A ‘weird’ wind blow: Tony Voters Like ‘The Loop’ and ‘Lehman’

After a strange year on Broadway, it looks like it could be a “Strange” night at the Tony Awards.

Our annual survey of Tony voters – well, it did every year, until the coronavirus pandemic broke everything – shows that Michael R. Jackson is favored to win the important race for best new musical at this year’s Tony Awards, which will take place Sunday night. If something is unpleasant, it will come from “MJ“Michael Jackson biographical musical.

Over the past few days, I’ve connected with 181 of about 650 Tony voters to talk about their picks in eight key categories. This is not a scientific opinion poll – voting continues through Friday; voting pool is distorted, and reduced, by the coronavirus cancellations that make many people ineligible to vote in some categories; and throngs of voters scrambled to catch up on missed performances while hoping to cast a last-minute vote. To see the actual statues being awarded, you’ll have to tune in to the awards show Sunday, which begins with an hour-long streaming segment on Paramount+ at 7 p.m. ET, then continues at 8 p.m. with a three-hour segment broadcast on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.

But interviews with a large number of voters will make clear which races are locked down, and which are insanely close.

The Tony Award for Best Play seems certain to go to “Lehman’s trio,” A fascinating history lesson chronicling the rise and fall of the financial empire Lehman Brothers. The play was originally written by the Italian playwright, Stefano Massini, and later adapted by the English writer, Ben Power.

The survey suggests that “Lehman” will easily win – the majority of voters believe it to be the best play of the season, and those who don’t support it are dividing their votes between the four contenders. remaining members, making any other outcome inevitable.

A majority of voters also backed one of “Lehman’s” stars, the great British actor Simon Russell Beale, in an unusual seven-nomination race for best actor in a play. Beale’s career is primarily devoted to the British stage, and this will be his first Tony award.

Why did “Lehman” win? The show, with a carnal theme that both explains and tacitly critiques New York City’s all-important financial industry, introduced three main actors, each playing multiple roles, and it a gallery, designed by Es Devlin, containing the action inside rotating glass box.

Directed by Sam Mendes, the film arrived on Broadway with a lot of buzz. After a European production, it was held on Off Broadway, at Park Avenue Armoryin 2019 and that production was the talk of the town, becoming a best-selling product for the nonprofit, with some seats going to several thousand dollars.

The road to Broadway is bumpy: “The Lehman trilogy” begins pre-screening at the Nederlander Theater less than a week before theaters close in March 2020; It then went on to preview 18 months later and finally opened last October. The film sold well, especially since it largely overlapped with the pandemic related to the Omicron variant, and it ended January 2 before production moved to Los Angeles for a while. another short time.

The play faces some criticism from those who felt that it affected the relationship between the early Lehmans’ business practices and slavery; the production process sharpens its references to the race through script modification performed during theater closures.

A strange loop“Also coming to Broadway with a big breath: During the pandemic, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Dramabased an Off Broadway production produced by Playwrights Horizons and Page 73 Productions in 2019.

The musical is about an aspiring young theater writer, black and gay, and who is haunted by a mostly self-critical inner dialogue that comes to life in the play. to act.

Musical by Michael R. Jackson and directed by Stephen Brackett, garnered some of the strongest reviews of the season and picked 11 Tony nominationsmore than any other program.

Voters praised the program’s originality and raw honesty. As is true with every show, this show has its skeptics too – some of whom voted that the songs aren’t great, or clearly inappropriate – but in the Tony race, it’s enjoying benefit from the fact that there is no consensus on any song other than the nominees.

Some industry veterans have suggested that Tony voters living outside of New York might be reluctant to support “A Strange Loop” because its pornography could make touring productions difficult. difficult. But that didn’t seem to be the deciding factor: “A Strange Loop” was supported by half of the voters I spoke to; about a fifth are supporting “MJ,” the musical about Michael Jackson, which they unanimously hailed as entertaining, while the other candidates were less supportive.

“Six”, the fan favorite story that is all rage in 2020, when the film came out within hours of theaters closing, it seemed to have cooled off among voters, who no longer thought it was a new movie because it started before the pandemic. But shed no tears for “Six”: it is proving to be a resounding success, with high box office sales and a thriving touring market.

