The 68th annual Tony Awards kick off Sunday night, with numerous well-known names and titles up for awards. "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," a musical set in Edwardian England, leads the field with 10 nominations, followed by the revival of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," starring Broadway favorite Neil Patrick Harris. "After Midnight," a musical set in Harlem's world-famous Cotton Club, and "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical" received seven nominations each, and its star, Jessie Mueller (as Carole King), is a slight favorite. Other nominees include "Disney's Aladdin," "Rocky: the Musical," and "Bullets Over Broadway: the Musical," with Woody Allen in nomination for best Book of a Musical. Plays leading the field are revivals of "The Glass Menagerie," "Of Mice and Men," starring James Franco, Denzel Washington's "Raisin in the Sun," and "Twelfth Night," and the original play "All The Way," starring Brian Cranston ("Breaking Bad") as President Lyndon Johnson.
In spite of a little backlash from my Maui Tonys column last year, I have chosen again to honor individual performances and productions. Using the same format as the Tony Awards, as related to season cut-off dates and role size, here are my nearly meaningless tributes to personal favorites of the year.
My pick for the best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play is Brett Wulfson as Lady Anne in the Althouse Plays production of "The Worthmores (or the Maid Unmade)." Wulfson shined as an 18th-century spoiled, youthful beauty, while adding a 21st-century reality show diva twist, resulting in very big laughs.
Leighanna Locke in 'Les Mis'
“The Worthmores” Ricky Jones (left); Brett Wulfson
Steven Dascoulias in “La Cage aux Folles”
Don Carlson (left) in “God of Carnage”
Charles Cook in “Rent” with Isaac Rauch (left)
“Les Mis” Scott Smith (left); Leighana Locke
Lia Krieg in 'Les Mis'
For best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical, my choice is Lia Krieg as Eponine in the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of "Les Misrables." Krieg was phenomenal in this role, especially when her character wasn't the center of attention. Acting excellence is remaining focused, compelling and in character even when the action shifts to another part of the stage.
My best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play goes to Ricky Jones as Colonel Vainlove in Althouse Plays' "The Worthmores." For sheer comedic value, Jones' Vainlove was a tour de force, but there was so much more to Vainlove. Jones took an already funny role on paper, brought a cartoon character to life and elicited snickers every time he returned to the stage, even before he began to speak.
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical goes to Charles Cook as Tom Collins in Maui OnStage's production of "RENT." There were many quality male musical performances on Maui this season, but anyone who saw Cook convey his lover's passing, and heard his "I'll Cover You (Reprise)," knows why Cook needs to be singled out.
My choice for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play is Jessica Chernicki as Anne Sullivan in Maui OnStage's "The Miracle Worker." Chernicki's choices as Sullivan were original, powerful and memorable. An actress to watch, she appears firmly rooted in Stanis-lavsky and Strasberg, and I look forward to seeing future unique choices.
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical is Leighanna Locke as Fantine in MAPA's "Les Misrables." A mediocre Fantine can crush a "Les Mis" production. Locke not only ensured that would not be the case but delivered a performance worthy of the current Broadway production.
For best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play, I chose Don Carlson as Alan Raleigh in the ProArts production of "God of Carnage." All four performances in "Carnage" were worthy of high praise. Carlson's Alan was aloof and appeared as if he couldn't be bothered with a little schoolyard fight between boys. Finding the place as an actor to discount the volcano of dysfunction erupting onstage, and not caring, was essential to this brilliant production.
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical is Steven Dascoulias as Albin in the Maui OnStage production of "La Cage aux Folles." Perhaps this was the most stacked category of the season. Between "Les Mis" and "La Cage," there were four magnificent leading male performances. Dascoulias' "I Am What I Am," followed by thunderous applause, was the most eloquent and emotive performance I witnessed all year. As I said back in March, heart and soul poured off the stage in this remarkable number, reminiscent of a commanding Judy Garland performance.
My choice for best play is "God of Carnage." For the second year in a row, ProArts presented the finest drama of the season. Its experienced cast and their choices created a New York-quality theater experience. Director Jonathan Lehman has produced and presented many contemporary, bold, raw and powerful productions over the years, but "God of Carnage," in my opinion, is ProArts' finest achievement to date.
Best musical is "Les Miserables." All of the Maui production companies presented high-quality musicals this season, but MAPA's "Les Mis" may have been the finest achievement in locally produced entertainment history. As I said back in August, if it was ever a question that an independent Maui company could put on a Broadway-caliber show, the answer is: Yes, they can. Broadway quality also requires technical excellence, and the MAPA team utilized Castle Theater in ways it had never been used before. Making all the musical magic happen was the unparalleled 29-piece accompaniment by the Maui Chamber Orchestra, and assembling all these components and performances was possible by the bravura direction of David C. Johnston.
ONO! returns with 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, "Rabbit Hole," by David Lindsay-Abaire. A couple tries to move on after the loss of their little boy. A teen tries to recover from driving the car that hit the boy. And a family tries to forgive, while chasing memories down the rabbit hole. Featuring Hoku Pavao, Rusti Romero, Zeb Mehring, Jett Robidoux and Ricky Jones. Performance starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Free ONO! performances are every second Monday of the month.
Hawai'i Opera Theatre presents "The Mikado" by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Director Henry Akina, with costumes designed by local fashion designer Anne Namba, will present a modern take on the tale, with characters dressed in the style of Harajuku Girls, Yakuza and anime characters. Show takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. June 18 in Castle Theater. Tickets range from $27 to $97 (plus applicable fees), with half-price tickets available for children younger than 12. For details, visit www.mauiarts.org.