I got a chance to see some of tonight's Tony-nominated shows on a recent trip to New York. Here are some of my impressions. For an extended account of the nine Broadway and Off-Broadway shows I saw, go to www.fresnobeehive.com.
'A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder'
Nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including best musical, this ingenious romp follows a down-on-his-luck Englishman who learns that he's a distant heir to a family fortune. So he does the obvious thing, of course: He plots to bump off all eight of the heirs in front of him.
Directed with comic precision by Darko Tresnjak (a Tony nominee), the show is buoyed by two fiercely good leading performances: Bryce Pinkham as the underhanded conniver; and Jefferson Mays as all eight of the intended victims.
Furiously paced and defiantly silly, the show is hard to imagine without Mays' sputtering, spittle-driven intensity. He's up against Pinkham for a leading actor Tony, and I'm betting he'll get the nod — as well as the show itself for best musical.
This exquisite revival of the musical by Jeanine Tesori shimmers with hope and life. Sutton Foster, nominated for leading actress, plays the title role of a young woman who hopes a distant faith healer can remove a hideous scar she received in a childhood accident. Director Leigh Silverman (a Tony nominee) finds the hardscrabble warmth in the score that this show needs, and the unlikely love triangle that develops between Violet and two of the men she meets on her journey (including Joshua Henry, a Tony nominee) feels true and pure.
Foster gives a subdued and deeply affecting performance. I'm hoping "Violet" pulls off a win as best musical revival, but it will be tough going against the "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" onslaught.
'Bullets Over Broadway'
I wanted to see this musical adaptation of the Woody Allen movie for a couple of reasons: It's staged by acclaimed director/choreographer Susan Stroman; and Visalia's Betsy Wolfe has a featured role. Wolfe is strong in a thankless role and didn't get a Tony nomination, and even Stroman walked away empty handed. (I can see why: I just didn't care much for Zach Braff's hammy performance in the leading role.) But Nick Cordero, nominated for featured actor in a musical, helps pep up the show.
'The Cripple of Inishmaan'
Daniel Radcliffe didn't get an acting nomination for this revival of Martin McDonagh's comic gem, but the show itself is up for an award in the play revival category. Radcliffe is fine in the leading role of Billy, the crippled Irish boy who hopes to land a Hollywood career, but it's the supporting cast that truly shines. Darkly comic and laced with the melancholy beauty of so much Irish drama, the Broadway production includes a sumptuous scenic design by Christopher Oram, who I'm hoping will pick up a Tony.
Jessie Mueller portrays Carole King with the same kind of lyric intensity that Audra McDonald gives in her performance as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." Just hearing her voice change as she portrays her character over the years is entrancing. Mueller is often mentioned as a possible Tony winner, but the competition is fierce in the leading actress-musical category. Deftly staged, the show's robust storyline includes two standout (and Tony nominated) performances: Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector as fellow songwriters with King. Both are terrific.
'The Bridges of Madison County'
I saw this production two days before it closed for good, much to the chagrin of those who love traditional Broadway musical scores. Kelli O'Hara, another strong contender for a leading actress-musical Tony, gives a searing performance, adding an operatic weight to what could have been the pedestrian retelling of a popular movie. My prediction: The Tony voters will reward composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown for best original score — a nod to the show's sumptuous, passionate music.
For a complete list of nominees and more about the awards show, go to www.tonyawards.com