Jake, you were robbed!
I know, I know, this doesn’t rise to the level of war crime. It’s simply another of those entertainment-world injustices, perpetrated like clockwork at awards-show time. In this case, the offender is the Tony Awards, which airs June 7, and the victim is Jake Gyllenhaal, denied a best-actor nomination for his sterling turn on Broadway this past winter in the terrific British play “Constellations.”
That his co-star, Ruth Wilson, was recognized with a best-actress nod for her equivalent contribution in this adroit two-hander makes the omission all the more silly and glaring. Though I’ll concede this outcome probably kept only Gyllenhaal himself awake at night.
Okay, maybe for, like, one night.
The point is, we who watch and cover these events can, sometimes, develop mighty strong feelings about the awards and the shows that dole them out. (I’ll lay all my cards on the table and declare that Bradley Cooper, star of the season’s overpraised revival of “The Elephant Man,” basically elbowed Gyllenhaal out of his rightful spot.)
Those feelings extend to a wide array of very serious issues concerning Broadway’s night of nights, in which awards are bestowed in 24 categories, to some of the three dozen or so productions that opened during the 2014-15 season. So, at the risk of seeming far more worried than is healthy about the distribution of trophies to highly successful people who routinely subject themselves to thunderous applause, I’d like to present my personal wish list for the best possible evening the 69th Tony Awards could be:
1. That Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming are musical theater’s answer to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Bravo on this score to CBS and the show’s producers, for turning to a pair of talents with verve, charm and real Broadway roots to host the ceremony. Cumming made his mark as the Emcee in the 1998 Broadway revival of “Cabaret”; a year later, Chenoweth broke through as Sally in a revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” To theater fans, their subsequent television careers are beside the point. I’m counting on them to tone down the showbiz snark and lead with their love of the stage.
2. That Anna Wintour doesn’t spoil everything. After a crescendo of complaints about the Tonys’ high percentage of red-carpet washouts, the editor-in-chief of Vogue is reported this year to have volunteered to glam up certain Tony evening stars. My wife is all in favor, but I’ve got reservations. Broadway shouldn’t look like it’s a decade behind the fashion times. But do we really want the Tonys to go further down the vapid Oscars route, where the pre-show question “Who are you wearing?” has nothing to do with the work?
3. That “Fun Home” wins best musical. As discovered by the producers of last year’s winner, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — a lackluster earner before the award — the Tony for best musical is the show’s one true rainmaker. I won’t be unhappy if director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris” wins, but the main prize deservedly belongs to Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s “Fun Home,” a blazingly original tale about painful family secrets. It’s the more challenging piece and as a result the one that can make better use of the accolade’s marketing boost. (If, on the other hand, the victory goes to the inferior musical parody “Something Rotten!” someone will have to award me a cold compress.)
4. That they let Tommy Tune’s legs do the talking. Tune is receiving a special Tony for lifetime achievement; the whispers are that he might get it before the televised part of the show, and therefore his acceptance speech won’t be broadcast. I’m with the New York Post’s Michael Riedel on this one: The shower of audience approval he’ll be bathed in at Radio City will be worth the air time. And how about allowing him to add a little crowd-pleasing soft shoe?
5. That the sound design awards are restored. It’s bad enough that the broadcast devotes almost no time to the design awards (lighting, sets, costumes), but the decision by the Tonys’ governing committee last year to eliminate the statuettes for sound design of a play and musical was bizarrely shortsighted. Admittedly, sound design gets too little attention in reviews. But shouldn’t the industry be encouraging wider understanding of this crucial production element? (And who, by the way, do you think has their finger on the podium mike’s mute button?)
6. That Kelli O’Hara isn’t Lucci-fied. For goodness sake, give O’Hara the Tony. She’s 0 for 5 (previous losses for “The Light in the Piazza,” “The Pajama Game,” “South Pacific,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “The Bridges of Madison County”). To cite her as best actress in a musical would be no mere act of compassion, either: She’s truly outstanding as Anna Leonowens in the Lincoln Center Theater’s superb new revival of “The King and I.”
7. That they reserve a slot in the “In Memoriam” segment for “The power of theater critics.” Just kidding. Sort of.
8. That in showcasing the best-play nominees, they don’t make them feel like a homework assignment. Excerpting a scene has been shown to be a less than optimal way to reveal to a TV audience the essence of a play. What else might work? A short, smart film about each nominee, explaining its specialness? If the Tonys are a three-hour commercial for Broadway, at least make each promotional segment slickly effective.
9. That Alex Sharp wins for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” He’s up against some far better-known actors (Cooper; the terrific Bill Nighy in “Skylight”). But Sharp gives one of the most memorable performances of the season as the leading man in “Curious Incident.” The actor, in his mid-20s, is uncannily convincing as 15-year-old Christopher Boone, a teenager on the autism spectrum compelled to cope with the disturbances in his brain and his home.
10. And, finally, that the show’s ratings surpass Super Bowl XLIX’s. (Didn’t I tell you this was a wish list?)