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.
One of the surprises on Tony nominations day was the inclusion of Jarrod Spector in Beautiful — The Carole King Musical. As songwriter Barry Man, Spector’s extremely likable, but in a musical with a scant book, Mann is little more than an outline that Spector doesn’t have much time or material to fill in. Coming off of Jersey Boys, where he played Frankie Valli for more than 1,500 performances (you can tell) in his only other Broadway appearance, this is Spector’s first nomination. It won’t be he first win.
Also surprising to me (apparently not anyone else) was Nick Cordero‘s nomination for his work in the stage adaptation of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. As Cheech, the gangster with a talent for dramaturgy, Cordero is your typical goon bedecked in a pinstripe suit and toting a Tommy gun. Cordero fills his time onstage by striding back and forth and speaking in a monotoned, thick New York accent, with face often hidden by a large-brimmed fedora (C’mon, William Ivey Long: You should know better). He does his shtick well, but shtick it is, nonetheless — he will not be rewarded here. (A better choice from Bullets would have been Brooks Ashmanskas whose performance rested on a single gimmick — overeating — but which he performed admirably, and hilariously.)
In many ways, Danny Burstein feels like the male equivalent of Audra McDonald — critically hailed, always, for both plays and musicals — but though he’s been nominated five times, he’s never actually won a Tony. That may change this year (though it seems unlikely), as he’s poised snugly in the #2 spot for his performance in Cabaret. A bit too young for the Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (Burstein is only 49), Burstein nevertheless gives a tender, melancholy performance opposite Linda Emond’s Fraulein Schneider. Though the two offer a moving portrayal of lovers torn apart by their different faiths, the Schultzes aren’t nearly the highlight of this revival (of a revival).
Joshua Henry, on the other hand, is a highlight in a musical featuring superb performances across the board. In the 1964-set Violet, the two-time nominee (The Scottsboro Boys) plays Flick, an African American solider who teaches the titular character about love and courage. There is a sparkling charisma to Henry; whenever or wherever he’s onstage, your eye seeks him out, and he shines as a man struggling to make his feelings known and connect to another outcast. What he can’t say, he shows, and whenever a fellow solider (Colin Donnell) woos Violet, the pain of being overlooked by the one soul he made himself vulnerable to is visible in his stricken face. What’s more, Henry’s showstopper, “Let It Sing,” is just that: With the gospel-inflected roof-raiser about believing in oneself, Henry steals the how, and our hearts. It’s a beautiful, moving performance.
There’s no denying that James Monroe Iglehart, as the wise-cracking Genie in Aladdin*, quite literally stops the show with the incredibly spirited — and extended — “Friend Like Me.” The response to this number at each performance is overwhelming, usually culminating in a standing ovation before act one even comes to a close. Adored by audiences and admired by critics, there’s little chance Iglehart’s own wish won’t come true on Tonys night.
*A conflict of interest — I won’t be remarking specifically on any of Aladdin‘s nominations.