There was no Avenue Q this year; that is to say, no show that went all out in clever stunts and audacious effrontery to capture the hearts and votes of the Tony voters. I guess not having puppets to work with makes it difficult to carry off brazen politicking without looking crass and manipulative.
As expected, the talk of this year's race has been the relative strength of each of the four musical contenders. Few prognosticators have exhibited complete confidence while issuing their predictions. While there appear to be leaders in the categories of Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, no one seems to be a shoo-in. So upsets in these categories will surprise no one on Sunday night.
Another interesting aspect to the race: for the first time in memory, the show to emerge with the most Tonys at the end of the night may actually be a play! Most years, this is an impossibility, simply because musicals are up for more prizes that straight plays are. But if the Tonys are distributed fairly evenly among the quartet of tuners, as many think they will be, John Patrick Shanley's Doubt could emerge as the top Tony-netter. That acclaimed drama is seen as a near natural in at least five categories (Best Play, Best Director of a Play, Best Leading Actress in a Play, Best Leading Actor in a Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play).
Playwrights Horizons announced three more shows for its 2005-06 line-up, including one which is sure to be one of the most interesting offerings of the coming season. That is Grey Gardens: A New Musical, by librettist Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie. Wright wrote I Am My Own Wife, about the life of German transvestite and Nazi- and Communist-era survivor Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. The subject of Grey Gardens is no less unusual or odd. It is inspired by the 1976 film "Grey Gardens," directed by David and Albert Maysles. The unsettling documentary investigated the bizarre existences of two Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis relations, the dissipated Edith Bouvier Beale (age 79) and her daughter Edie (age 57), as they passed their days in a decaying 28-room East Hampton home. Michael Greif will direct Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson as the daughter and mother. Playwrights Horizons also confirmed that Mia Farrow will star in the New York premiere of Fran's Bed, written and directed by James Lapine. Also scheduled are the March 2006 world premiere of David Marshall Grant's Pen, directed by Will Frears and starring J. Smith Cameron, plus the world premiere of Sarah Schulman's Manic Flight Reaction directed by Trip Cullman.
The Broadway bound musical version of Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Mambo Kings, opened its California tryout on May 31. Generally speaking, reviewers applauded the energetic dancing and club sequences and bemoaned the sentimental and earthbound plot. The show—starring "NYPD Blue" star Esai Morales and Mexican-born actor-singer Jamie Camil as the title brothers, with "Six Feet Under" actress Justina Machado as Dolores' sister Ana Maria, David Alan Grier as nightclub impresario Fernando Perez, Grammy Award winning Cuban music star Albita as singer Evalina Montoya, Dennis Staroselsky as Bernadito, Cote de Pablo as Nestor's wife Dolores and Christiane Noll as Miss Mambo, Vanna Vane—is set to begin previews on Broadway July 18.
Finally, in an act that can be interpreted either as a misguided olive branch, or a piece of unprecedented hubris, Sprint has offered theatre fans customized cell phone rings featuring actual song clips of past (Hair, Ragtime, Titanic) and present (The Producers, Chicago) Broadway musicals. Cell phones...say, aren't those the things that regularly go off during performances, destroying the actors' concentration and the audience's enjoyment? Aren't they basically the worst thing to happen to live theatre since the creation of cellophane (as in candy wrappers)? So now, not only will theatregoers be yanked out experiencing the story being enacted on stage by a trilling mechanical ring, they'll also be forced to suddenly think of another show entirely, one they don't happen to be watching at that moment. The press release from Sprint included a quote from League of American Theatres and Producers President Jed Bernstein, saying "Broadway ringers offer fans a totally new way to enjoy show tunes from their favorite productions." Me? I was always fine with enjoying those songs the old way: hearing them sung by living performers standing a few feet away from me.