the love Golden Boy received, it doesn’t seem to extend too much to Michael Yeargan’s “atmospheric sets” (Charles Isherwood’s detailed and insightful analysis). I didn’t see it, but the five sets, including a gritty gym where Joe, the 21-year-old son of Italian immigrants, trains, and an  office and apartment set on platforms in front of an severe wall of tenements, seem to aptly situate the 1937 Odets play. But the two-time Tony winner (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza) will not be adding another golden guy to his shelf this year.

Rarely do I fixate on a set design in a negative way, but Santo Loquasto’s endlessly revolving New York City apartment drove me nuts with its gratuitousness. True, the individual rooms — which period decor changes from 1980 in Act I to 2000 in Act II — are plush in all their Central Park West grandeur. But The Assembled Parties‘s incessant scene changes (thanks, Lynn Meadows) which spin, spin, spin the apartment from room to room as characters exit and enter and ponder and chat are overly indulgent, and the set’s revolving capabilities add little to the play. This is Loquasto’s seventeenth (!) nomination (he’s won thrice, lastly for Grand Hotel in 1990), but despite a gushing response from critics, it’s unlikely he’ll win his fourth here.

David Rockwell, also nominated this year for his handsome shoe-factory set for Kinky Boots, created a super-efficient set for Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy that moves us from the newsroom to bars to a hospital to a diner, etc. Mixing low and high tech — mirroring the city’s frenetic energy, actors move portable set pieces and Batwin + Robin expert projections flash ever-changing headlines across the stage — Rockwell crafted a collage of pre-Giuliani New York with all of its grit, graffiti and scandal. It perfectly encapsulated columnist Mike McAlary’s 1980s New York, but it isn’t likely to win.

On the other side of the revolve, The Nance‘s turntable smartly spins between a burlesque theater and its backstage area — in between stops at a Hell’s Kitchen apartment, a discrete diner and a courtroom — to cleverly reflect both the onstage and offstage lives of the title character. John Lee Beatty has designed what seems like a million shows (this season alone: OrphansThe Big KnifeAn Enemy of the People), but has only a single Tony to his name (Talley’s Folly, 1980). For sheer breadth of period and theatrical detail — beautifully painted backdrops evoke NYC’s vaudeville scene, a colorful collage of landmarks and 1930s adverts hangs over certain sets —  Beatty will garner a second, much deserved, Tony.


2 comments on “2013 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Scenic Design of a Play

  1. Cris Franco
    June 3, 2013

    I respectfully disagree with your assessment of THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES set. One of the play’s subtle plot points is the apartment’s expansive size. Characters comment on its dimensions. And (SPOILER ALERT!!!) in ACT 2, how Julie is able to keep the apartment resolves the surviving characters’ story arcs. The details of the apartment matched the detailed character studies. I marveled over how gracefully it morphed from room to room to room. THE NANCE’s set was, indeed, artsy and clever — but not in the same league as Santo Loquasto’s ASSEMBLED PARTIES masterpiece. Thanks for your thought provoking article.


    • Julie
      June 5, 2013

      Hi Cris,

      I agree with all of your points regarding the set’s details — that makes total sense. I didn’t have a problem with the set decoration, just its constant revolving, which I thought was unnecessary and distracting. I much preferred THE NANCE’s, where the revolve worked in a more efficient and creative manner. We’ll see what happens on Sunday 🙂 Thanks for your comment!


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