Featured Actors & Actresses of the 2017 Tony Awards, or holy god how am I supposed to choose

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The five nominees for Best Featured Actor in a musical. Is there any way we can just have two five-way ties please?

I love award shows, and sometimes, I can call them from a mile away. Especially with the Oscars – there are many other smaller award shows leading up to that, and I make a spreadsheet to predict the winners (I’m 75% accurate every year, including technical categories). The Tonys are harder to predict. There are a bunch of smaller award shows leading up to it, but many of them consider Off-Broadway productions too (so shows that transferred from Off-Broadway may have won previously), or they’re fan-chosen, so they don’t matter. But there are usually frontrunners that you can see coming.

This year’s leading actor and actress in a musical are pretty much a sure thing, although surprises can always happen: Ben Platt & Bette Midler will be taking home the top trophies. The real race lies within the featured actors and actresses in a musical this year. They are so divided across fan awards, the NYT critics, and Show-Score experts and voters that there isn’t really a way to call them yet. And they all gave phenomenal performances. So let’s celebrate all the support this year – because as we all know, there are no small parts, only small actors. And small dressing rooms.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical
NYT says: Brantley: Will/Should Win: Mary Beth Peil / Green: Will Win: Jenn Colella, Should Win: Rachel Bay Jones
Show-Score users say: Rachel Bay Jones
Show-Score expert says: Rachel Bay Jones

Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Song that earned the nomination: “Ribbons Down My Back”

I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Kate Baldwin play Anna Leonowens last year in the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of The King and I. She was regal and elegant and I imagine she has similar qualities in Hello, Dolly!

Dolly secured acting noms in all four categories – were they nominated because they deserved it, or are they just on the same Bette hype train?

Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos

Song that earned the nomination: “I’m Breaking Down”, and also check out her “and still the bastard divorced me!” in “This Had Better Come To A Stop” on the cast recording

Musical theatre nerds went apeshit for Falsettos. I hadn’t heard it until this cast album came out, and I am thoroughly obsessed. This show closed in January, yet each of its four leads each earned a nomination, plus the show got a Best Revival nod, even when there are two more revivals still running that weren’t nominated. Its cast recording probably played a huge role in getting nominations, but I’m not sure that it has that much staying power that it can win anything against currently running shows.

Stephanie J is awesome. She loves all her fellow nominees (and took them out for dinner!) and her time for a Tony will come.

Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Song that earned the nomination: “Me and The Sky”

I have mixed feelings about Come From Away – mostly because I feel there’s no conflict, therefore no story. I was skeptical to listen to the cast album because I heard everyone talking about it and how heartwarming it is, and since I know that Canadians are an equal mix of polite and the rudest people I’ve ever met, I took it with a grain of salt. It’s charming, yes, definitely, but most of it sounds like Great Big Sea, which I’ve heard enough of in my life, thanks very much. But Jenn Colella’s solo is something I can listen to over and over again.

She’s been in the biz for a while, but I feel like she’s finally getting the attention she deserves for this role. In an ensemble cast, she’s the only actor nominated, which might make her stand out from the others. She’s in the running.

Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Song that earned the nomination: “So Big/So Small”

I’m not sure the general public has the same strong reaction to this song like I do, but even just thinking about it starts to make me cry. When Heidi Hansen, Evan’s mom and the character RBJ plays, sings about Evan’s dad moving out of the house and the moving truck in the driveway, I can see the exact same situation when it happened in my life. This is an amazingly emotional musical, and I cry enough as it is, but this song is, to quote Michael Scott, like somebody dropped my heart into a bucket of boiling tears.

In my opinion, RBJ deserves this win on her first nomination.

Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia
Song that earned the nomination: Probably more her general legendary-ness

I have no opinion on this nomination, mostly because the cast recording hasn’t been released yet. Some predictions are calling Mary Beth’s nomination more for her body of work than for this performance, since Anastasia only had two nominations – this one, and one for costume design.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical
NYT says: Brantley: Will Win: Gavin Creel, Should Win: Lucas Steele/Green: Will Win: Gavin Creel, Should Win: Lucas Steele
Show-Score users say: Andrew Rannells
Show-Score expert says: Gavin Creel

Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Song that earned the nomination: “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”

I haven’t seen Hello, Dolly! (not even the movie, tbh), so I can’t cast judgment here – but Gavin Creel is now a three-time Tony nominee, and I have a feeling it’s time. He wasn’t nominated last year for She Loves Me (which is a goddamn crime if you ask me), and this is probably making up for it. He’s been in the biz for almost twenty years, and people are ready to see him win.

Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen

Song that earned the nomination: “Disappear”

When I walked out of Dear Evan Hansen in February, I told my fiancé that Ben Platt and Mike Faist were going to be Tony nominees. Mike Faist has probably the smallest role in the show, but I could feel it. His acting, more than his songs, stuck with me after the show. It’s a very small role, and he won’t take home a trophy, but the nomination should be considered his win.

Andrew Rannells, Falsettos

Song that earned the nomination: “You Gotta Die Sometime”, his general Rannells-ness

Rannells had a recurring role on Girls, he was Hedwig, forever the voice and face of Elder Price, and we haven’t given him a Tony yet. It could happen for playing Whizzer, the boytoy of Falsettos. But I have the same concern with him as I do SJB – the show is closed, which means he has to be that good to stay in the minds of Tony voters for the last five months.

Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Song that earned the nomination: The last 15 seconds of “Pierre & Anatole”

This boy, lemme tell you. Lucas Steele is enchanting in Comet. He has been playing this role since it started – he is the first and only Anatole. Throughout the whole performance he’s got swagger, but it’s his last moments on stage that really seal the deal for you.

I remember he still came out to sign and take photos with everyone for stage door, but he was just mouthing words and nodding instead of talking. This dude needs as much vocal rest as he can get.

Both of the NYT critics say he “should” take it home – so why not? I would love to see him with the trophy.

Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Song that earned the nomination: “Everyone Hates His Parents”, he also gets the last words in the show

BranUran, my man. Rounding out the Falsettos noms is Mendel, the psychiatrist that falls in love with his patient’s wife, and then marries her. But he’s not a scoundrel at all! He’s loveable, trustworthy, and comedic. But I’m not sure it’s enough for him to take it. He’s sort of the comic relief in the show, and the punchline of the joke just isn’t going to take it home this year.

So who am I picking to take home the Tony gold? Stay tuned for my pre-Tony predictions!

Patti LuPone is a Bitch & That’s Why I Love Her

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Queen of My Life Patti LuPone at the Tony Nominee presser. Image via.

I thought it was a truth universally known that this is Patti LuPone’s world and we’re just living in it – that is, until recently, when she’s making the rounds doing press for War Paint and her seventh (SEVENTH) Tony nomination when some people on the internet are making comments.

I’m not usually one to feed the trolls, but I have to indulge them just this once. And Patti doesn’t need me to defend her honour, but in defending her, I feel like I’m defending myself.

Patti LuPone, for the uneducated, is a living Broadway legend. She originated the titular role in Evita (Tony #1) and Fantine in Les Miserables (Olivier), and has played countless other iconic characters – Mama Rose in Gypsy (Tony #2), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Maria Callas in Master Class – and I’m not even counting the things she did as part of The Acting Company. The woman has any actor’s dream career.

Patti also has a reputation of saying what’s on her mind. Check out this clip that Broadway.com cut from her recent Show People interview (on another note, why you censoring Patti, Broadway.com?!?! That’s not cool). She’s also famous for stopping her penultimate performance of Gypsy (during Rose’s Turn!!) to yell at an audience member taking photos (I’m getting “Who do you think you are?!” tattooed on my heart).

She recently made comments (after asked in an interview) about what she thought of Madonna’s version of Evita – and she didn’t like it. No shit. She said so. And now I have to deal with uninformed haters saying that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” and that they are no longer listening to anything Patti is in because she made those comments.

