Josh and the City: On Artists and Award Seasons

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week—not that I’d judge you if you were—then you know that an exciting annual event has recently taken place: the Tony Award nominee announcements! I look forward to this every year just like I do with the Golden Globes, Emmys, SAGs and Academy Awards. I brace myself for the gasps and shocks that accompany each new list of nominees and am simultaneously ready to celebrate those among my favorite performers that were fortunate enough to nab a nomination.

I will preface this column by saying that I have not seen every show on the nominee list; in fact, I’ve only seen a few of them. But I was greatly surprised by this year’s list of nominees.

Mainly because Jessica Chastain wasn’t on it.

Yes, I know, I am completely biased after seeing almost all of her films and watching her from the front row during her Broadway debut in The Heiress, but I was completely shocked that neither her nor her co-star David Strathairn were given nominations for their masterful work. My shock was slightly alleviated with Judith Ivey’s MUCH-deserved nomination for Actress in a Featured Role and I couldn’t help but look into the other actors denied the opportunity to add a Tony to their resumés.

The list was astounding. Bette Midler, for her one-woman show I’ll Eat You Last; Alan Cumming, for his one-man portrayal of all 15 characters in MacBeth; Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. for The Trip to Bountiful; Chita Rivera for her comedic turn in The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Hunter Foster for Hands on a Hardbody—the list went on and on. This is nothing new in the world of awards for any kind of performance. I’m still getting over Ryan Gosling’s lack of Oscar nomination for his role in Drive, not to mention Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (no offense, Alan Arkin).

I do want to focus on one show in particular, though: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. This is the first play I saw when I came to New York; I attended when it was still at Lincoln Center in the midst of its pre-Broadway run. I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the scenes involving Kristine Nielsen’s phone chat with a man named Joe and David Hyde Pierce’s rant about the endless ways technology has corrupted us all. Christopher Durang’s script was certainly geared to delight Chekhov enthusiasts, but it was just as enjoyable even if the audience didn’t understand any of the Russian references. I had my mind made up about the show until a man came into my place of work yesterday with a completely different opinion. I saw that he had a playbill in hand and asked him what he had just seen.

“That Vanya show,” he said. “I thought it was good. Not one of Durang’s best, though. There were two scenes in particular that I didn’t like—that phone scene was so predictable and David’s monologue about Facebook and all that stuff you young people like was just…..I dunno. It was predictable, too.” He then went on to say how much he enjoyed a particular performance that I had an opposite opinion about. When I voiced this, he got quiet and then made sure to tell me that I was alone in that opinion before quickly leaving the store. I chuckled. For the record, I am definitely not on my own with that particular opinion and the New York Times would agree with me (not to mention the group of people I went to see the show with, most of whom felt very strongly about the “major problem” with the show). My opinion in this case is not important; what I realized from this year’s list of nominations is.

If Bette Midler—Bette Midler—can be denied a Tony nomination for doing a one-woman show (and who hasn’t dreamt about that for years? I can name half a dozen people who I know would JUMP at the chance to see that), then anyone can. Just because you’ve had a successful career and a lifetime of work doesn’t mean that you automatically get a nomination. By the same token, just because you weren’t nominated doesn’t mean that the work you contributed isn’t as stellar and powerful as it could possibly be.

Take Jessica Chastain, for example. She is a chameleon, an actress of seemingly unlimited versatility, a two-time Oscar nominee, and now one of the most high-demand actresses in Hollywood. She wasn’t even nominated for her brilliant Broadway debut! Look at Meryl Streep, who has been nominated upwards of 17 times and has only nabbed three awards! I know, three Oscars is amazing by anyone’s standards, but I often wonder how she felt at all of those award ceremonies, being lauded as arguably the most talented actress of all time and never winning the actual award to prove it (apart from her earlier ones for Sophie’s Choice and Kramer Vs. Kramer). Streep’s lack of Academy gold does not invalidate her work as an actress; it just goes to show that sometimes someone contributed work that nudged the Academy in a different direction.

Having only seen a few of this year’s nominated theatre pieces myself, I’m sure the same is true of the Tony committee. They can’t possibly nominate everyone on Broadway, so they had to go with their gut and make some executive decisions. We may not agree with them but, in the end, we have to accept what they came up with (even if we secretly think someone else deserved a nod). I’m personally ecstatic that Carolee Carmello received one for Scandalous after being denied one for her wonderful performance as Alice Beineke in The Addams Family. I’m also thrilled for Tom Hanks and the late Nora Ephron’s play, Lucky Guy. And who could deny the likelihood of Cinderella being nominated for a whole slew of awards; all I hear about it is that it is one of the best musicals of recent years, along with Matilda and the ever-popular fan-favorite Book of Mormon.

All I know is, instead of focusing on the nominees or the upsets, I think the most important thing to take away from any award season is the work put in by every single actor, director, writer, choreographer, lighting designer, costume designer, tech crew member, conductor, musician, producer and anyone else with creative input on the many shows being performed today. Without them, awards wouldn’t be given or even anticipated. The work is the most important thing. The celebration of one particular individual for being “the best” just happens to be a nice bonus.

Congratulations to all of the nominees as well as anyone who was overlooked this year. All of your work is valued and appreciated and I look forward to seeing the art you create in the future.

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