PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 16-22: The Tonys, Now With Sound

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 16-22: The Tonys, Now With Sound For years, Broadway pundits wondered aloud why the Tony Awards honored every form of theatrical design — sets, costumes, lighting — except sound. Even the sound designers themselves complained from time to time.
Stephen Lang stars in Roundabout's production of Beyond Glory.
Stephen Lang stars in Roundabout's production of Beyond Glory. Photo by Joan Marcus

The Tonys typically move slowly with the times, but this year they finally heard this particular plea for justice. Beginning with the 2008 awards, Tonys will be given out for Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical. This means the respected, long-serving sound professionals such as John Gromada and Tony Meola will finally have a shot at theatre's top prize.

The reason it's taken so long for sound designers to get recognition it twofold. First, sound design is a relatively young creative field when compared to other areas of design. Second, there is widespread ignorance as to what these people do. Anyone with eyes can appraise a set, a costume or lighting without too much thought, but sound tends to bleed away into the air, contributing to the theatrical experience in subtler and sneakier ways. It is especially hard to pick out in a musical, where the score is the noise that people zero in on. Sound design can be something as elementary as making sure everything in a productions sounds right, to coming up with a aural concept in keeping with a director's vision for a piece.

Tony voters will have to prick up their ears a little more this coming season. In doing so, maybe they will learn something about this essential piece of the puzzle that is every stage production.

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"The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin will make his return to Broadway this fall with his first play in almost two decades, The Farnsworth Invention. A casting notice lists Dodger Theatricals as the producer of the forthcoming production, to be directed by Des McAnuff. The posting lists Oct. 15 as the tentative date of the first preview performance with a Nov. 18 opening. The Farnsworth Invention concerns the battle for the patent for the invention of the television set. The race pitted a young genius, Philo T. Farnsworth, who came up with the idea as a high school student, against David Sarnoff, the head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The work was seen previously in a La Jolla Playhouse workshop production Feb. 20-March 25. Jimmi Simpson played Farnsworth and Stephen Lang played Sarnoff in the La Jolla production. ***

Speaking of Lang, the seasoned actor got some of the best reviews of his career for Beyond Glory, a one-man show he adapted himself, based on the book of the same name. In it, he portrays eight very different Medal of Honor recipients from three very different American wars (World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War), each telling the story of the battle that won them the decoration. Critics found it moving, unsentimental and gripping.

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Second Stage announced its 2007-08 season this week. Perhaps the most interesting item in the line-up is the New York premiere of Edward Albee's Peter and Jerry, a long-expected work which premiered in 2004 at Hartford Stage. It features two Albee one-acts, one old and one new: Zoo Story is the old work and Homelife, a sort of prequel to Zoo Story, is the fresh effort. Pam MacKinnon, who directed the Hartford engagement, will repeat her work for Manhattan audiences, and the cast is scheduled to include Bill Pullman, Dallas Roberts and Johanna Day.

Also scheduled is a new musical directed by Michael Greif, who received a 2007 Tony nomination for his direction of Grey Gardens. He will stage Next to Normal featuring music by High Fidelity’s Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. The show is about "a suburban family confronting a long-hidden skeleton in the closet."

Also featured is Beau Willimon's political drama Farragut North, which, it has been rumored, will star film actor Jake Gyllenhaal.

In other Second Stage news, the company opened Sarah Ruhl's re-imagining of the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, named Eurydice, this week to a rhapsodic reviews from the New York Times, but mixed notices most other places. Which is pretty much the way things played out with Ruhl's last play, The Clean House.

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Finally, Thommie Walsh, the Tony-winning choreographer who was also a part of the original Broadway cast of A Chorus Line, died June 16 at the age of 57. While little known to the average theatregoer, the Broadway community knew Walsh as the man who often stood alongside Tommy Tune on such shows as A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, Nine and My One and Only. He was Stanley Donen to Tune's Gene Kelly, and, as such, never quite got the recognition he deserved. One imagines, however, that Tune wouldn't have kept him around if he weren't contributing something essential. Theatergoers are safe in thanking him for many evenings of pleasure.

Maria Dizzia and Joseph Parks in Yale Rep's production of Sarah Ruhl's <i>Eurydice</i>.
Maria Dizzia and Joseph Parks in Yale Rep's production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice. Photo by Joan Marcus