Basketball fans eyeing the finals have nothing on theatre aficionados—and the stakes are just as high now that Tony season is upon us. And while you might think landing a shiny statuette is the carrot that entices big name players to Broadway each season, this just isn’t the case.
They come because they love the stage, especially the New York stage, where they can perform for an eclectic, global audience. Certainly it’s not the money that draws them: theatre paychecks are chump change compared to the ones superstars get from TV and films—the latter floating their theatre stints. Rather, it’s the opportunity to work with noted stage directors, actors, designers, orchestras…but mostly it’s the connection with theatregoers: the adrenaline rush that comes from your applause, your laughter, your very electricity.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who once said “In a perfect world, I would love to do one play for every three movies,” exemplified this when he signed on for the limited run (2/11-4/23) revival of Sunday in the Park With George earlier this season. The show, which would prove itself a critical and audience success, eliminated itself as a Tony contender before it launched previews when producers announced: “…this extremely limited, special run…stands most appropriately outside of any awards competition.”
Overall, crossover star power is a proving a major factor this season with Tony, Oscar and Emmy winners skating across New York’s theatrical rink, both On- and Off-Broadway in a cavalcade of musical and play revivals.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes
There’s Glenn Close, the first to set up camp (in every sense of the word) when she returned to the Broadway stage last February as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and, more recently, Bette Midler as Dolly Levy in the predestined blockbuster Hello, Dolly! costarring Tony and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce, who (even though he runs the risk of being buried under Midler’s flounce, feathers, and vocal chords) manages to bring his own brand of theatrical bravura to the Shubert stage.
Meanwhile, Oscar and Tony winner Kevin Kline is delivering one of the season’s great comedic pleasures in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, playing an aging 1930’s actor/bon vivant whose off-stage life is as profoundly overwrought as any on-stage plot.
Elsewhere on the Great White Way, Oscar winner Sally Field and Tony winner Joe Mantello are redefining Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie under Sam Gold’s stunningly unorthodox direction; Allison Janney (The West Wing; Mom) is starring in John Guare’s tantalizing Six Degrees of Separation; while Emmy-winners Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and Laura Linney (The Big C) are tag-teaming the female leads in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.
As you may have guessed, celebrity magnetism has plenty of Off-Broadway pull as well with Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei teaming up with Tony winner Lena Hall for a dizzying ride in Sarah Ruhl’s How to Transcend a Happy Marriage at Lincoln Center Theater; Tamara Tunie (Law & Order: SVU) and James Badge Dale (13 Hours) costarring in Pulitzer and Tony winner Robert Schenkkan’s (All The Way) Building the Wall at New World Stages; and a new take on Gogol’s The Government Inspector starring Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame beginning performances at the Duke on 42nd Street starting 5/16.
THE TONY AWARDS, 2017
Mark your calendars, everyone: the 71st Tony Awards broadcast will take place Sunday, June 11th from 8pm to 11pm, EST. As for the ceremony itself, unlike last year when it was uprooted from its traditional Rockefeller Center digs and relocated to uptown’s far smaller Beacon Theatre, this year it will be unrolling the red carpet where it belongs: Radio City Music Hall. As Shakespeare would say, “Huzzah!”
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Around this time in my annual pre-Tony column I list my Tony winner predictions. However, at this writing I’ve yet to see several of this year’s contenders, so rather than go out on an unfounded limb, I will simply urge you to keep you eyes on Ben Platt, the young star of Dear Evan Hansen, the Divine Miss M/Ms. Midler (who we’ll get to see on the Tonys even if tickets are out of our reach), and Come From Away, a phenomenal new musical with no big stars, just humongous heart.
On a final note, I’d like to remind anyone looking for a bona fide Tony-winning musical, several are currently up and running: The Book of Mormon (2011), Chicago (revival, 1997), Hamilton (2016), Kinky Boots (2013), The Lion King (1998) and The Phantom of the Opera (1988). And you can add to this a couple of first-time Broadway/Andrew Lloyd Webber revivals that picked up Best Musical Tonys when they debuted: Cats (1983) and Sunset Boulevard (1995).