at the theatre: and the winner is ….

Tonight’s Tony Awards are a bit of a no-brainer: prepare for a Book of Mormon landslide. Yet while the Tony’s are always worth taping, this year it looks like they might actually be worth watching live due to the number of races that remain, well, races. First off, let’s get the obvious out-of-the-way. In addition to taking the top honor, Mormon will also claim prizes for Book, Direction and Score, despite the sentimental tilt toward Kander & Ebb’s last-ever score for The Scottsboro Boys. If two of those featured boys – Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon – cancel each other out and the Tony voters forget about the talented Laura Benanti and Patti Lupone from the long-shuttered and poorly-received Women on The Verge of Nervous Breakdown, expect Mormon to also cop Featured Actor and Actress trophies for both Rory O’Malley and Nikki M. James.  Unfortunately that show’s leads will suffer from what benefits their co-stars, leaving Priscilla‘s Tony Sheldon to deservedly squeak through to Best Actor glory – as well as putting a remarkable exclamation point on this season’s theatrical equivalent of Seabiscuit. Casey Nicholaw’s Mormon choreography is beyond clever but I think voters will give the award to Kathleen Marshall for the classic razzmatazz of Anything Goes, which will also win for Best Musical Revival. For her star turn in the same show, Sutton Foster will be adding a bookend to her earlier Best Actress win for Thoroughly Modern Millie.  In the play department all signs point to War Horse by a nose, despite the fact that it’s a stunning production of a pretty terrible script.  History shall prove out Jez Butterworth’s masterful Jerusalem – and you can expect Mark Rylance to say a few words to that effect when he picks up his second Tony for Best Actor in play.  Welcome to the Tony club, Frances McDormand, unless the still-running Born Yesterday somehow manages to turn the tide toward Nina Arianda’s widely praised turn. In the strongest group of the year, Featured Actress, my money is on The Normal Heart‘s Ellen Barkin to best Edie Falco, Judith Light, Joanna Lumley, and Elizabeth Rodriguez – deserving winners all.  And while there’s a lot of buzz for Heart‘s John Benjamin Hickey, Yul Vazquez is without peer in The Motherfu**er With The Hat – and it’s practically that play’s only chance to score a deserved award. Plus, Heart has a lock on Best Play Revival. That leaves us with the design awards – all of which will be handed out before tonight’s broadcast to make room for such essential viewing as Memphis, last year’s quote unquote Best Musical. Yawn. Perhaps TiVo is the way to go tonight after all.

 

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final down: lombardi

Few stories get the heart thumping like a tale of sporting guts ‘n’ glory and for sheer up-from-the-bootstraps brio it’s hard to best Vince Lombardi’s rags to riches triumph with the Green Bay Packers. When the play Lombardi announced it would be closing after a Broadway run of almost eight months at Circle in the Square, I felt a need to give it it’s due. In a season ripe with new American plays – and a fair share of well-regarded imports – this one somehow got unfairly lost in the shuffle. Drawn from the best-selling biography “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” by David Maraniss, the play shifts back and forth in time over the course of a week in 1965 — five years before Lombardi’s death from colon cancer. Dan Lauria – an eerie stand-in for Lombardi – doesn’t narrate the 90-minute play but he does address the audience as if we are in the locker-room with him. Which means off the bat we’re revved up and inspired by the passionate son of Brooklyn -  not to mention man-crushing enough to secretly harbour thoughts of what it must be like to score the winning touchdown. As Lombardi’s understanding yet conflicted wife, Marie, the estimable Judith Light is superb. She doesn’t so much accept her second-fiddle fate as slowly drink it in, one highball after another. Keith Nobbs has the thankless job of playing the reporter from Look magazine who has come to stay with the Lombardis. He’s the machinery as it were; the entry point for the audience to see Lombardi, the man. Therein lies the trouble: we start the evening as members of Vince’s precious Packers, both supplicants and gods of the stadium. When the play shifts to Vince’s home life it’s a bit of a dramaturgical come down. (Especially in the context of Lombardi, the myth: revered football coach who won the first two Super Bowls alongside an unprecedented sweep of championships in five out of seven seasons.) And yet like any good biopic, it still makes for compulsive watching despite this imbalance.  This is due in no small part to Lauria’s almost Rabelaisian characterization. Lombardi may indulge in a little theatrical hagiography, yet that doesn’t make its successes any less enjoyable. After all, it ultimately has little to do with football and everything to do with summoning the best when you’ve got nothing left to give.

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