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Too Ambitious For Tonys?

Deadline's chief theater columnist Jeremy Gerard discusses why he believes 'If/Then' was overlooked by Tony nominators.

GerardColumn_badgeUPDATE: On the subject of Violet as revival (see below). If/Then should have received a Tony nomination for Best Musical. Sure, it’s thankless to parse the politics, prejudices and caprice of the process by which Broadway shows are deemed eligible by the Tony Administration Committee (Violet Idina-Menzel-in-If-Then-photo-by-Joan-Marcus-0299r__140523175200-275x183is a revival?) and then competitors by the Nominating Committee. And I run the risk of looking like a booster by emphasizing one major omission over others, but the truth is, I have no dog in this hunt other than -– OK, I’ll say it -– an ethical one. The Nominators went out of their way to snub the Broadway season’s most original new show, rubbing salt in the wound by leaving blank a slot in the Best Musical category. So the score (by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey) and star (Idina Menzel) of If/Then were deemed nomination-worthy, but not the show itself. Wait, what?

First, a word about Violet. I’ve pointed out a couple of times that its nomination for best musical revival strikes me as odd, if not punitive, and a number of readers have called me wrong (and worse) on this point. If Violet was eligible in the Best Musical category, they say, then Hedwig And The Angry Inch should have been eligible as well, since both shows previously ran off-Broadway. True fact, uneasy logic. Hedwig opened off-Broadway in February, 1998 and ran for 857 performances before closing more than two years later. It was a huge hit. Violet, by comparison, opened at Playwrights Horizons in March, 1997 and closed three weeks later. It’s not a classic and, to all intents and purposes, it’s essentially new to New York. I’d have argued to bend the rules, and damn the complainers. It would hardly have been the first time the Tony rules were jiggered to accommodate the peculiarities of a season.

I caught up with If/Then this week and personally, I think there should have been separate nominations for Idina Menzel and her mouth, the most arrestingly expressive lips this side of Sandra Bernhardt. That aside, I didn’t love the show, for reasons well-rehearsed elsewhere, mostly having to do with its confusing dual storyline. But guess what? Tell me the plot of The Magic Flute or Arcadia in 50 words or less and you get the Cracker Jack prize. Confusing is hardly the worst offense in art.

And more than any of the nominees, If/Then is actually about something: how we — and especially how smart urban women — live and survive today. Seeing it with theatergoers who were at least as moved as they were confused, I thought, Damn, the voters should be deciding the fate of this show, not the nominators, who performed the strange contortion of calling the exceedingly entertaining After Midnight a Broadway musical (well, it’s on Broadway and it has music). Apparently, the nominators were boxed in by rules that prevent them from discussing choices. Well, there were 33 of them casting votes, several of whom are longtime friends and colleagues. Rules are made for challenging, if not breaking. I say line ’em all up and cast ’em in Ken Davenport’s highly anticipated Broadway revival of Metro. That’s a joke. A joke.

bogosian2Maybe you know Eric Bogosian as Capt. Danny Ross from Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Maybe, if you’re a grown-up, you know him as the writer and voice of so many wrecked and ruined Americans from such solo shows as Drinking In America and Pounding Nails In The Floor With My Forehead. Well, check out 100monologues.com for a master class in Bogosiana as delivered by a dazzling array of talent, including Dylan Baker, Michael Shannon, Jessica Hecht and Sam Rockwell. Culling — and and sometimes cobbling — a hundred soliloquies from his oeuvre, Bogosian and his son Travis began filming these outstanding actors and the results are, as I said, a master class in American acting of the moment. Start with Shannon (Revolutionary Road, etc.) performing the six-minute Godhead from Drinking In America. This junkie’s rambling rumination, shot in shadow with zero special effects, is haunting: “I got love and I got blood. That’s all you need.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 1.56.03 PMThe monologues have been published by Theater Communications Group, and the Bogosians are posting a new one each week until all 100 are out. Coming up soon are Josh Charles and Dallas Roberts (both of The Good Wife). Returning to the texts, “I saw that I wrote about drugs and sex a lot,” Bogosian told me, perhaps understating. “More than I thought. But they’re variable, and there’s a lot of playfulness in them,” he added of the chosen pieces. And they reflect an impression that has stayed with him from his start as a man of soul-excavating words more than three decades ago: “I found the streets of New York to be mesmerizing.” That’s terrifically evident in these powerful testimonies.

Opera loves a juicy off-stage squall, and the latest comes from the UK, where critics are under attack for taking exception to the casting of Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught as Octavian in the Glyndebourne production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. The reviewers (predominantly men) liked what they heard but not what they saw, throwing such words as “dumpy” and “fat” into their notices. Since opera frequently features plus-size women and men in minus-size roles, the attacks struck many (me, for example) as off-point, not to say gratuitously cruel. Manuela Hoelterhoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic and my boss for many years at Bloomberg News, doesn’t agree.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 1.59.42 PM“There are certain roles where androgyny is required, especially if you can’t act,” Hoelterhoff emailed me. “The role of Octavian has a long tradition going back to the original mezzo and I have never seen a fat Octavian. Truly, the p.c. people who keep blathering about how opera is only about singing need a reality check.” Read a compelling response to the attacks here.