Most Tony Awards gurus believe August Wilson's "Fences" is a shoo-in to win best play revival, considering two factors. First, it has classic awards pedigree: The original 1987 production won the Tony for best play plus the Pulitzer Prize. Second, the current revival starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis is a box-office smash that's received the best critical reviews of the four nominees, which also include "Lend Me a Tenor," "The Royal Family" and "A View from the Bridge."
Actually, "Fences" is also the best-reviewed production among the four shows up for best director of a play too. Thus, "Fences" helmer Kenny Leon should, theoretically, win that Tony too — except for one glitch. There's a longstanding curse in this category. Revivals seem like old news when stacked up against hot new shows in the same category. Voters tend to prefer what's new.
During the last 10 years, only once did the helmer of a play revival win best director. In 2004, Jack O'Brien ("Henry IV") beat Moises Kaufman ("I Am My Own Wife," which won best play). That exception probably occurred because "I Am My Own Wife" was a simple production more renowned for the provocative performance of Jefferson Mays than its stagecraft.
But the two new plays nominated for best director aren't known for their stagecraft either: "Red," helmed by Michael Grandage, and "Next Fall," helmed by Sheryl Kaller. And Leon has a high Cool Factor and major mojo. This is his fourth Broadway production. His first was the hit production of "Raisin in the Sun," notoriously starring P. Diddy. The other two were the last two original plays staged on Broadway by Wilson ("Gem of the Ocean," "Radio Golf"). Leon is widely considered to be the modern-day champion of the late playwright who was so beloved by Tony voters. (Nine of Wilson's works were nominated for best play.)
This is Leon's first Tony nomination. In addition to best play revival and director, "Fences" is also nominated for best actor (Washington), actress (Davis), featured actor (Stephen McKinley Henderson), score (Brandford Marsalis), scenic design, costumes, sound design and lighting.
Video by Paul Sheehan
Photo credit: Playbill