By Peter Filichia —
Here’s the second of five columns dealing with notable omissions in Tony categories.
Last week, I took a look at the women who weren’t nominated for the Best Featured Musical Actress Tony Award for certain performances – and arguably should have been.
Now, submitted for your approval, are those men who weren’t cited as possibilities for the Best Featured Musical Actor Tony Award – and certainly had a case to be nominated.
Coming to these conclusions isn’t always the result of seeing the performers live, on tape, DVD or YouTube. Often, our most convincing evidence is what we hear on the cast albums.
Based on those, you decide, too: should any, some or all have been chosen, either in lieu of or in addition to somebody else?
In alphabetical order:
Jason Alexander (Merrily We Roll Along: 1981-1982). Granted, Alexander didn’t have much to do when he recorded the famous cast album. At first, he had only a few lines in “Now You Know” and “It’s a Hit!” Even from those, however, you can tell that he had the right side-of-the-mouth delivery to play a Broadway producer who’d seen it all and believed he knew it all, too. But Alexander’s real piece de resistance that none can resist occurred in “Opening Doors” – when he chided Franklin Shepard and Charley Kringas because “There’s not a tune you can hum” in their work. Funny that director Hal Prince saw Alexander in this brash way, but that TV casting directors viewed him quite differently – as perennial loser George Costanza in Seinfeld.
Alfred De Sio (Kean: 1961-1962). You think “merch guys” in the lobbies of shows are only a recent phenomenon? As Peter Stone, Robert Wright and George Forrest showed us, they were around in the 19th century, too. Here was one who sold “pictures of Edmund Kean,” the great British actor, “in Hamlet, Lear and Cymbeline.” De Sio sold his song, too, a delectable one called “Penny Plain, Twopence Colored.” At its end, it displayed arguably the longest melisma in Broadway history, and De Sio navigated it beautifully.
Raúl Esparza (The Rocky Horror Show: 2001-2002). It’s astounding how time has fleeted by, and yet I still remember this young man becoming a very different Riff Raff from Richard O’Brien in the famous film. Yes, just as eerie, just as menacing, but in an altogether different way. I could let him do “The Time Warp” again and again.
Ed Evanko (Rex: 1976-1977). As Mark Smeaton – who really was a singer-musician in the court of Henry VIII – Evanko got what may have been the last terrific melody from Richard Rodgers: “No Song More Pleasing.” (One wonders, by the way, if Sheldon Harnick heard the lovely melody first and found that no song was as pleasing so he just had to call it that.) Later in the show, Henry believed this court favorite was consorting with his wife, and that meant a one-way trip to the Tower of London. The way Evanko dealt with the news and accepted his fate showed who the real noble was.
Victor Garber (Sweeney Todd: 1978-1979). Many actors who must play the love-at-first-sight scene – not to mention sing the love-at-first-sight song — look silly. And yet, Garber somehow convinced us that this was one time that the love was for real. As for the song – the first “Johanna” of three by that name – Garber was heartfelt and passionate in delivering it. And, oh, how nicely he did by that flattened note on “dream,” making it as delicious as bittersweet chocolate.
Robert Jackson (Raisin: 1973-1974). As Joseph Asagai, Beneatha’s Younger’s Nigerian boyfriend, Jackson got the haunting “Alaiyo.” It started out as a song in which he endeavored to give her African pride, but by the end, Jackson allowed us to see that it was a love song, too. (Ever wonder what “Alaiyo” literally means? “One for whom bread is not enough.” That applies to all of us who love Broadway.)
Harold Lang (I Can Get It for You Wholesale: 1961-1962). No Tony nominating committee ever smiled on Lang in his eight musicals, not even acknowledging his Pal Joey in the revival that made the show a solid part of the American musical theater repertoire. His last appearance was in Wholesale, where he played the smarmy Teddy Asch. The way he put over Harold Rome’s “What’s In It for Me?” made chicanery seem to be the most natural state in the world.
Art Lund (The Most Happy Fella: 1956-1957). Broadway has been tainted by pop singers who came to The Street and couldn’t cut the theatrical mustard. Here was an exception that ruled. Lund – who’d had number one hits on the charts –sounds fine, as you’d expect. But in introducing the standard, “Joey, Joey, Joey,” he also caught the character’s restlessness and rugged individualism. No wonder that Rosabella (née Amy) fell in love with his “pitch.”
Roddy McDowall (Camelot: 1960-1961). Very rarely has a Hollywood star of this magnitude taken as long to arrive on stage as McDowall did. But his Mordred – who was King Arthur’s illegitimate son – was worth waiting for. Don’t assume, however, that just because his song “The Seven Deadly Virtues” was then one of the shortest in Broadway history (a mere minute and twenty-six seconds) that he didn’t make an impact. Still, Camelot was such a disappointment in that season that precious little of it was appreciated – including McDowall.
Laurence Naismith (Here’s Love: 1963-1964). Well, if Edmund Gwenn could win an Oscar for playing Santa Cl – um, Kris Kringle – in Miracle on 34th Street, shouldn’t the equally avuncular Naismith have received at least a Tony nomination for his role in this musical version? He sang in Dutch in order to please a little girl from the Netherlands; he introduced the (much underrated) title song; he urged our little cynic Susan to “expect things to happen like the people in the fairy tales do.” Naismith was well within his rights to expect a Tony nod.
Allan Nichols (Inner City: 1971-1972). Faithful readers will recall how much I plugged this show last week. I especially cited Joy Garrett’s rendition of a terrific showstopper that was officially called, “The Hooker” but could just as easily have been named “You Do It Your Way (and I’ll Do It Mine).” Well, the same marvelous Helen Miller melody with a new Eve Merriam lyric was used for “The Dealer,” which could have just as easily been named “You Sell It Your Way (and I’ll Sell It Mine).” Here was a drug pusher who rationalized that other businesses addict us in other ways, and while he could never convince us of that, he did make more of a case than we might have wished.
Gilbert Price (The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd: 1964-1965). One scene, one song and out – but the same could be said of Marilyn Cooper in Woman of the Year, and she got a full-fledged Tony Award. Price introduced “Feeling Good,” a song that’s still heard here and there (even on a recent TV commercial). He made us immediately realize that we were hearing something good.
Lonny Price (Merrily We Roll Along: 1981-1982). How well I remember the show’s first preview on Oct. 8, 1981. Price didn’t have anything much to do in the first couple of scenes. In the third, he mostly listened to Ann Morrison insist that nothing was “Like It Was.” Ah, but in the next section, Price came out to complain about “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” – which is not the easiest piece of (very) special material to deliver and a veritable musical scene in itself. The crowd went w-i-l-d for the first time of the night.
John Travolta (Over Here! 1973-1974). Now we have the opposite of the Jason Alexander trajectory. While Over Here’s director Tom Moore cast Travolta as a character named “Misfit,” Hollywood would soon see him as a major sex symbol. But even a Misfit can spend time “Dream Drummin’,” a cool song that Travolta knew just how to sell.
Paul Wallace (Gypsy: 1959-1960). Here’s a performance we can still see today thanks to the 1962 film. And while we all mourn that Ethel Merman didn’t get a chance to reprise her Rose, at least we got to see Wallace in “All I Need Is the Girl,” his dazzling solo dance number that exhilarated Louise and the rest of us. What a shame that he never revisited Broadway again. Could it have been the Tony snub that discouraged him?
Next Tuesday: The Best Actress in a Musical non-nominees that should have had a shot at the prize.