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The Curious Case of Best Actress in a Musical

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  • Trent
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    #430470

    I have been researching the winners of Best Actress in a Musical over the past ten years, and I realized something:

    Since 2001, there has always been an outstanding frontrunner for this category who goes on to win:

    2001 – Ebersole
    2002 – Foster
    2003 – Winokur
    2004 – Menzel (some say Pinkins, I say no)
    2005 – Clark
    2006 – LaChanze (debatable)
    2007 – Ebersole
    2008 – Lupone
    2009 – Ripley
    2010 – Zeta-Jones
    2011 – Foster

    Do you think this is a coincidence or is it just a sign that women have a stronger hold over Broadway? Are there any outstanding frontrunners for 2012? 

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    CAROL-CHANNING
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    #430472

    You are right for most of them, I think..

    In 2006, LaChanze was the underdog.  I think most pundits predicted Patti would win her second with Sweeney.  Plus LaChanze (like everything else in The Color Purple) got completely shafted at the Drama Desk Awards.  I thought Patti was beyond brilliant in Sweeney, but I was rooting for LaChanze the whole time.  She has had a great career on Broadway for many years and this would have been the perfect opportunity for the Tonys to recognize her.  Plus, her performance was really fantastic.

    I think in 2010 it was pretty equal between Zeta-Jones and Montego Glover.  They both tied at the Drama Desk Awards.  And Zeta-Jones’ performance in the show was infamously inconsistent.  However, many just predicted her because she was the celebrity, and, of course, they were right.  These were also the Tonys that caused a big uproar in the Broadway community about the Tonys just wanting to award and show off Hollywood celebrities.  It was probably the worst ceremony of any awards show I have ever seen.

    And 2004 is actually my favorite year for best actress because all five women seemed to be frontrunners at one point or another.  When Ave Q opened in the summer, Stephanie D’Abruzzo was claimed to be the frontrunner.  Then Wicked opened and Kristen Chenoweth got MUCH better reviews than Menzel (which is understandable because I think Galinda is much more of an interesting, well-written role).  Chenoweth became the frontrunner.  Then Wonderful Town came and Donna Murphy became the frontrunner.  Her buzz lasted the longest out of anyone’s, and she even won the Drama Desk over the other women.  The Donna missed a few performances and got some bad flack in the press.  Because of that, it was time for Tonya Pinkins (who was the most deserving of the award, imo) to have her moment.  The acting in Caroline, or Change was getting a lot of love, and her role was definitely the most dramatic out of the five women.  Michael Riedel even wrote, in his article trashing Donna Murphy’s attendance record, “If Tonya Pinkins doesn’t win the Tony, I’m taking Bernadette Peters out to lunch.”  Then, in the last month or so, I think people kinda just woke up and realized that Menzel was giving the star-turn performance of the year in the role that resonated the most with the public (especially the teens).  I, like you, personally believe that the award was destined to be Idina’s from the very beginning. 

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    M H
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    #430473

    I don’t think Winokur was a big favorite either, was she? I seem to remember a lot of people thinking Peters would win for Gypsy. 

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    tonorlo
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    #430474

    Winokur and Peters were really in a photo-finish in 2003 (the ingenue vs. the well-loved veteran is definitely a recurring theme in this category). Winokur was a bright newcomer in what was far and away the most acclaimed musical production of the season (rare for an original entry as opposed to a revival), and she had plenty of goodwill. Peters was an esteemed veteran, albeit one who had won her second Tony only four years earlier (the Julie Harrises and Angela Lansburys of the Tony Awards are frankly few and far between). The 2003 revival of “Gypsy” also received decidely mixed reviews, and Peters’ absences from several performances may have cost her a bit, even though her performance of “Rose’s Turn” on the awards telecast deservedly became the stuff of instant legend.

    I was also among the very few people predicting a LaChanze win in ’06. There was a very vocal Team LuPone at the time, but there was also a large-ish faction that just didn’t “get” her interpretation of the part. Critically, LuPone’s reviews were a bit mixed, while her co-star Michael Cerveris garnered near-raves, which made me doubt her all the more. When “The Pajama Game” opened and became a surprise smash, there was also a big swell of support for Kelli O’Hara in a “Tony-waiting-to-happen” vein, which has yet to pay off. The feeling about Sutton Foster was, she’s terrific in “Drowsy Chaperone,” but on the other hand, “we’ve been there and seen that before.” Chita Rivera was the resident legend but also very much the dark horse; many felt she was lucky to be nominated as her spot could have easily gone to Maria Friedman (“The Woman in White”). LaChanze had arguably the baitiest role in the lineup (neck-and-neck with LuPone), she was a past nominee with quite a few years of solid work under her belt, and while it was clear by Tony night that “The Color Purple” wasn’t going to make a lot of waves against the “Jersey Boys”-“Drowsy Chaperone” cyclone, Actress in a Musical was its best shot for acknowledgement, period.

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    adamunc
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    #430475

    In 2004, I think Donna Murphy in Wonderful Town was considered the front-runner all season long until she started missing crazy amounts of performances during the voting period. I think Caroline, or Change was too polarizing for voters. Once so many voters started missing Murphy due to her absences, Menzel became the front runner based on sheer stamina singing that huge role (a role which was quickly becoming iconic), and the fact that her professionalism is highly respected in the industry.

