Posted in A Gentleman's Guide Audra McDonald, Bryan Cranston, Bryce Pinkham, Carole King, Hugh Jackman, Idina Menzel, Jefferson Mays, Jessie Mueller, Kelli O'Hara, Neil Patrick Harris, The Tony Awards, Tyne Daly

Give yourself a BEST for a great Tony Ceremony

(L-R) Jefferson Mays as Henry D’Ysquith, Jennifer Smith, and Bryce Pinkham as Monty Navarro in a scene from 2014’s Tony winning Best Musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theater.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The 2014 Tony Awards show walks away with a BIG Best! Imaginative, creative, entertaining–this was a Tony telecast that reflects the best of the theater it is honoring.

The June 8th broadcast of the 68th Tony Award presentation showcased future Broadway, and shows not in contention like “Cabaret” and a song from the 10th anniversary of “Wicked.”

Hugh Jackman’s skills and charm were so effervescently on display at the ceremonies. He sings, he dances, he patters, he flirts, he raps, Hugh Jackman is really a superhero. We are grateful that while he kicks butt as Wolverine, his heart belongs to Broadway, and on June 8th, he gave it full-out.

The deserving Jessie Mueller won as Best Actress in a musical for her portrayal of Carole King in “Beuatiful…” and had a chance to sing with King at the Tonys! I did not see this award coming, not because Jessie Mueller is not terrific, but because I was self-bamboozled into believing that “If/Then” would not be left out to dry. My prediction for a win for Idina Menzel did not come to pass, and I was also wrong about “Act One” getting the Best Play win.

“If/Then,” despite Menzel’s fans, will probably not survive their complete lack of Tony cred. “Act One” has announced it’s final week closing on June 15th, despite the set designer Beowulf Boritt’s 2014 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Play.

During the broadcast, “Bullets Over Broadway,” which also had no wins, and was not nominated in the Best Musical category, and “Rocky” (ditto) each had their shining moments showing off their best stuff on the big Radio City Music Hall stage. “If/Then” depended on a solo from Idina Menzel to pitch their show, and I’m afraid that wasn’t compelling enough to give it the oomph it needs to keep on chugging on the Great White Way, though they are still selling through October 12th.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”— no surprise there with 10 nominations– got the big prize: It is officially the Best Musical of 2014 with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” getting Best for Revival of a Musical.
Neil Patrick Harris, amazing as always, won as Best Actor in a Musical.

Also unsurprising was Bryan Cranston’s win for Best Actor in a Play for his performance as LBJ in Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way,” which edged out the aforementioned “Act One” as Best Play of 2014.

Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” still has not won a Tony, and the Best Play Revival went to “A Raisin in the Sun.” Sophie Okonedo, playing Ruth Younger in the revival, won as Best Featured Actress in a play, an award that Audra McDonald got in the 2004 revival.  McDonald won her 6th Tony on June 8th for embodying Billie Holliday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” 

Posted in Bryan Cranston, George Wallace, JFK assassination, lady bird johnson, LBJ, lyndon baines johnson, politically inspired, politics

"All The Way" with LBJ: A Year in the Life

Is the fascination we have with politics and politicians all about power and those who wield it?

Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way,” at the Neil Simon Theatre through June 29th, looks at one critical year in the life of one of  the great political practitioners.

Bryan Cranston and Betsy Aidem. Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Lyndon Baines Johnson (Bryan Cranston) was one of the great negotiators in our country’s presidential history.  You know the famously effective politician whose arm twisting got legislation passed, but the author posits an LBJ who may have been a better man than his reputation suggests.  Lady Bird Johnson (Betsy Aidem) has a particularly poignant take on LBJ the man in one scene, making it clear that the man was the politician.

Robert Petkoff, Bryan Cranston.
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

LBJ took office in November 1963 as “an accidental President” after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He had just one year to establish his presidency and launch the campaign for the 1964 elections. That year hinged on LBJ’s role in the struggle for civil rights. He was left to polish his predecessor’s legacy, and create his own. The pressures he faced during that year are history, and as told by Schenkkan it is a compelling and dramatic story.

Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden  and
Richard Poe in the back.
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

There were the rightfully disgruntled factions in the Negro caucus. He also had to deal with the recalcitrant segments of his own party’s Dixiecrats, most prominently represented  by LBJ’s mentor, “Uncle” Dick Russell (John McMartin), the Senator from Georgia. Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff) of  Michigan was the Senator most sympathetic to the cause of equality for all Americans.

Among the groups of black leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden) is the acknowledged head. He lobbied the President, often through Humphrey, for the assorted black organizations, which included Stokely Carmichael’s (William Jackson Harper) radical SNCC and the much tamer NAACP lead by Roy Wilkins (Peter Jay Fernandez).  LBJ not only supported civil rights, but was instrumental in passing legislation to insure that fairness and equality were the law of the land.

Rob Campbell, Susannah Schulman on the desk. On left on floor:
James Eckhouse and on right on floor: Christopher Gurr
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

The sets in “All The Way” often depend on projections to identify the locale of a scene. Credit Christopher Acebo for the simple multi-functional scenic design and Jane Cox for the lighting.

The acting, with Bryan Cranston embodying LBJ in an astonishing performance, and Brandon J. Dirden embodying MLK down to the cadences of his speech, is universally excellent. Under Bill Rauch’s well-paced directing, the nearly three hours of politics and power go by in a flash; there is not a wasted minute.

Among other standouts in the outstanding cast are William Jackson Harper, Rob Campbell as Governor George Wallace (and others), and Eric Lenox Abrams as Bob Moses (and others.) Michael McKean is a wry and formidable J. Edgar Hoover.

To find out more about “All The Way,” please visit http://allthewaybroadway.com/