Common De-Nominators: Picking the Tony Partners

Tony Awards   Common De-Nominators: Picking the Tony Partners While producers look for ways to use the Tony nominations to their own advantage, and theatre gossips and professional sourpusses think of the zillion ways the Tony nominators' choices are shocking, inadequate, incomprehensible and so forth, it's also fun to have a look at the categories' nominees and see what similarities or patterns emerge, even if they're utterly coincidental.

While producers look for ways to use the Tony nominations to their own advantage, and theatre gossips and professional sourpusses think of the zillion ways the Tony nominators' choices are shocking, inadequate, incomprehensible and so forth, it's also fun to have a look at the categories' nominees and see what similarities or patterns emerge, even if they're utterly coincidental.

For example, one could say the four Best Play nominees all center on collisions, especially the past colliding with the present. Michael Frayn's Copenhagen takes that literally, examining, in scientific terms, the way quantum mechanics nearly developed into atomic weaponry during the Second World War. On a metaphorical level, the play tells of the fateful collision between Niels Bohr and his grown student, Werner Heisenberg, during the latter's visit to occupied Denmark in 1941. On a metaphysical level, Bohr, his wife and Heisenberg, in trying to understand the past, circle each other, collide and bounce away much in the manner electrons and other microscopic particles do. Of course, it was Bohr's quantum theories colliding with Heisenberg's uncertainty principles that got the nuclear ball rolling in the first place. Another colliding trio can be found in Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, wherein protagonist Lyman Felt's car smashes into a tree, leading Lyman into a full-blown marital spat -- with both of his wives. In Dirty Blonde, Charlie's attempt at starting a romantic relationship with Jo hits one serious road block: he likes to dress up like Mae West. (As such, Jo's belief in what should constitutes a "normal" heterosexual relationship collides with her ability to accept Charlie's cross-dressing.) And the feuding brothers in True West are so full of collisions, their house is a wreck by the time the show's over.

The four Best Musical nominees all have a happier item in common: all feature extended sequences of people coming together for food, drink, music, partying and dancing. The second sequence of Contact takes place in a restaurant, where, in Karen Ziemba's dream sequence, a dizzying ballet occurs with her as the heroine. Contact's third sequence finds Boyd Gaines drawn to a pool hall-cum-dance club, wherein he, and every other guy in the joint (and, need I add, the audience), aches to shake a leg with the Girl in the Yellow Dress. James Joyce's The Dead features much cavorting around the family Christmas dinner, while The Wild Party is, well, a wild party. Had Saturday Night Fever been nominated, it too would have fit the theme.

The Best Play Revival nominees all feature male characters aghast at finding their day-to-day lives swamped by mediocrity. Henry, in The Real Thing, has a lot better luck putting dazzle into his plays than into his marriage -- and even in drama, he wonders if words are adequate at conveying all he really wants to say. That said, Henry has it better than the other guys in this category. The policeman in The Price discovers that his financial sacrifice on behalf of his aging father, though morally laudable, was actually pointless and unnecessary. He's thrown away chances at a better career, and now it's too late to change his path. In A Moon for the Misbegotten, James Tyrone has looks, wit and charm, but he'll never forgive himself for his weaknesses and will eventually drown himself in drink. In Amadeus, Antonio Salieri literally calls himself, "the patron saint of mediocrity," having lived long enough to see his fame overshadowed by that of the composer he helped destroy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In the category, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, the female characters are generally forced to the background by the men they love. In Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Theo has proved an attractive, loving and strong wife to Lyman; he's rewarded her loyalty and endurance by marrying a younger woman. Uncle Vanya's Sonya, played by Amy Ryan, is doomed to a lonely, miserable life when she discovers that the doctor she pines for doesn't love her. In Copenhagen, Blair Brown's Margrethe Bohr is treated with respect by the two physicists, but she's really just a sounding board for their arguments, a reason for them to keep their theoretical argument on a level she (and the audience) can grasp. In the first scene of The Real Thing, Charlotte (Sarah Woodward) looks like she's cheating on her husband, but author Tom Stoppard turns the tables, and we discover that the first scene is just a sequence from a play, and in real life, Charlotte's husband is cheating on her. (Okay, so Helen Stenborg's loopily senile character in Waiting in the Wings doesn't fit the theme, but she does nearly burn the senior home down. Does that count as an old flame?.) As far as Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical nominees, "acting" is the key word here. Four of the five nominees play characters who, at one point or another, have to "act" or perform for others. Craig Bierko, as The Music Man's Harold Hill, is a con-man who's always "on," plus he has to present the marching band he's pieced together from the town's talentless schoolchildren. In The Wild Party, Burrs (Mandy Patinkin) is a psycho vaudeville clown who dons blackface for his songs. And Gabriel Conroy (the Christopher Walken character) in James Joyce's The Dead not only has to sing Irish songs but must read a speech at the annual Christmas dinner. George Hearn, in Putting It Together, doesn't really fit the criteria -- though his character does put on kind of a peacock act for Ruthe Henshall -- but Kiss Me, Kate nominee Brian Stokes Mitchell makes up for it by playing an actor playing a role: his Fred, a hammy thespian, is stuck playing Petruchio in a bus n' truck Taming of the Shrew..

Leading Actress in a Musical nominees all have marriage to the wrong guy (or at least the most socially difficult one) to cope with. Toni Collette's Queenie, in The Wild Party, has married a bitter, violent, sociopathic clown. Jayne Atkinson's Lizzie nearly runs off with the con artist Rainmaker, but she settles down with steady, phlegmatic File. Going against the wishes of her father, her groom's father, and the entire ruling class of Egypt, Heather Headley's Aida gets married for all eternity to Captain Radames. (Of course, the honeymoon is spent suffocating to death in a tomb, but hey, they're newlyweds, they hardly notice.) Audra McDonald's Marie Christine marries a conniving smooth talker, only to have him throw her over for a more politically expedient -- and white -- wife. In Kiss Me, Kate, Marin Mazzie's Lilli was once married to egotistical actor Fred, and having gotten out of that mistake, ends up nearly hitched to a foolish old military man, Harrison Howell.

Other candidates for the similarity sweepstakes? Well, three of the four Best Musical Revival nominees (Kiss Me, Kate, The Music Man, Jesus Christ Superstar) feature women who are seriously at sea in their relationships with men: Lilli and Fred (aka Kate and Petruchio), Marian and Harold Hill; and Mary and Jesus (she doesn't know how to love him...). Perhaps they all need intimacy lessons from the dancers in the fourth nominee, Tango Argentino.

-- By David Lefkowitz