    This year, it may well be the battle of the revival ladies. We don’t know Lead or Featured placement yet for all the old broads in Follies, but we also have Elena Rogers in Evita coming in as well as Lauren Ambrose in Funny Girl. But the one that’s going to be hard to beat based on the reaction in Boston is Audra McDonald in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. I would say she has it in the bag already (she got a rave New York Times review for the Boston run) except that it’s a limited run and closes about a month after the Tonys, so that may put a few voters off. But she’ll be a beast to beat.

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    tonorlo
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    #430476

    It will definitely be an interesting race here come spring… I’m a bit iffy on the “Follies” women, all of whom are solid professionals. Peters has won twice before, and Maxwell seems to be what Angela Lansbury is to the Emmys: they’re delighted to nominate her, but that’s as far as it goes. Roger should be formidable with her Olivier-nominated  performance in “Evita,” and while I still can’t quite wrap my head around Ambrose in “Funny Girl,” we’ll see what happens. But McDonald has always been a legitimate contender for every Tony she’s ever been nominated for (and in 2007, the year of the Ebersole Express, she was undoubtedly the runner-up for “110 in the Shade”). For the time being, she’s the one I’m betting on (though her current tally of four Tonys- are voters ready to vaunt her into the prestigious Harris-Lansbury spotlight?- may slow her down).

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    CAROL-CHANNING
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    #430477

    This year’s Tony race is going to be a Mad House.  We have Audra and Bernadette.  Two theater legends.  Bernadette deserves to have three (IMO), and Audra has yet to win in the Leading Actress category (although, I am certainly NOT one of those people who believe there is more clout in winning lead over featured, but some people are).  We have Eva Peron and Fanny Brice, two of the most iconic roles in musical theatre history.  Plus Jan Maxwell, who is probably THE most respected actress among the New York theater community who DOESN’T have a Tony in a role that has won a Tony before.  

    It’s a shame that Follies will be closed before the Tonys are here, which will hurt Maxwell’s chances significantly.  After all, Tony voters do not have the best track record in remembering performances that have already closed.  I think Maxwell is incredible as Phyllis, and the woman has deserved to be called a Tony winner for years now.  I think Audra will be the go-to vote since Porgy will still be running.  However, the production has gotten polarizing reviews in Boston, and there is a LOT of controversy with the show due to the article by Sondheim.  She could experience a little bit of backlash.  Plus, Follies is practically worshipped among musical theater lovers, and people say this is one of the finest productions they have ever seen.  They might want to throw it a bone and give it a win somewhere.  Granted, I thought they would want to give The Scottsboro Boys a win somewhere this year too..

    Follies has been selling extremely well.  I think I remember hearing that it was the highest grossing revival of a Sondheim show in Broadway history.  They already extended it until January, and rumors are going around that producers want to find a theater to move it to since Evita has already booked the Marquis.  Those could just be rumors, though. 

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    adamunc
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    #430478

    ^^It was definitely more than a rumor; the producers were actively searching for a house. However, grosses have fallen off in recent weeks and there is a dearth of houses available for the spring (Matthew Broderick’s vehicle, Nice Work If You Can Get It, is having a hell of a time finding a place) and theatre owners may be unwilling to transfer a fading Sondheim when they could book a new show.

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    adamunc
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    #430479

    Minus one contender–Funny Girl is indefinitely postponed due to financial problems, so no Lauren Ambrose in the race.

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    CAROL-CHANNING
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    #430480

    Womp Wooomppp 🙁

    Anyway, back to the topic.. I agree that there was a little bit of suspense with 2003.  I think Winokur was the frontrunner for most of the season.  She was the darling of the day in the hit show of the year.  She was also a VERY likable and recognizable character actress, and it would have been really great to see her get her due.  Plus, Peters had too many people believe that she couldn’t handle the role.  But, boy did she prove them wrong the night of the Tonys.  Her Rose’s Turn, imo, was the single greatest Tony performance in history.  Not only did she give an emotional powerhouse of a performance (one that was rarely seen on typical Tony broadcasts, as shows usually like to showcase their more “audience friendly” numbers), she also had so many people rooting against her and expecting her to fail.  There was so much pressure on her that night, what with people believing she was miscast along with people criticizing her for getting a respiratory infection and missing previews, and she came back and basically slapped all of her naysayers in the face.  I will never forget seeing her get a standing ovation and then lose the Tony moments later. 

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    adamunc
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    #430481

    Totally agree about Bernadette’s Tony performance. My vague memory from that year is that there were so many people who were convinced that she was miscast as Mama Rose that they refused to acknowledge that she made the role her own. I was actually most surprised that year that Harvey beat out Antonio for what was really a Featured role. 

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    Trent
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    #430482

    Jennifer Damiano is competing in this race at the 2012 Tonys.

    http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/news/articles/2011-11-03/201111031320343381596.html?promo=tumblr 

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    dannyboy.
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    #430483

    I think Jan Maxwell is going to win Lead Actress in a Musical for ‘Follies’.

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    psychadelicboy33
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    #430484

    I think Jan Maxwell is going to win Lead Actress in a Musical for ‘Follies’.

    I agree and certainly hope so! Jan Maxwell deserves it 

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    dannyboy.
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    #430485

    For a variety of a reasons.. Merit being a primary one.

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