Friday Briefing: Who should be winning Oliviers, and what happens to the Tonys?
This Sunday, the Olivier Awards should have been presented at the Royal Albert Hall, but of course, the ceremony's cancellation was one of the early casualties of the West End theatre shutdown that was implemented on March 16. SOLT, who run the awards, took a fast decision to cancel it the very next day.
The ITV broadcast slot, which was to have run highlights of the ceremony on the night of the awards themselves, is now going to be taken by a programme that revisits the last decade of the Oliviers, that will be hosted by Jason Manford (who was also due to host this year's ceremony), that will go out at 10.15pm. And Magic Radio, who were due to broadcast the ceremony live, will offer its own 2-hour celebration of the Oliviers on the same night, from 6pm.
There's still no announcement of when the winners will be revealed, but the nominations were announced on 3rd March. I previously offered my own predictions of what those nominations might be, in six major categories.
Today I'm going to cast my net again over those same categories and try to guess who the likely winners will be (and who I think they should be, which is not always the same thing). I should add how bittersweet it is to contemplate this; while some nominated shows had already long closed, others have had their runs abbreviated, and may never re-open. Some shows, too, that were previously announced for transfers may have those jeopardised now. So the awards which may have bolstered business are now likely to be only a validation for past effort. But maybe, when this is all over, an attempt might be made to bring the winners back.
Best new play
Should win: The Doctor (Almeida)
Will win: Leopoldstadt (Wyndham's
Robert Icke's The Doctor, originally seen at the Almeida last summer, was due to transfer to the Duke of York's from 20th April; that date is definitely not going to be met now that ATG has today extended the shutdown of their venues to 31st May. Given that it was due to run to 11th July only in any case, it may not be economically viable for the producers to run it for such a short time even if the theatres do reopen in June. It would be helpful it won the Olivier, though, so that a transfer could happen in the future.
Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt, which was enjoying a successful run at Wyndham's at the time the theatres shut down, has sadly had its run curtailed. Delfont Mackintosh have now extended the shutdown o their venues to 26th April; Leopoldstadt is currently booking to 13th June, so it could potentially re-open. An Olivier win for what Tom Stoppard has said is likely to be his final play would be a lovely reward and a last chance to honour him.
Best new musical
Should win: Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward)
Will win: & Juliet (Shaftesbury)
Two of the nominees in this category have already closed -
Amélie The Musical had ended its limited run at The Other Palace on February, while Waitress - which was due to end its West End run on 4th July - has already revealed that its last performance was on 14th March, after its temporary stars Katharine McPhee and Gavin Creel curtailed their contracts so they could return home, and turned out to be the last night across the West End anyway as performances never took place on March 16.
Dear Evan Hansen is definitely the most accomplished of the nominees, but & Juliet is an underdog that could sweep the awards -- it already topped the number of nominations of any show, receiving nine, so that groundswell could propel it to the top.
Should win: All four nominees - Toby Jones for Uncle Vanya (Harold Pinter Theatre), James McAvoy for Cyrano de Bergerac (Playhouse); Wendell Pierce for Death of a Salesman (Young Vic/Piccadilly); Andrew Scott for Present Laughter (Old Vic).
Will win: This is an impossible category, as all four nominees were brilliant and each deserve the award. But I suspect the award may go to Wendell Pierce.
Should win: Sharon D. Clarke for Death of a Salesman
Will win: Sharon D. Clarke
Another tight category with nominees that are all deserving. If this was a publicly voted ceremony, it would undoubtedly be won by Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag, which she brought to Wyndham's for a short sold-out summer run, but is best known for its subsequent television incarnation, so people would vote on their knowledge of that.
But Sharon D Clarke absolutely deserves it for Death of a Salesman, that she did after her equally sensational performance in Caroline, or Change at the Playhouse. She should be reprising that latter performance on Broadway right now; but that run has been postponed owing to the theatre shutdown there. Roundabout Theatre Company, who are producing the transfer to Studio 54, have already announced that they're moving it to the autumn season. In a statement, Todd Haimes, artistic director of Roundabout, said: "Moving planned productions to dates certain in the fall protects the health and safety of everyone while ensuring employment for our staff and artists, creating clarity for our subscribers and donors, and providing a clear production timeline that allows everyone - on stage and off - to strategically plan to support the beautiful work coming to our stages in '20-'21."