I’m generally in the same boat – let’s be kind to each other. But she was asked by an interviewer, and she gave her honest opinion. Madonna is not going to suffer because of what Patti said and vice versa. Don’t try to censor this successful, powerful woman because she said something that isn’t nice. Women aren’t nice. Opinions aren’t nice. They don’t have to be. But they should be honest.

It’s not like she talks shit for no reason, or without being able to back it up. Patti said Madonna was good at what she does in pop music, but she wasn’t a good actor. Patti LuPone literally graduated from the first acting class at the Juilliard School and toured around the country earning her stripes before making it to Broadway. She still goes to a vocal coach and she’s 67. She has many acting awards, including the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award, which can only be won once in any actor’s lifetime. She admits that she’s still a student sometimes, but she’s also a theatre badass. She knows good acting from bad.

Let’s not ask women for their opinions and then shame them when they’re honest. Let’s stop saying that they’re hormonal or emotional because maybe, just maybe, they actually know what they’re talking about.

P.S. Patti LuPone could run me over with a car and I would say thank you. It would be an honour.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Opera

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Manitoba Opera presents Werther, May 2 and 5.

I have been to dozens of productions of musicals. I have been to “operas” (like how I describe Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 or Les Mis as an “opera” because there isn’t any talking in it) a handful of times. But I have only been to “the opera” (as in the “where’s the Met?”-Moonstruck-type opera) exactly one time: a year and a half ago, for Manitoba Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro.

I’m heading back (finally!) tomorrow, for MO’s production of Werther (which is pronounced “vair-tare,” by the way, don’t make an ass of yourself like I almost did). I’m here to tell you that the opera is not scary! But it does take some preparing. It’s not the kind of lean-back-in-your-chair entertainment you might get from a movie or a jukebox musical. It requires you to be engaged and involved – but that makes it even more fun.

Here are some tips for your first (or second!) time at the opera.

Watch adaptations first
RENT is based on La BohemeMiss Saigon is based on Madam Butterfly. The story is always easier to follow when you have some frame of reference in mind, and since some operas are so influential and classic, lots of other artists have taken inspiration from them. Check out if the opera you’re going to see has any adaptations that you can enjoy first. It’s also fun to see if you can guess which character in the original turned into which character in the adaptation.

Read up
In the program of the opera, there’ll be a synopsis of the whole show. Read it. Characters usually introduce themselves when they come on stage, but it won’t necessarily happen. Even if you don’t want to “ruin it” for yourself, it’s better to know what’s going to happen, because you may not be able to follow along, especially if the show is in another language (which it usually is).

Follow the opera company on social media
Last summer, I won a free pair of opera glasses from Manitoba Opera for correctly identifying what a “libretto” is. They have contests and promos all the time, so connect with them on Twitter or Facebook to make the most of your experience (and your wallet!).

Stay hydrated
This isn’t some 90-minute one-act-and-done show. I’m not going to lie to you – operas are long. Three or four hours. Two intermissions. Get some water at concession beforehand and make sure you eat dinner before you come. It’s worth it, but you won’t be able to enjoy the show if you’re hungry!

Follow me on Twitter as I live-tweet Manitoba Opera’s Werther tomorrow, May 2, starting at 7 pm!

I Love New York

I really do, you guys.

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The view from just outside our hotel. That’s Times Square down the street.

About a month ago, I went to New York City – my favourite place in the world. And I finally have time to tell you all about it, because holy god, I saw a lot of theatre, and that was the best money I’ve ever spent in my life.

On my wedding blog, I talked about going on a pre-honeymoon, because a honeymoon after your wedding isn’t always an option – sometimes you have to work, or deal with immigration visas, or maybe you just don’t have the money to go on a sweet vacation right after you get married. This trip was sort of those things, but honestly – I just wanted to go to New York. And I had Hamilton tickets. Hello!

Over our six days in the Big Apple, we saw four shows (I entered some lotteries to fill our Wednesday matinee but to no avail, so we spent our afternoon in Central Park instead). Let me talk about them all while showing you semi-related photos.

