Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tonys 2008: A Latin hat at that

In an ideal world, I'd have seen many more Broadway shows this season than I actually did--at the very least, Sunday in the Park with George, South Pacific, and In the Heights--but I had to watch the Tony Awards anyway! Some thoughts, post-ceremony:

Favorite moment: Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping his Best Score acceptance. He was obviously so exhilarated and overwhelmed--you could tell it was a bit of a struggle to get the words out--but he kept on going and gave a memorable, emotional speech. And of course, I loved the Sondheim shout-out.

Also great: how the Broadway community seems to support Mr. Miranda and wants him to succeed, hoisting him onto their shoulders after In the Heights won Best Musical. Now, it's probably easier for a young composer/lyricist to get this support than a young playwright, since there are not many musical theater composers these days compared to the number of playwrights...but still, I find it heartening. Also heartening, or at least a moment when I said "right on!": Tracy Letts' speech that said, basically, "You produced a new American play on Broadway without any movie stars in the cast--imagine that!"

I know there's no better way to divide it up, but I still think it's weird that the award for Best Play goes to both the writer and the producers. It becomes most jarring with something like The 39 Steps, which by all accounts is a wonderfully entertaining piece of theater but, as a comic adaptation of a film script, seems out of place with the other nominees in its category. I wish, too, that they'd allowed the writers their moment in the spotlight by announcing their names and filming their faces when reading the Best Play nominees.

But nope, it was Musicals Night, with the producers seemingly attempting to cram in mentions of every show currently running on Broadway. My reactions to the added musical numbers:
  • The Lion King: I know it's Disney, but that is some awesome, awesome theatricality right there.
  • The Little Mermaid: Too bad that theatrical magic isn't in this number. And notice that they filmed the actress in close-up, because otherwise we'd see how silly her mermaid costume really looked.
  • A Catered Affair: Terrible. A banal, rambling mess of a song--and this is the best they could do for national television?
  • Young Frankenstein: A one-joke song ("Deep Love") with a predictable melody/chord pattern, but at least the actors were selling it with great conviction. Is it just me, or is the tune a little reminiscent of "The Impossible Dream"?!
Thoughts on other musical performances:
  • I was surprised to like the dancing from Grease. When you cast a girl from a reality show there's no guarantee that she'll be able to do the splits and high kicks.
  • The dance number from Cry-Baby is very Susan Stroman in its use of props but if I hadn't read that the men were tap-dancing with license plates, I don't think I would have been able to tell what was on their feet.
  • Riddle me this: If Passing Strange has got such great reviews, why have I never been able to work up an interest in seeing it? And why did I not get pulled in by their Tony performance? Why do people claim that Stew is a great lyricist, when the line "I've found a place where I can be / That thing called me" (or something like that) actually made me wince?
  • I very much liked the In the Heights number and the way it told a story through music and lyrics, except at the end when too many of the lyrics got lost in the muddle.
  • Ooh, I wish I could've seen Sunday in the Park. The projections looked gorgeous, and Daniel Evans had so much emotion singing "Move On" (and looked so happy to be there!). My friend was rooting for him instead of Paulo Szot.
  • South Pacific looked good, too, though. Just-for-fun prediction: next time Kelli O'Hara gets nominated for a Tony, she'll be the front-runner to win it. She's come on so strongly over the past few seasons (Light in the Piazza, Pajama Game, South Pacific) that she nearly feels overdue.
What with Gypsy, and Sunday, and Lin-Manuel's shout-out, and his own special-achievement Tony, this felt like Stephen Sondheim's night, though he wasn't even there. Leave it to him to stick up for playwrights and librettists, thanking all of his collaborators in a letter (meanwhile, Best Book wasn't even awarded on the telecast!). What a classy and generous man. But I feel for him, too. Really, it must be lonely at the top--to be the most feted artist of the American musical theater for over twenty years, with people expecting miracles every time he writes a song. I wrote him a letter this spring after hearing him speak, to express my sincere gratitude for his songs and his creation of the Young Playwrights Festival--but I have to wonder if letters like mine just increase the pressure he feels of crushingly high expectations.

Photo from broadway.com


chipego's mom said...
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Marc Acito said...

I'm with you on Passing Strange. That number was just, well, strange. What about Patti LuPone's acceptance speech. "It's been 29 years. Shut up."

Marissa said...

I wish I could get excited about Passing Strange, especially because a friend of mine at Berkeley Rep told me it was good... but I seem to have have some kind of mental block.

As for Patti, well, I wouldn't want everyone to behave the way she does, but every generation needs a diva or two...

wdomburg said...

The number from In The Heights was a pretty heavily compressed amalgam of two songs from the show, so it's not surprising it got a bit muddled. The full length version of 96,000 (the second song) has the verses delivered individually before the overlapping rendition.

I'm willing to give Passing Strange a chance (downloading the cast album through emusic.com at least). But then my kids absolutely love the Tony number for some reason. Ever hear a two year old crooning "welcome to amsterdam"? while his twin brother runs around using a peg as a microphone as he runs around saying "tell me, say it's alright now"? Hard not to enjoy.