The Tony Awards will be a knockout – literally

AP Drama WriterJune 7, 2014 

  • AP predicts who will and should win at the Tonys

    It’s been a year on Broadway so unpredictable that the only thing for certain at the Tony Awards on Sunday is that Hugh Jackman will be the host. There have been no clear juggernauts – although some wonderful performances – and critics have largely bemoaned the lack of strong new good musicals and plays. In fact, the best revival categories this year easily overshadow anything new.

    That has led to uncertainty in most of the categories, and the nominating committee made no friends with choices that left many scratching their heads. CBS won’t be too happy that the likes of Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, James Franco and Rachel Weisz didn’t get nominations. To make matters worse, the telecast faces off against Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

    So, into the breach, The Associated Press handicaps some of this year’s messy races.


    Will win: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Should win: “Aladdin.”

    “A Gentleman’s Guide” is the only one of the four nominees to have all original music and is a hard-working, witty, fun work that deserves its win. But “Aladdin” has everything a big musical should have – humor, high-step dancing, big sets and costumes, a bona fide leading man in James Monroe Iglehart and tried-and-tested songs. It’s even got a flying carpet. Who could ask for anything more? Actually, we could ask for more nominations: “The Bridges of Madison County,” `'If/Then,” `'Bullets Over Broadway” and “Rocky” – though each was somewhat flawed – all deserved to be here, too.


    Will win: “All The Way.” Should win: “Mothers and Sons.”

    The first turbulent year of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency is the gripping focus of Robert Schenkkan’s play and it owes its likely win to Bryan Cranston, who is spellbinding in the lead role. But the play is bloated and gets bogged down in the second half. Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” is gentle in a way “All the Way” is showy. And in its subtle dialogue, McNally’s play often seems more authentic than Schenkkan’s. The other contestants – “Act One,” `'Casa Valentina” and “Outside Mullingar” – are delightful without leaving a lasting impression.


    Will win: “The Glass Menagerie.” Should win: Any of the four.

    Want great acting in brilliant works? Step right down to the best play revival category. “The Glass Menagerie,” with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto, was dreamy and sublime. “A Raisin in the Sun” with Denzel Washington is powerful and resonant. “Twelfth Night” with Mark Rylance was Shakespeare at its best. And “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is an ensemble, sets and a playwright firing on all four cylinders. No one should have to choose among these standout productions.


    Will win: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Should win: “Les Miserables.”

    The breathtaking 90-minute revival of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is full of energy and bravado, with a leading transvestite in Neil Patrick Harris who sings with real feeling and saucily spits up at the audience. So it’s easy to overlook the new “Les Mis,” with its gloomy, aching heartbeat. It has two superb leads in Ramin Karimloo and Will Swenson and new orchestrations, stagecraft and costumes. The third candidate, the understated “Violet,” could sneak in to steal the trophy if its two glitzy rivals spit the vote.


    Will win: Bryan Cranston. Should win: Bryan Cranston.

    Are you going to argue with Walter White? Cranston, fresh off his triumph as a drug kingpin in “Breaking Bad,” shows what he can do in a Broadway debut, and it’s astonishing. He looks nothing like President Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way” but no matter: With his hair slicked back, his pants hiked up and in a pair of thick black glasses, Cranston stretches his rubbery face into a near-constant Johnson scowl and makes that good ol' boy accent run riot. He makes Mark Rylance’s “Richard III” look like a cub scout. The other competitors – Chris O'Dowd, Tony Shalhoub and Samuel Barnett – need not have a speech ready.


    Will win: Audra McDonald. Should win: Audra McDonald.

    McDonald will have her sixth Tony for a role that showcases all her stage skills – singing and acting and just being Audra McDonald. In “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” she plays Billie Holiday with humor and grit. You get to hear “Stormy Weather” live and somehow enjoy Holliday and McDonald at the same time. Cherry Jones, who was marvelous in “The Glass Menagerie,” had this wrapped up until McDonald decided to join her on Broadway this season. Their other competitors – Tyne Daly, Estelle Parsons and LaTanya Richardson Jackson – were great too but none can beat McDonald and Holiday.


    Will win: Neil Patrick Harris. Should win: Jefferson Mays.

    Not to take anything from NPH, but Mays puts everything he has into his eight roles in “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Harris will win for a tour de force as a German transsexual in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and he deserves it. He is willing to eat cigarettes and lick the stage. But May deserves applause, too, as the four noblemen and two noblewomen standing in the way of an inheritance. Both actors are sweating at the end. One has killed, and one has been killed, over and over again. Other competitors – Ramin Karimloo, Andy Karl and Bryce Pinkham – all are young and will surely be back.


    Will win: Idina Menzel. Should win: Kelli O'Hara.

