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Critic's Notebook

Tony Nominations 2012: Silver lining to a mostly cloudy season

May 01, 2012|By Charles McNulty

Combine that with “Newsies' ” prospects on the road, and the advantage slips ever so slightly in the direction of the adorable dead-end kids, ably directed by Deaf West veteran Jeff Calhoun, who will square off against John Tiffany (“Once”), Kathleen Marshall (“Nice Work If You Can Get It”) and Diane Paulus (“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”) in the best direction of a musical category. 
 
Perhaps the biggest shocker was the absence of a British import in the best play contest.  “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which made it to Broadway after its successful run at the Mark Taper Forum despite the retaliatory withdrawal of a key producer, is the prestige pick along with Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities.”  Rick Elice’s “Peter and the Starcatcher," a Peter Pan prequel told in story theater fashion, was also widely expected to be in the mix.
 
But most insiders assumed that Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” a Benny Hill-ified version of the commedia dell’arte-inspired classic “The Servant of Two Masters,” would nab the fourth slot, even though the producers of this uproarious British farce had petitioned the Tony rule-makers to be considered in the revival category, presumably to give the show a better shot at winning.  The request was not only rejected but David Ives’ “Venus in Fur” was nominated instead, giving patriots a reason to cheer but comedy lovers another reason to gripe that the genre just doesn’t get any respect at awards time.
 
The acting categories are, as usual, the most competitive, with the lead actress in a play contest being the most fierce.  Nina Arianda deservedly became a Broadway star in “Venus in Fur,” but she’s up against Tracie Bennett’s killer tour de force in the Judy Garland bio-drama “End of the Rainbow,” and with the formidable Linda Lavin (“The Lyons”), the deft Stockard Channing (“Other Desert Cities”) and the exquisite Cynthia Nixon (“Wit”) in contention, the category is just crammed with worthy winners. 
  
Southern California theatergoers will hardly feel that the Tonys are strictly a New York affair, what with “Follies,” which many consider to be the shoo-in for best musical revival, starting previews at the Ahmanson later this week, with all of its nominated cast members (Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines and Jayne Houdyshell) on board.  (Des McAnuff’s electrifying reconsideration of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” seen late last year at La Jolla Playhouse, is also competing in the revival category.)
 
Then, of course, there’s “Leap of Faith,” which received only a single nomination, but somewhat miraculously, it’s for the biggest one of them all, best musical. Though spare a thought for the ferociously talented Raúl Esparza, who was passed over for his anchoring performance in the show and must feel that the Tony gods are against him.  His day is coming.
 
Taper subscribers will have a rooting interest not just in “Clybourne Park,” which would get my backing for best play, but also in “Other Desert Cities,” Baitz’s shrewd and often scintillating drama coming to the Taper in the fall.  Any season with plays as textured and tart as these is an encouraging one for American drama.  

Critics are born complainers, and I could go off on the diminishing caliber of musical theater artistry, the reliance on often second-rate borrowed sources and the general lack of bold ingenuity.  But despite this grim reality, there’s still too much to celebrate.
 
Audra McDonald’s performance in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” made me want to convert to whatever religion she’s founding.  Andrew Garfield in “Death of a Salesman” plunged me into such profound emotional depths that only James Corden’s hilarious turn in “One Man, Two Guvnors” could restore my mirth.  Steven Hoggett re-imagined the possibilities of dramatic choreography in “Once.” And Tracie Bennett as Garland redefined the meaning of “wowing ’em.”
 
Sprawled out on her glittery death bed, the fabulous invalid remains as fabulous as ever. 

[For the Record, 1:56 p.m. May 1: An earlier version of this post misspelled Julie Taymor's last name as Taymour and Brooke Shield's first name as Brook.]

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charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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