It’s awards week in New York, where I am right now — last Sunday night it was the turn of the Drama Desk Awards, with the Tony Awards to follow this coming Sunday, while today sees the presentation of the Theatre World Awards (which recognises only newcomers to New York theatre, whose winners include West End veteran - and double Olivier Award winner — Tracie Bennett).
Each of them have different nominating processes with different criteria for inclusion: the Drama Desk spreads its net further afield than the Tony’s, pitting Broadway against off-Broadway, whereas the Tony’s are Broadway only.
They also each have very different voting groups, being assorted accredited journalists in the first case (a bit like the Golden Globes are to Hollywood, the latter of which comprises members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) while the Tony’s are voted, as in the Oscars, by a wider group of industry insiders, many of whom may have specifically vested interests in the outcome, from theatre owners and producers to former winners and members of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle (which itself has already presented its own awards).
So it is impossible to draw any predictions for the Tony Awards from what has happened in the Drama Desks, except to welcome the opportunities they both afford for more people to get some kind of recognition. For the Best Play category, for instance, the two lists are entirely differently — partly thanks to the fact that the Drama Desks acknowledges off-Broadway, plays like Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities and Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park appeared in its nominations lists for 2011 and 2010 respectively for its earlier runs there, whereas both feature on the Tony nominations list for this year.
But elsewhere, it is interesting to note, for instance, that Peter and Starcatcher and Venus in Furs, both of which began their lives off-Broadway and are now in contention for the Best Play Tony for their transfers to Broadway, haven’t figured at all in the Drama Desk reckonings either this year or in a previous one.
While the Drama Desks ostensibly therefore create a healthy distance between themselves and the Tony’s, elsewhere they seem to slavishly repeat and anticipate them. As the Gold Derby website that obsessively pours over the various awards ceremonies in different entertainment genres put it in a blog analysis of the Drama Desk results, “While Off-Broadway fare accounted for more than half of the nominees (76 of 150) for plays and musicals at the Drama Desk Awards, they claimed just one of the 24 prizes. Otherwise, only Broadway shows and stars took to the stage of the Town Hall Sunday night to claim their awards.”
That, of course, was Nina Raine’s win for Tribes being named Best Play (which it also won in the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards). But the big winners were otherwise Once (four awards), Death of a Salesman, One Man Two Guvnors, Nice Work if You Can Get It and Follies (three each). Disney’s Newsies, which is the main rival to Once for the Tony’s, only took Drama Desks for Alan Menken for outstanding music and Christopher Gattelli for outstanding choreography, both of whom are also Tony nominated.
From the British point of view, it was lovely to see British nominees for Drama Desk Awards like One Man Two Guvnors’s James Corden, Tom Edden and Grant Olding take the awards for Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play and Outstanding Music in a Play respectively, End of the Rainbow’s Tracie Bennett (named Outstanding Actress in a Play) and Ghost’s Rob Howell and Jon Driscoll (winner of the Outstanding Set Design, for which Paul Kieve, who did the magic transformations, was also cited), all of whom (apart from Kieve) are also in contention for Tony’s in comparable categories.
Talking of Kieve and Ghost, I finally caught up with the Broadway edition of this London import here earlier last night, and his contribution is literally amazing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen magic effects used to such thrilling theatrical effect in the theatre before; or to actually serve a story as they do here, instead of being an end in itself.
Yes, Ghost is shamelessly sentimental, even manipulative; but it is also unashamedly populist, and yet - to judge by its faltering Broadway grosses, which last week saw it take just $544,943 at the box office — it is, like its hero, hovering between life and death right now, stuck in that Broadway limbo between heaven (hit) and hell (flop), with a gravitational pull heavily towards the latter.
Yet the show undoubtedly works, both as spectacle and story. I’ve seldom been amongst what felt like such an attentive Broadway audience at a big musical; they cared (and they also cried). So it’s not just about its amazing effects, but also he show’s cumulative effect on the audience. And it has effected, too, a (not so) quiet revolution in staging that’s pointing a way to the future.
Although New York critical reaction was muted if not downright hostile, an online critic Jonathan Mandell summed it up beautifully when he wrote that Ghost “makes better use of video projections than any previous show on Broadway. Even before the curtain rises, you suddenly notice something odd about the night-time scene of New York that seems painted on it; the water in the harbor is gently rippling. Once the show begins, we are taken on a vertiginous joyride, flying in the air between the skyscrapers, touring ground-level through various New York neighborhoods, passing underground between dangerously speeding subway cars. We even travel close-up between the lovers’ bodies! The special effects we long have taken for granted in the movies have now come to a Broadway stage. Sam leaves his body as a ghost right before our eyes, with both the lifeless body and the blue-tinted ghost then occupying the stage simultaneously. Sam walks through walls, he leaps into trains, he even ascends to the heavens; the bad guys are taken down to the netherworld by little red meanies. Even when we are just visiting the former Wall Street offices of Sam the dead banker, the set is so awash in LED displays of stock-market numbers - blue ones flashing by horizontally, then red ones dripping down vertically - that it evoked for me the cutting-edge stagecraft of Enron. In case you suspect the analogy some kind of snarky comment, since that show bombed in New York: I considered Enron a kind of high-tech, multimedia performance art. Its design struck me as a glimpse into the future of theater; judging from Ghost, I was right.”