    Menzel lets her impressive lungs loose in the dual heroine lead of “If/Then,” which should have produced two paychecks. But O'Hara, in “The Bridges of Madison County,” also put her heart and the imprint she puts on her songs will outlast her rival, even though the show hasn’t. Sutton Foster in the understated “Violet” is a worthy competitor and Jessie Mueller is an appealing Carole King, but no one can beat the vocal fireworks of the woman who taught us to let it go.

    Mark Kennedy / AP Drama Writer

— The competition at the Tony Awards is fierce every year, but this time promises to be positively brutal: A fight will actually break out onstage.

Sunday’s telecast, which starts at 8 p.m. ET, will feature the usual black ties, soaring songs and gentle jokes – and an eye-popping boxing match between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in a regulation-size ring on the Radio City Music Hall stage.

It’s part of an attempt to highlight as many Broadway musicals as possible and promises to be a boon to the backers of the show “Rocky,” which failed to secure a best musical nomination despite its stunning sets and choreography.

“The adrenaline will be high, but I want it to look really good. I’m not so much nervous as much as I can’t wait to get in there and do this for people,” said Andy Karl, the Tony-nominated actor who plays Rocky.

Karl will be the focus of the show’s brief moment in front of millions. He will initially be part of a workout montage as he dances with eight other Rockys to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Then Creed, played by Terence Archie, will swagger in from the right aisle with an entourage, and the two boxers will perform the 15th and last round of the climactic, bloody bout. Altogether, they have just 2 1/2 minutes to shine.

“It’s going to feel like a train leaving the station,” warns Kelly Devine, who choreographed “Rocky” with Steven Hoggett and who earned a Tony nomination. “To get to do it on the Tonys is really very thrilling. And I think what we’ve put together is also going to make for very exciting television.”

Producers of the telecast will hope to build on last year’s 7.24 million viewers – the show’s largest audience in four years – with Hugh Jackman as host. Fans of former emcee Neil Patrick Harris, take heart: He'll be performing from his hit show “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Stars slated to help present awards include Bradley Cooper, Kevin Bacon, Clint Eastwood, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Will Ferrell and Liev Schreiber. Some Hollywood royalty who showed up onstage this season like Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, James Franco and Rachel Weisz didn’t win nominations and may skip the show.

A music-heavy lineup has been promised that includes all the best new musical nominees – “Aladdin,” “After Midnight,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” – and some overlooked ones, including “Rocky,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” and Idina Menzel’s show “If/Then.” Three revivals – “Les Miserables,” “Violet” and “Cabaret” – will also be featured. Sting will perform a song from his Broadway-bound musical, “The Last Ship.”

“I think all musicals have a really hard time when they say you get 2 minutes and 35 seconds to show people what your show is about and have it be entertaining. It’s so hard to pick that moment that encapsulates what your show is about,” Devine said. “Sometimes musical numbers can fall a little flat when they’re out of context. Sometimes they get swallowed up by that big stage. I think if we do it right, ours will feel really alive and epic.”

“Rocky” will get its shot in the first hour of the telecast and be introduced by Samuel L. Jackson. Karl will arrive for the red carpet in a tux and then change into his boxing costume to be part of Jackman’s comedic opening number. He will hang around until his explosive few minutes onstage, then wipe off the fake blood and real sweat and change back into a tux.

“The sum of the parts of this show are so incredible,” Karl said. “It needs to be seen in order to be believed.”

A boxing ring identical to the one used on Broadway was built in just two weeks and it will be turned counterclockwise by four stagehands to give the audience and cameras a 360-degree view. Doing what happens at the Winter Garden theater – moving the actual ring over the first few rows of seats – wasn’t feasible, but a riser onstage at Radio City will offer about 100 people the chance to see the action up close, as happens on Broadway.

At a rehearsal Friday at Radio City, the “Rocky” cast and crew practiced matching their choreography and music to the cameras for 1 1/2 hours. It was start-and-stop stuff, since the lighting, projection screens and sound cues are so intricate. The boxing ring slid flawlessly from the back, and the final product promised to be a spectacle to intrigue even non-theater fans.

Between lulls, Karl twirled a jumping rope so fast it whined, and some of the dancers breakdanced. Devine and director Alex Timbers calmly and collaboratively fine-tuned the sequences to better accommodate the stage and Tony needs. When time expired, the team got loud brotherly applause from the cast of “After Midnight,” the next group of performers who had arrived to practice.

On Sunday night, Devine will be in the seats for the real event when her show gets its big shot on national television, and she suspects she might be sweating a little, too.

“It is very hard in those moments – much like an opening night – to completely relax,” she said. “You’re counting in your head, you’re watching the feed happen, you’re watching the transition. There’s so much going on so I’m usually a bit of a nervous wreck.”


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