Tuesday, February 21: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Imperial Theatre
Understudies: None

This show is a trip from the very beginning. I was in this theatre three years ago to see

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Outside the NYPL. Jeremiah called it a “knowledge palace.”

the Les Misérables revival, and it has been completely transformed. You walk in just having been in 2017 New York, and the box office and lobby are communist Soviet Union, coated in anarchist posters and spray paint and exposed concrete and brick. But then you walk into the theatre, and you once more are transformed to 19th century Russia, where dreamy red curtain and tea lit mirrored tables intersperse with the seats. You’ll hear people talk about how interactive this show is, and they’re not wrong – cast members stared into my face and I sat in the very back row. They threw perogies at me and they were incredible. Girls in the rows below me got egg shakers and papers and a front-row seat to some crazy club scene domination. I’m predicting it for the Best Musical Tony already, simply because this is the most interactive, innovative experience I’ve ever had in a theatre ever in my life, and I doubt anything will ever come close again.

I’d listened to the cast recording before, and I knew the story was only so-so, but the incredible set, choreography, and overall spectacle make it worth the trip.

Wednesday, February 22: Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
Understudies: None

This show holds a very special place in my heart. As you know, I wrote a book heavily featuring Sunday, and it was an absolute dream to get to see it in person – and not just in person, on Broadway. With Jake Gyllenhaal (who was the PERFECT George) and Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford. What is my life, you guys?

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The Broadway Theatre, where Miss Saigon is currently playing. Eva Noblezada has a shot at a Tony too.

Sunday has always been troubled in its productions, but this one was absolutely perfect. Every time I think about it, I get misty-eyed. It was precise, dreamy, and story-driven, not set-driven like it’s often mistaken for. This production finally gave the story the spotlight it so desperately needs, and it was perfect.

I went last preview, and Sondheim went the next night for opening.  I never saw him in the street or anything but it somehow still gives me chills knowing that we were in the same city at the same time.

Thursday, February 23: Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre
Understudies: None

Ben Platt is going to win a Tony Award or I’m going to do something dramatic. Everything you’ve heard about his performance is true. He is breathtaking in the title role. So much so that I think once he leaves, this show will suffer.

That’s not to say that it isn’t an incredible show – it completely is. It’s a beautiful story

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Central Park.

that I know I’ll go back to over and over again in my life because I’ll be able to relate to a different character in different stages of my life. But the story is kept secret, and for good reason. It’s better to find out when you’re there. But without his outstanding performance to brag about, I’m not sure it’ll be as big of a sell. But tickets are on sale through March 2018 right now, so I think they’ll be fine.

A totally original show, and totally unmissable. If you can get tickets, go. Don’t hesitate.

Friday, February 24: Hamilton
Richard Rodgers Theatre
Understudies: Jevon McFerrin as Hamilton

You all know how Hamilton goes, so let me talk about the new cast members (new from the cast recording) that I got to see.

Three words: Brandon Victor Dixon. Oh my God. Leslie Odom Jr.’s Tony winning performance is a calm, composed Burr, but BVD is the opposite. He’s sassy, he’s annoyed, and in the second act, he’s ready to get his. He pushes the role vocally and physically, and was undoubtedly the star of the show.

Mandy Gonzalez was a commanding Angelica. She also pushed the role vocally and when she was on stage, all eyes were on her. I started crying during “Schuyler Sisters,” that’s how good she was.

Jevon McFerrin, son of Bobby, gave a new approach on Hamilton. He wasn’t as silly or sly as some interpretations are, but being (probably) one of the youngest people to play the title role, his naïvety came across in the first act, perhaps more than full-time Ham Javier Muñoz (who was out because of a back injury at the time), known as the “sexy Hamilton”, brings to the role.