Votes were split considerably in the races for the best top musical performers.

In the race for the lead actor in a musical, the votes were split equally between the two young actors, Myles Frost22 and Jaquel Spivey, 23 years old, made his professional stage debut this season. Frost was nominated for his convincing portrayal of Michael Jackson in “MJ” and Spivey was nominated for his portrayal of his soul as the skeptical protagonist in “A Strange Loop”; both wow audiences, in very different ways. Each of them received support from about a third of the electorate.

In the race for the lead actress in a musical, voters are torn between Sharon D Clarkewho plays the painful but powerful maid at the center of the revival of “Caroline, or Change,” and Joaquina Kalukangowho plays a determined tavern owner in the new musical”Paradise Square. ”

In the race for best actress in a play, Deirdre O’Connell, who oddly lip-synced, recorded interviews with a kidnapping victim in “Dana H., ”There was a modest advantage among the voters I spoke to. But the returns are not large enough to predict what will happen with confidence; the other top contenders seem to be LaChanzefor her performance as a truth-telling actress in “Trouble in mind“And Mary-Louise Parker, for her performance as a woman abused by her uncle in”How did I learn to drive?. ”

The death of the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheimone of the most important writers in musical theater history, was among the biggest theatrical stories of last season, and it seems Tony voters are now inclined to glorify the late Broadway play with which he worked on the award for best musical revival.

About half of voters say they are choosing a sexist revival of “Company”, which Sondheim strongly support his death. The film, first produced in 1970, previously revolved around a man contemplating his single life as he turns 35; this version, directed by Marianne Elliott, puts a woman in a similar predicament.

“Company” seems to have twice as much support as its closest competitor, the revival of “Caroline, or Change.”

The race for the best gameplay revival, with its particularly strong field, is too close to call. Of the voters I spoke to, a large number including about a quarter of those interviewed were in favor.”Take me out, ” About the reaction of a baseball team when a player is deemed gay. But there is also support for each of the other four candidates: “For girls of color who once considered suicide / When the rainbow was Enuf,“”How I learned to drive”, “Trouble in my mind” and”American Buffalo“Anyone of those could still win a tight race among a small group of voters where a handful of votes could make all the difference.

Worth considering: It’s been a very unusual theatrical season, fueled by a pandemic, plenty of work by Black artists, and challenged by a slow return of tourists to New York City . This year’s polling pool is smaller – with nearly 200 fewer voters than in 2019 – and many voters still find themselves unable to fully participate in the ballot.

Why? The rules for voting for Tony, set forth by the Federation of Broadway and American Theater Wings, are becoming increasingly strict: Voters can only vote in categories where they’ve seen all of the nominees. members and their attendance at performances are now tracked through a digital portal. That attendance is self-reported, but may be questioned by production executives.

In addition, all voters this year are required to complete an unconscious bias training program before receiving their ballot.

Many voters contacted for this story said it has been the most difficult year ever, especially for those who do not live in New York, given the complexity of Covid-19 – some voters said. tri considers it impossible to travel at different times during the season, many shows have canceled performances as too many members of the company have been infected, and even as shows are ongoing, there were some unusual nights when Tony’s qualified performers had to take the day off due to illness or injury. As a result, the voting pool, which consists mainly of those involved in the theater as producers, artists and other roles, will most likely focus more on the residents of the area. New York than usual.

“It’s been a tough year for suburban voters,” said actress Ariane Dolan, a Tony voter in Chicago. “The early closings, low tuition, and canceled shows kept me from seeing everything.”

Kendra Whitlock Ingram, president and chief executive officer of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, has had a similar experience. “I can’t see everything due to all the quirks of this season,” she said. “In some cases, I watched the show, but the lead wasn’t there and I couldn’t go back to watch it again.”

For others, traveling to New York just doesn’t feel right when there’s a crisis at home.

Robyn Williams, CEO of Portland’5 Arts Center in Oregon. “There is no bandwidth to think about going to New York and seeing the shows. It is this impossible situation as a voter.”

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