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.
In a portrayal that is as tonally bi-polar as Beane’s inconsistent book, Victoria Clark spends half her stage time in Cinderella as a crazy-town villager in rags and the other half in an ethereal lilac gown as the Fairy Godmother. The latter is where the actress truly shines, imparting Rodgers and Hammerstein’s genuine heart through her exquisite vocals. This is Clark’s third nomination — she won for The Light in the Piazza — but it will not be her second win.
Keala Settle is the standout of Hands on a Hardbody, as the only performer so dedicated to make you fully believe — and enjoy — her character. As the hardworking mom Norma Valverde, who sincerely believes her faith will bring her through the rough times and land her that shiny new truck, Settle works hard against the stereotype of the Catholic Latina mom with her commitment, humor and crazy-good vocals — most memorably showcased in the gospel a cappella number “Joy of the Lord.” The number’s staging made the best use of that constricting truck as the cast banged out the rhythms on its body, and Settle vocally brought down the house — twice, with the reprise. A pure joy to watch, first-time nominee Settle deserves this nomination — just not this win.
As Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey, Lauren Ward, clad in floral dresses and cardigans, is the welcome opposite to Bertie Carvel‘s horrid headmistress and the moronic Wormwoods. The sweet-voiced Ward exudes such warmth and care that it’s no wonder that even the introverted Matilda gravitates to her. Portraying the only adult in Matilda (besides the doctor) who shows any kindness, Ward is a beacon of believability and light, and her timidness and protectiveness — of both her pupils and her modest home — relays a sincerity and humaneness that grounds the otherwise cynical world of Matilda. It’s a lovely, affecting performance, and while the first-time nominee won’t be a winner here, her recognition is deserved.
As the factory girl who falls for her boss, the spunky Annaleigh Ashford is a riotous scene stealer with the Kinky Boots‘s best song, “The History of Wrong Guys.” With her distorted facial expressions and comic vocal inflections, she nails the Cyndi Lauper lament, instigating great rounds of laughter from the audience and winning every critic’s heart, no matter how cold or cynical. Ashford is a natural with comic timing, but she’s just as compelling in quieter moments of heartbreak. It’s a breakout performance for the first-time nominee who’s perfectly set to spoil.
But no one can deny Andrea Martin‘s sensational performance. As Pippin’s Grandma, Martin has one big number, and she nails it — and then some. In “No Time At All,” Martin good-naturedly leads the audience in a singalong of the chorus before literally taking to the sky. Dangling above the stage, hanging upside down and canoodling with a muscular member of the Les 7 doigts de le main circus troupe, the limber and svelte 66-year-old physically accomplishes what many half her age couldn’t, and does so with extraordinary grace and humor. Feisty and open-hearted, Martin acts on the lyrics she sings, proving no matter your age, it’s never to late to start livin’. For her gutsiness, warmth and wise playfulness, the one-time winner for My Favorite Year will certainly add another Tony to her mantle on June 9.