I spent a lot of money on this trip, but I would do it all over again. New York is my soul city. I feel so renewed when I’m there. After we saw The Great Comet and we were walking back to our hotel room (side note: stay at the Wellington Hotel when you go to NYC if you’re all about location), I told my fiancée that going to theatre to me is like going to the spa – and Broadway is the biggest and best of all.

Finishing the Hat

book_photo_stackofbooksWell, here we are. It’s January 27, which means there is only one day more (har dee har) until my book is officially released. Pretty crazy, hey?

I’ve had a lot of people say that they could ‘never write a book,’ (which isn’t true, if any living human can do it, you, too, can do that thing) and I’ve found myself comparing to my friends who are undergoing massive projects and saying that I ‘just’ wrote a book. But dude, I wrote a book. That’s awesome.

My secret was to find a subject I’m passionate about – which was theatre, of course. If I had forced myself to write about something that I didn’t care deeply enough about to research and nurture, then I wouldn’t have. And my book would be garbage. But my book is not garbage (at least I hope not). I took the time to water it (metaphorically) and watch it grow (not quite as metaphorically) and others that I shared the story with did too. Now they get to see what the final product looks like – which is almost as exciting to me as having a book, period.

It’s scary to put yourself out there and tell everyone, this is the best I can do. What do you think? But it’s also the most artistically rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Nobody who I shared it with laughed at me or gave me comments that discouraged me. Every piece of feedback I got just fuelled me to want to make it better. And that’s what happens when you do something that you love.

One of my beta readers finished his comments with this: “Oh, also, congratulations. You fucking wrote a book. And that’s pretty fucking cool, I think.” And I did. I made a hat.

Tomorrow, my book launches at Books, Beers & Broadway: Son of Sondheim Book Launch at the King’s Head Pub. Sign up to sing some Broadway karaoke and have a good time. RSVP here.

You can pre-order my book here and I’ll personalize the inside with a message just for you.  You can pick it up at event night or I’ll ship them to you after the launch.

La La Land Will Make You a Believer & It’s About Damn Time

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The word “magic” gets thrown around a lot, but… Image via IndieWire.

I walked into the movie theatre on Saturday honestly expecting to hate La La Land. It has the most hype for a movie so far this year, and I’m usually disappointed when a movie has this much excitement behind it. But the hype train is real, you guys. And after its record-breaking sweep at the Golden Globes, the hype train has turned into an unstoppable freight train.

 

This dreamy, pastel-painted Hollywood magic only comes along once every few decades. Living in a post-Debbie Reynolds world and having just pored over Singin’ in the Rain for the millionth time, La La Land was exactly what I needed to start feeling hope about the world again. The songs are catchy, the story is human, and the cinematography is dizzying in the best, dancey way.

It’s not without its problems, though. Most of the women sing in high, falsetto voices, which bothered me, because I know Emma Stone can really sing (she played Sally Bowles on Broadway opposite Alan Cumming, for god’s sake), but whatever doubts I had were lost after “A Lovely Night,” the tap number the 21st century needed, and when Stone’s character Mia gets her spotlight at the end, they finally finally let her belt. I also wish that there had been more songs when the characters were upset or angry, as they have to feel extreme emotions on both ends of the spectrum and not only sing when they’re happy.

But really – these are nitpicky, musical snob things. If you don’t scope the Broadway scene for current ensemblist news like I do, you might not even notice these things.

I’ve heard people say that although they don’t like musicals, they loved this movie. Well, I hate to break it to you, pal – but you like musicals. You just hadn’t seen one up until this point that resonated with you. Musicals can be cheesy, and some of them are plain ol’ just not good, but they can also be political, passionate, and can sweep you off into self-reflection and imagination like only theatre can.

So get out there and go see what is already the most award-winningest film of the 2017 awards season. But if you like it, then go out to your local theatre and give them a shot too. If you love the artists in this movie, you’ll love the Mias and Sebastians of real life who are trying to achieve their dreams.


Look, I made a hat! I’m launching my first novella, SON OF SONDHEIM, on January 28 at 7 pm at the King’s Head Pub. Pre-order your copy now & get your launch party tickets here!