Harry Potter, SpongeBob, Regina George, Eliza Doolittle, and Roy Cohn are among the familiar characters connected to Broadway’s outstanding 2017-2018 season, which will be saluted Sunday, June 10 as the 72nd annual Tony Awards air from New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Unlike some years when the Tonys seem to be confined to a private bubble, spotlighting plays and musicals to the average viewer that are more appealing curiosities than must-see showcases, 2018 has the pop culture-driven potential to bring tourists to the Great White Way in droves.
The pleasantly surprising and gleefully entertaining “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Tina Fey’s hilarious adaptation of her 2004 comedy “Mean Girls” are impressively tied, leading the pack with 12 nominations including Best Musical.
Other major contenders include the gorgeously reconceived revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” (11 nominations), the beautifully pensive new musical “The Band’s Visit” (11 nominations), the splendidly acted revival of “Angels in America” (11 nominations), the stunningly designed revival of “My Fair Lady” (10 nominations), and the knockout spectacle “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two” (10 nominations).
Here are five items worth noting regarding this year’s telecast, which will likely benefit ratings-wise from not competing against the NBA Finals while aiming for a younger demographic as evidenced in the selection of co-hosts and previous Tony nominees Josh Groban (“The Great Comet”) and Sara Bareilles (“Waitress”).
1. WRIGHT STATE REPRESENTED
Ohio natives and Wright State University alums Layan Elwazani of Bowling Green and Ross Feilhauer of Cincinnati are associated with two acclaimed frontrunners. Elwazani, who received her BFA in Acting in 2015, is a standby in “The Band’s Visit.” Feilhauer, who received his BFA in Lighting Design and Technology in 2003, is a member of the lighting team of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
2. I’M JUST WILD ABOUT ‘HARRY’
Bound to win Best Play with a possible sweep of the technical categories, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is simply one of the most extraordinary Broadway shows I have ever seen. This marvelously magical, high-flying, roughly six-hour epic delivers superb performances reaching Shakespearean heights bolstered by non-traditional casting, remarkably cinematic stagecraft, and how-in-the-world-did-they-pull-that-off special effects. But in spite of its razzle dazzle, the production, centered on Harry’s complex relationship with his son Albus, remains a deeply engaging and moving exploration of parenting, friendship, expectations, misunderstanding, forgiveness, fear, legacy, lineage, and the importance of carving your own path. If you’re able to see it, be sure to catch both parts and, most importantly, be prepared to be blown away. It is truly a one-of-a-kind event, the hottest ticket in town since “Hamilton,” and totally worth the price of admission.
3. YAZBEK’S YEAR
The Tonys haven’t been kind to David Yazbek, perhaps best known for writing the catchy theme song to the PBS series “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Previously nominated for his vibrant scores of “The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” Yazbek is back in contention for “The Band’s Visit,” a reflective tale about an Egyptian band mistakenly arriving in a small Israeli town. Thankfully, momentum is finally on his side, setting up an overdue victory for one of Broadway’s finest and most eclectic composers.
4. COMPETITIVE CATEGORIES
The races for Best Musical and Best Leading Actor in a Musical are the tightest and most suspenseful. The former is a prime battle between flashy, feel-good diversions (“SpongeBob,” “Mean Girls,” “Frozen”) and quietly character-driven, musically alluring intimacy (“The Band’s Visit”). All four are expected to tour so it’s a tough call. It’s also anyone’s guess whether or not the playfully energetic Ethan Slater (“SpongeBob”) can surpass Broadway newcomer Harry Hadden-Paton (a stellar Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady”), three-time “Monk” Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub (“The Band’s Visit”), or historic Joshua Henry (the first African-American to play Billy Bigelow in a Broadway revival of “Carousel”).
5. OVERLOOKED STANDOUTS
The Tonys recognize great work but not everyone was remembered. A few of my overlooked favorites include: actors Austin Butler (“The Iceman Cometh”), James McArdle (“Angels in America”), Poppy Miller (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), Alex Newell (“Once on This Island”), Steven Pasquale (“Junk”), Alison Pill (“Three Tall Women”), Tom Sturridge (“1984”), Uma Thurman (“The Parisian Woman”), and Tony Yazbeck (“Prince of Broadway”); director Jack O’Brien (“Carousel”); Dayton Playhouse FutureFest-winning playwright Beau Willimon (“The Parisian Woman”); choreographers Camille A. Brown (“Once on This Island”) and Sergio Trujillo (“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”); and composers Imogen Heap (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) and Branford Marsalis (“Children of a Lesser God”).
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