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by Michael Portantiere

The 2010 Phony Awards

  • AmericanIdiot.jpg

    The 2010 Phony Awards

    Well, kids, it's time for the third annual Phony Awards -- a name I've borrowed from my friend and colleague Gerard Alessandrini, with his blessing. I've tried to come up with categories that are specifically tailored to this season's shows and artists, yet I was once again able to recycle a few categories from the past two seasons and simply plug in new winners.

    Because these are the Phonys and not the Tonys, Off-Broadway shows and artists are eligible for consideration. Please understand that the awards are "phony" only in the sense that they don't actually exist and most of the categories won't be found in other awards competitions, but certainly not in the sense that they're undeserved.


    Most Energetic Cast:
    The company of American Idiot. Yes, I realize their average age is somewhere around 24. Still, it's amazing that they're able to perform this show's frenetic staging and insanely intense choreography full-out, eight times a week (see photo above). Truly awesome.

    Most Auspicious Broadway Debut by a Film Star:
    Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge.

    Most Welcome Return to Broadway After a Long Absence:
    Barbara Cook in Sondheim on Sondheim.

    Most Fearless Performance:
    Elizabeth Marvel in Suzan-Lori Parks' The Book of Grace at The Public Theater.

    Best Performance by a Star in an Unworthy Vehicle:
    Valerie Harper in Looped, by Matthew Lombardo.

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Role Previously Thought of as Thankless:
    Tie: Ron Bohmer as Father in Ragtime; Michael Cristofer as Alfieri in A View from the Bridge

    Collective Award to Four New Musicals That Were Presented Off-Broadway But Were Superior to Most if Not All of the New Musicals on Broadway:
    The Scottsboro Boys (Vineyard), Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (The Public Theater), The Kid (The New Group at Theatre Row), Bloodsong of Love (Ars Nova).

    Best Fully Staged, Off-Broadway Revival of a Musical:
    Tie: Ernest in Love at the Irish Rep; Children of Eden at the Astoria Performing Arts Center.

    Best Bare-Bones, Off-Off-Broadway Revival of a Musical:
    Is There Life After High School?, presented at the Duplex by Opening Doors Theatre Company. Runners-up: The Rink and Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off, presented by Musicals Tonight! at the McGinn-Cazale Theatre.

    Special Achievement Award for Proving that Even a Highly Problematic Show Can Make for a Thrilling Night of Theater if the Talent and the Production Are First-Rate:
    To everyone involved in the City Center Encores! presentation of Anyone Can Whistle.

    Most Negligible Book of a Musical:
    Million Dollar Quartet. Even people who love this show for the thrilling performances of rock and roll standards by its triple-threat cast will have to admit that the book is an unfortunate amalgam of clunky exposition, tepid drama, and lame humor.

    Most Rudderless Direction of Any Show On or Off Broadway:
    Robert Longbottom, Bye Bye Birdie.

    Sexiest Female Performer:
    Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away. Her dancing is to die for, and she avoids the pitfalls in playing what might have been a stereotypical "fierce black woman" by bringing a great deal of humor to the part, which only makes her performance all the more sexy.

    Sexiest Male Performer:
    Austin Peck, The Irish Curse. His role of a hyper-masculine gay cop stretched credulity, but Peck was hotter-than-hot in it. Runners-up: Benjamin Walker in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Sahr Ngaujah in Fela!.

    Cutest Onstage Straight Couple:
    Jan Maxwell and Anthony LaPaglia, Lend Me a Tenor.

    Cutest Onstage Gay Couple:
    Three-way tie: Christopher Sieber and Lucas Steele, The Kid; Patrick Heusinger and Patrick Breen, Next Fall; Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux folles.

    The Janus Award to the Best/Worst Broadway Revue I've Ever Seen:
    Sondheim on Sondheim boasts many wonderful moments, thanks to a great cast that includes Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, and Leslie Kritzer. But it also has some major flaws, nearly all of them the responsibility of James Lapine, who conceived and directed this production. The nadir comes when the hauntingly beautiful song "Happiness" from Passion is staged and performed as a comedy number -- an astonishingly bad idea.

    The Arthur Laurents Award for Most Lugubrious Pacing of a Show:
    Tie: The Glass Menagerie, directed by Gordon Edelstein; A Little Night Music, directed by Trevor Nunn. The normal running time of each of these shows is about two and a half hours. Here, each runs much closer to three hours. In the manner of Arthur Laurents' snail-pacing of his Gypsy and West Side Story revivals, Edelstein and Nunn slow down the action of Menagerie and Night Music to the point where the shows really drag, despite the considerable merits of these productions.

    Best Sound Design of a Musical:
    Promises, Promises. The Broadway Theatre is a barn that has pushed some sound designers into ridiculous over-amplification, but for Promises, Brian Ronan has managed to make the voices and the orchestra sound both terrifically exciting and completely natural.

    Worst Sound Design of a Musical:
    American Idiot. I understand that ear-splitting volume is supposed to be part of the punk rock experience, but the sound of this show is so incredibly loud and distorted that the experience is borderline painful and at least 50 percent of the lyrics are unintelligible. That's a huge problem, not a plus.

    Poorest Excuse for an Orchestra:
    Tie: Sondheim on Sondheim, A Little Night Music.

    Most Underrated Broadway Play of the Season:
    Enron, by Lucy Prebble.

    Most Cringe-Inducing, Shockingly Graphic Sex Scene:
    Blind, at the Rattlestick Theater. Seth Numrich and Veanne Cox each deserve a special award for going through with it.

    Best Performance by an Audience Member:
    Mike Nichols at Wishful Drinking. There was a talk-back with Carrie Fisher after the performance I attended, and Nichols and his wife, Diane Sawyer, stayed for it. The fellow running the talk-back said something like, "Hello, I'm So-and-So, and I work for the Education Department at the Roundabout." When he called on Nichols to ask his question, the legendary director-writer-comedian began by saying, "Hi, I work for the Education Department for the Shuberts, so I don't have a lot to do." Nobody else in the audience seemed to know who he was or why that was funny, but I laughed hysterically. Thank you, Mr. Nichols!

    Best Performance in a Special Event:
    Doris Eaton Travis, the amazing former Ziegfeld girl who brought down the house with her appearance in the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet show in April, just two weeks before her death at age 106.

    Most Justifiable Omission from the Tony Award Nominations List:
    Even in a somewhat fallow year, David Mamet's Race was not nominated for Best Play, and with good reason. It's obvious, derivative, and light years short of Mamet's best work.

    "It Was Grand Knowing You" Award to Three Wonderful Shows That Closed Quickly But Deserved to Run Far Longer:
    Brighton Beach Memoirs, Finian's Rainbow, and Ragtime.

    Published on Friday, June 11, 2010

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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