Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2014 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Direction of a Musical

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.

BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL

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1. MICHAEL MAYER
Hedwig and the Angry Inch

2. LEIGH SILVERMAN
Violet

3. DARKO TRESNJAK
A Gentleman’s Guid to Love and Murder

4. WARREN CARLYLE
After Midnight

Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle keeps the entertainment fast and sleek in After Midnight, but the song-and-dance revue doesn’t have a plot or any real social consciousness of the 1920s Harlem era it depicts. This production of dance numbers is more a showcase for Carlyle’s choreography skills, which he’s sure to win for — and that’s precisely why he won’t win here.

On the other side of the spectrum, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder has so many moving parts that, frankly, it could’ve been a sloppy mess in less experienced hands. The Artistic Director of Hartford Stage, Gentleman’s Guide marks Darko Tresnjak‘s (awesome name) first Broadway credit (he’s currently directing Ionesco’s The Killer, starring Michael Shannon, at Theatre for a New Audience). Tresnjak nimbly pulls off — with the help of Alexander Dodge’s playful Victorian doll-house-like theatre set — every crazy visual and aural antic in Robert L. Freedman’s book, indulging both his low and high brow instincts, into a seamless weave of spastic, sprightly-paced shenanigans. The director smartly guides his game cast to play to the hilt of the comedy, which, frankly, is limited and repetitive, often bogged down by Steven Lutvak’s forgettable pastiche score. Gentleman’s Guide might’ve played faster and funnier as a music-less farce, but it plays as well as it does because of Tresnjak’s talent.

But people are losing their minds over Hedwig and the Angry Inch, not least of which is because of Michael Mayer‘s exhilarating staging. Sure, there’s only one (fabulous) set and couple of characters, but Mayer had his work cut out for him in keeping the energy high, the humor sharp, and the gravity-defying wigs in place. No one was better suited to direct Hedwig’s one-night punk protest on Broadway than Mayer, who helmed the similarly frenetic American Idiot and Spring Awakening, and he met and exceeded all expectations, expertly balancing Hedwig‘s rough edges with camp, poignancy, and visceral, animated staging. He definitely has the potential to spoil Tresnjak’s chances, especially as his show is still running — and selling out to eager fans.

But if voters are feeling overwhelmed by cheeky humor and flashy dance numbers, they might lean toward Leigh Silverman‘s touching production of Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s bluegrass and gospel-inspired Violet. With a no-frills design consisting of a shell of a bus station/diner by David Zinn (also currently represented on Broadway with the snubbed The Realistic Joneses and Rocky), Silverman keeps the staging simple and the storytelling clear. In what looks like only a semi-upgrade from the bare bones Encores! production last summer, a few chairs represent a bus ride and the same basic table can be for poker at home or at a diner banquette. Unfussy, with not a hint of Broadway spectacle or bedazzled production numbers, Silverman (whose work, until this show, I found rather slick and soulless) keeps the focus on character and the tone consistently warm. Perhaps it’s as simple, and smart, as this: She provided the framework and then moved out of the way to let her amazing cast — and musical — shine. Talk about a refreshing concept.

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