New York Times: Two Theater Critics Debate the Nominations

New York Times
Two Theater Critics Debate the Nominations
MAY 2, 2017


The New York Times theater editor Scott Heller checked in with the co-chief theater critics Ben Brantley and Jesse Green on Tuesday, soon after the Tony Award nominations were announced. Jesse was at home, working on his first reviews to appear in The Times, coming Friday; Ben was in London, reporting on shows in the West End. Here’s their early reaction to the announcements.

Good morning, Jesse in New York, and good morning Ben, in London. Ben, do the Tony nominations make news in London?

JESSE GREEN Why didn’t you ask me if they make news in Brooklyn?

You got me. Did they?

GREEN The feed was delayed but they are now celebrating at Junior’s.

BEN BRANTLEY As might have been predicted, angry crowds have already gathered in Trafalgar Square, to protest the snubbing of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” further straining already frayed Anglo-American relations. Actually, I imagine Champagne corks are popping at the Old Vic for the strong showing by “Groundhog Day,” which originated here.


GREEN “Groundhog Day” received seven nominations; “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” received zero. About right, by me.

BRANTLEY Agreed. And the view from abroad is a heartening one, to my eyes, at least. What a great (American) roster of new plays, for a change.

GREEN Yes, the nominees for Best Play, which means best new play, are “Sweat,” “Oslo,” “Indecent” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” all of which are important, challenging works. I would like to have seen “Heisenberg” on the list somehow, too, but it opened and closed very early in the season.


From left, Daniel Jenkins, Daniel Oreskes, Jefferson Mays, Dariush Kashani and Anthony Azizi, in the Tony-nominated play “Oslo” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

BRANTLEY We are of one mind on that. I loved “Heisenberg,” though I suppose a two-hander of many months ago kind of recedes in the distance. The Tonys are notorious for out-of-sight, out-of-mind omissions. (Remember when they shut out Ian Rickson’s “The Seagull,” with Carey Mulligan and Kristin Scott-Thomas?)

Do you think there’s a clear favorite?

GREEN “A Doll’s House, Part 2” got the most favorable reviews across the board, but it may be seen as the connoisseur’s choice. And the larger body of Tony voters are not necessarily connoisseurs, they’re business people. They may go for “Sweat” or “Oslo.” “Sweat” did win the Pulitzer recently — I served on the drama panel that nominated it.

BRANTLEY I’d be happy if either “Doll’s House” or “Oslo” won. “Doll’s House” is more adventurous, but the scale of “Oslo” is impressive, as is its ability to disseminate such intricate details of foreign policy without turning snoozy.

GREEN “Oslo” is also, all things considered, a feel-good show, even if history has disproved its optimism. Voters, like humans generally, often prefer that to an ambiguous ending.

The April rush to the Tonys deadline was especially intense this year and I’m sure both of you were bleary-eyed at the end (as were the Tony nominators). “Doll’s House” was the last show to open and got a lot of love. Did its arrival after a bunch of musicals help its cause?

BRANTLEY Well, I think it had the advantage of serving as a genuine stimulant after a couple of sleeping-pill shows (no names, “Anastasia” and “Charlie”). And what an upper to end on. Also, how great to see Laurie Metcalf in a part she can run (and I hope win) with.

Let’s talk musicals. Are there any sure things?

GREEN There are many sure things, or if not sure then sure enough. “Dear Evan Hansen,” which received nine nominations, will likely win two of the biggest: Best Musical and Leading Actor for Ben Platt. “Hello, Dolly!” which received 10, will very likely win Best Musical Revival and Leading Actress for Bette Midler. This even though “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” got more nominations than either, with 12.

BRANTLEY Two months ago, I would have said “Evan Hansen” had a lock. But there’s a lot of sentimental (and political) steam around “Come From Away.” And Andy Karl, valiant trouper in a knee brace that he is, may get a lot of come-from-behind love. “Dolly” and the woman playing her are worth betting the farm (or the Harmonia Gardens) on.

GREEN Sentimental is right, regarding “Come From Away,” but you and I disagreed strongly about that show. I felt that it was little more than an evening of Canadian civic boosterism. I would be disappointed if it prevailed over a truly complicated — morally complicated, I mean — piece like “Evan Hansen.” But stranger things have happened.

BRANTLEY Indeed. I’m not stumping for “Come From Away.” But I am kind of stunned by the word of mouth it’s generated. We disagreed on it less strongly than you think, I suspect, though I thought for a work of efficient sentimental manipulation, it delivered.

The last two Tony-winning musicals were “Fun Home” and “Hamilton,” both universally admired and seen as important advances for the art form. Does this year’s roster of musical nominees point toward the future?

BRANTLEY In a word, no. What I think is encouraging is the — you should pardon the catchword — diversity of what’s on offer. And by that I don’t mean just politically, but in terms of the different languages each of the nominees for Best Musical and Best Play speak.

GREEN And let’s face it, it was — with 1.5 exceptions — not a good year for new musicals in the first place. The roster can’t be better than its individual components.

BRANTLEY Which I’d say is a good thing. Remember when “Sunset Boulevard” (to cite a personal favorite of yours, Jesse) stood alone?

GREEN And I should add that even if I didn’t like a lot of the new musicals much more than I liked “Sunset Boulevard,” there was much to admire within them, whether performances, or songwriting or design. “Great Comet” swept the design categories, deservedly. But I was sorry to find the score of “War Paint” skunked. Whatever else that show may be, it’s an example of classic theater songwriting.


Christine Ebersole, a Tony nominee, performs “Pink” in the musical “War Paint.”CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

BRANTLEY I would have had it nominated for “Pink” alone (That’s Christine Ebersole’s great solo at the end.)

Two final questions. Any performer you felt was unfairly overlooked? And Jesse — what is a .5 good show?

GREEN The nominating committee made good work of a difficult job. That said, I would like to have seen Mary-Louise Parker (for “Heisenberg”) and …

BRANTLEY You plucked the name out of my mouth, Jesse.


Denis Arndt, a Tony nominee, starred with Mary-Louise Parker in “Heisenberg.”CreditRichard Termine for The New York Times

GREEN … and Allison Janney (for “Six Degrees of Separation”) and Anthony Azizi (for “Oslo”) and more of the great ensemble cast of “Jitney” nominated.

BRANTLEY But what do you do when a cast is as uniformly strong as that of “Jitney”? This is when you wish there were a Best Ensemble category.

GREEN Exactly. As for “a .5 good show,” well, that’s really .25 times two: “Great Comet” and “Groundhog Day.” Your mileage may (and does) vary.

BRANTLEY Ah, I’d give “Great Comet” a larger percentage. “Groundhog Day,” too, though I agree that “Evan Hansen” is the smoothest ride.

Correction: May 2, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated the run of the Broadway show “Oslo.” It is scheduled to close June 18; it is not an open run.
Share A little Divinity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verified by MonsterInsights