A Tony Voter on Bryan Cranston’s Overrated LBJ, Neil Patrick Harris’s Underwhelming Hedwig

There’s only one Tony voter who really counts—the one willing to talk to us about the golden battle between jukebox shows, drag, Disney, historical dramas, and revivals of revivals.

The Daily Beast

As the Tony Awards (for Broadway excellence) approach on June 8, some big celebrities are licking their wounds over not even being nominated, while others are finding that their imminent sure-fire wins have a few people clutching their pearls. To sum up the golden battle between jukebox shows, drag, Disney, historical dramas, and revivals of revivals, I tracked down a Tony voter, who’s going to remain so anonymous that I won’t even say what gender they are. On the verge of filling out his/her ballot, he/she spilled about which luminaries might want to rehearse a speech and which ones probably shouldn’t bother. This is just one voter out of many, naturally, but he/she has enough to say for an army.

Hello, Tony voter. What did you think of the nomination snubs of big names like Denzel Washington and Daniel Radcliffe?

The nominators are a smaller percentage of the voting body. It’s hard to say what they’re up to. Maybe it was a reaction against all the Hollywood influx. But it’s the Roundabout Theatre Company that really seems to get slighted. I’d look at it more institutionally based. As for The Realistic Joneses [the absurdist Will Eno play that was raved about by the Times, but received no nominations], it had big names in it, but I thought it was horrible.

James Franco didn’t get a nod for Of Mice and Men, though his co-star, Chris O’Dowd, did. What did you think of Franco’s performance?

I was surprised by how solid he was. I had read Ben Brantley’s review [in the Times] and the subsequent “bitch gate” [Franco called Brantley “a little bitch”] and definitely didn’t see what Brantley saw. The only thing that disappointed me about that whole thing was that Franco removed the slam. But that category is full of showy performances, and George is not the showboating role in that play.

What are you voting for as Best Play?

I really liked Act One [based on Moss Hart’s autobiography]. I liked Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina [about straight cross dressers], but I had some problems with it. There were a lot of characters making these preachy speeches. I’m still deciding. It’s probably gonna be Act One. For both myself and the larger voting body, it’s a play about making plays—it’s preaching to the choir.

Bryan Cranston seems to have a lock on Best Actor in a Play for his LBJ in All The Way.

I hated that performance. I was like, “What is all the fuss about?” I definitely think he’s going to win, but I don’t understand it. It could be that I don’t remember LBJ, so I have nothing to compare it to, but from everything I’ve read, there’s no physical likeness, and I don’t know what people like about that performance. I’m wavering between Tony Shalhoub [for Act One] and Mark Rylance [for Richard III]. As I mentioned, I feel every performance is so completely over the top. What happened to a subtle leading role? They’re all kind of crazy. If that’s what that award is, they certainly chose well.

Best Actress in a Play is a showdown between two Tony winners—Cherry Jones for The Glass Menagerie and Audra McDonald for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

I think Audra has my vote. I saw Glass Menagerie twice, and I think Cherry settled into the role, but when I first saw it, I thought, “What the hell is she doing?” With Audra, with nobody expecting it, I had a good feeling about it. It was a bonus.

So she deserves her sixth Tony?

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I wouldn’t mind her having six. There’s none she has that I think, “She should give that one back.”

But it’s a little unfair that Cherry Jones has to compete with someone who sings 16 songs.

It’s that whole “play with music” kind of thing. There’s been a lot of that. I think it’s a tricky category. For all intents and purposes, I think it is a musical.

For Best Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder [about a guy killing off heirs so he can land some cash] seems to be the front-runner. Interestingly, it’s the only one of the four nominees to have all original music.

The problem with that is I hated it. I feel it’s the little show that could, and no one has that going for it, and I couldn’t stand it—and I generally like what’s his name. I’m voting for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Even though it was a pastiche, the book held it together. And I felt there could be more—it’s the first chapter of her life. Apparently she later moves to Wyoming or something and meets mountain men. She’s got two or three musicals to her!

Did you vote for that show’s Jessie Mueller for Best Actress?

I did.

Over Bridges of Madison County’s Kelli O’Hara, a five-time nominee?

I went back and forth on that. Kelli’s gonna suffer from opening too soon, but I thought that musical did a pretty decent job of expanding that book. They did a good job, but people will forget it.

For Best Actor in a Musical, Neil Patrick Harris seems like a slam dunk for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He’s hosted the awards, everyone loves him, and his performance is a daring leap.

But he’s not a great Hedwig. John Cameron Mitchell [the co-author who originally played Hedwig] disappeared into that role. I felt Neil was always Neil, and you had to look over his shoulder to see Hedwig. It’s a great production, but I don’t think you necessarily need all of that production. Ultimately, it left you flat. I think drag connoisseurs are disappointed. There was much better drag this season—like Mark Rylance [in Twelfth Night]. I’d like to see him as Hedwig.

Best Musical Revival? I assume you won’t be voting for Hedwig.

Les Mis has my vote. I was really dreading it, but I think it’s probably my favorite thing this year. I had to drag myself—I’d covered the movie extensively and that friggin’ turntable—but I thought paring it down was a really good idea, and the lead guy [Ramin Karimloo] was incredible. I’m voting for him over Neil Patrick Harris. When he ripped open his shirt to show the brand from the chain gang, it got applause. I liked the movie when it was happening, but I got caught up in the backlash, particularly Anne Hathaway. I watched all those parody videos. It was nice seeing it onstage again.

Will you vote anything for the Woody Allen musical, Bullets over Broadway?

I might go that way in Featured Actress.

But it didn’t get nominated for Featured Actress.

No? I really disliked it. I have a Susan Stroman thing, and it was so her. My best strategy this season was not looking at the Playbill before I saw the show. If I didn’t know it was Susan Stroman, I might have had an easier time at that show.

Are you voting for the genie from Aladdin?

Everyone is.

Your thoughts on the season, overall?

I really liked this season. But there’s kind of a Rocky snub, too. I did think that was the best set.

It’s nominated for best set.

Is it?

[Laughter all around]