Best actor in a musical
Should win: Andy Nyman for Fiddler on the Roof (Playhouse)
Will win: Sam Tutty for Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward)
Three young performers - including two in their professional debuts after graduating from drama school - vie with stage veteran Andy Nyman for Fiddler on the Roof; they will each have their time again to be nominated, so I feel the honour should go to Nyman. But it may very well go instead to Sam Tutty for his emotionally anguished, intense performance in Dear Evan Hansen, though his fellow young nominees Jac Yarrow (for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and Charlie Stemp (for Mary Poppins) are full of breezy charm.
Best actress in a musical
Should win: Audrey Brisson for Amélie The Musical (The Other Palace)
Will win: Zizi Strallen for Mary Poppins (Prince Edward)
The utterly remarkable Audrey Brisson - so amazing in Kneehigh's The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, seen at the Globe in 2016 - was captivating in Amélie The Musical. Also winning points for heartfelt subtlety was Broadway's Judy Kuhn in Fiddler on the Roof. But the chances are that the more showy Mary Poppins - played by Zizi Strallen - will take the award, unless the fourth nominee Miriam-Teak Lee storms to the finishing line propelled by love for & Juliet. But Lee has a very bright future ahead regardless.
Now or never for the Tony Awards?
The 74th Tony Awards, which were due to take place on 7th June, were postponed on March 25 to an undecided future date. With New York currently on lockdown - and experiencing the worst outbreak of coronavirus in the world - there's no sign of when the city might re-open, let alone the theatres.
And when the Broadway shutdown took place on 12th March, there were still 16 shows still to open in the current season. Some of those have now already been cancelled (the revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the Broadway transfer of Martin McDonagh's Hangmen, both of which were already in preview) or postponed (the aforementioned Caroline, or Change, another Roundabout Theatre Company play Birthday Candles starring Debra Messing, and Lincoln Center Theatre's new musical Flying Over Sunset), with the fate of others yet to be determined.
The New York Post reported today that Chris Harper, the London-based lead producer of Company that was due to open on Broadway last week to coincide with Sondheim's 90th birthday, "says his investors are sticking by the show, although he concedes that the longer Broadway remains dark, the harder it will be to restart the show. 'We're keeping the spirits up,' he says."
I really hope that New York will get to see Company, as well as Six (which was due to open the night of the shutdown), and the return of other productions running.
But meanwhile, the joint chief theatre critics of the New York Times, Ben Brantley and Jesse Green, have decided their own winners from amongst the 20+ shows that had already opened by the time of the shutdown. And for the all-important best new musical, they each arrived at different conclusions: for Brantley, it was another London export, The Girl from the North Country, while for Green it was David Byrne's theatrical concert American Utopia. Green totally dismisses Moulin Rouge: "The gap between the story, such as it is, and the musical materials — found pop from Offenbach to Rihanna — did not produce poetry. For me, it produced a headache". But Brantley replies, "Ah, I had a swell time at Moulin Rouge, and I thought the far-reaching songbook became a kind of commentary on how such songs form the wallpaper of our minds."
I've not seen the Broadway incarnation of Girl from the North Country yet (and may never now), but I've loved this show ever since I first saw it at the Old Vic, then on its first West End transfer to the Coward and then again on its return to the Gielgud earlier this year. I've also seen it on its first New York run at the Public Theatre. It's a gorgeous show - and I'd love Broadway to honour it. But I long suspected that, whatever the fates of the shows yet to open may or may not turn out to be, the one to beat is still Moulin Rouge.
At a time of terrible uncertainty, Moulin Rouge will be just the tonic to get Broadway going again when it does return to life. I've loved it ever since I first saw it three times in Boston in the summer of 2018 - and I can't wait to see it again when it comes to the Piccadilly next year.
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