I’d ballot in the morning.
I’d ballot in the evening.
All over this la-a-and.

Its Tony time again.  Nominations arrive on May 4 in the wee morning hours.  I was torn between writing this post on who I’d vote for this year, if I did indeed have a vote, or to write who I think will actually get nominated.  And, given that I am full of opinion, I was leaning towards just laying out my imaginary ballot.  But, alas, I’ve chosen to withhold my preferences until the esteemed official voting bloc does its thing.  Then I can complain loudly and proudly.

Looking over this year’s field, a trend I’ve noticed over the last few years has solidified into practice.  Two seasons ago, A Catered Affair reached Broadway.  It was an interpolation of an old Bette Davis-Ernest Borgnine-Debbie Reynolds film, spun by Harvey Fierstein and featuring strong performances from Faith Prince and Tom Wopat.  However, despite the obvious beauty of the show, it was clear watching it that it wasn’t quite baked.  It was rushed through development to get to Broadway.  It had its fans, but ultimately was overshadowed by long-developed shows In The Heights and Passing Strange, which both had extended Off-Broadway runs before facing off for Best Musical at the Tonys, along with also-well-developed Xanadu.  In The Heights took home the prize, and is the only new musical from that season still running.

Last year, the Best Play and Best Musical winners were both imports from Britain, God of Carnage and Billy Elliot, respectively.  In fact, both were well-loved shows across the pond before making their way here.  The development made them successful in both cities, and each easily dominated their category.  Carnage blew away very strong competition, challenge from Neil Labute’s Reasons To Be Pretty, Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, and Horton Foote’s Dividing The Estate.  Billy, however, faced no real challenge from its only major competition in the Off-Broadway transfer of Next To Normal.

This year, once again, the shows in contention for Best Musical are generally an imperfect bunch.  Addams Family is a morass of cut & paste.  All About Me wasn’t worth knowing.  American Idiot is a staged version of a punk album that doesn’t bother to name its female characters.  Burn the Floor was all smoke.  Come Fly Away does land enough.  Everyday Rapture should be the extinguished Special Event category, since it’s really a one-woman show.  Fela! doesn’t tell enough of Kuti’s story.  Memphis’s book completely falls apart in the second act.  Million Dollar Quartet is a stunt, aiming only at tourists’ wallets.  Each one could use some more development, but it’s no surprise the best two of the bunch (in my opinion) had Off-Broadway runs.  And the two best revivals are both British imports.  Once again, fully developed productions are few and far between.

Producers seem to be rushing shows to the big stage, rather than fully investing in a show’s development.  I read that Yank!, which I enjoyed, is coming up next season.  But, frankly, it’s not ready.  The second act needs work, and some of the songs need to be replaced.  Its simply too soon, despite a stellar performance from Bobby Steggert, for the show to make it to Broadway.

Bake it properly, and the show will rise well.  Take it out too soon, and it will fall.  Such has been the Broadway scene for the last few years.  Its economics, certainly, impacting the length of time an investor will wager on results, but the last few years have shown diminishing returns for those who don’t properly develop their shows.  And we all suffer when that happens.

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Anyone who saw Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations (with Jane Fonda) will fondly recall the scene where Zach Grenier, as Beethoven, composes a one of the titular variations by talking through the elements of music he’s conceiving.  That scene was probably single best moment on stage of the play (which had many great moments) because it was a showcase of the moment of creation.

In John Logan’s Red, that moment happens wordlessly, as Alfred Molina & Eddie Redmayne prime a canvas with incredible energy.  Its simply dynamic, and is likewise the best moment in the play.  Although this is more the frenetic preparation for a much more intense creative work, the emotion is nonetheless powerful. Continue Reading »

Promises, Promises

More like Mistakes, Mistakes.  It’s always disappointing to walk out of a show knowing exactly what went wrong with good ingredients, much like I do when I screw up cooking.  Optimal ingredients just don’t always go together.  And sometimes the execution is off.

But, there is a bright spot.  It’s a blond that was plucked from a rising Broadway career to play a divine supporting role in Bryan Fuller show with a devoted cult following.

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So, the reviews were excellent.  Since I’m so late in getting to this review, I wasn’t sure there was much I could add, since the reviews generally covered Encores’s latest showpiece with an angle I enjoyed: Donna Murphy as musical comedy genius.  And, yes, Murphy was absolutely stellar, owning every moment on stage with dynamic, ebullient deliciousness.

I could write more about that, but frankly, I’m more interested in a tangent to the conversation the other writers I’ve linked to have started.  Murphy’s natural talent and charisma are enormous, so why isn’t she working more?  Mostly, its her health.  During the runs of Wonderful Town and Lovemuzik, she broke down physically.  Perhaps her in a play role might be a good fit for her.  I mean, she practically is Auntie Mame, so why not cast her in that, rather than the musical?  Of course, who wouldn’t want to see Murphy take on Jerry Herman’s masterpiece?

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The Scottsboro Boys

I guess Blackface is in.  In what, I have no idea.  After A Behanding in Spokane‘s ridiculous black character and Lend Me A Tenor‘s Otello moments, The Scottsboro Boys one-ups them all and turns the minstrel concept on its ear.  In fact, the whole construct of a minstrel show is upended by Kander & Ebb’s latest “last show”, and done so with supreme excellence.

Using such a viciously constructed format to essentially deride the formula (let alone the concept) of a minstrel show to take a musical look at the Scottboro Boys’ historical experience is, quite honestly, a stroke of genius.  I knew the story, and still the emotional drive John Kander & Fred Ebb elicit during their songs balanced by David Thompson’s book was quite astonishing.  Overall, I think its the best newly constucted musical I’ve seen in quite some time, at least since 2004’s Caroline or Change – easily trumping the new constructs I’ve enjoyed since then, including Fela!, Xanadu, Passing Strange, Grey Gardens, Spring Awakening, In The Heights, Billy Elliot, The Light In The Piazza, & the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Easily.  Perhaps the best first-run musical I’ve ever seen.  Perhaps.  I’m not a huge fan of superlatives, but, I really feel this show deserves it.  And I’m not alone.

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Lend Me A Tenor

Screwball farce only works with a fever pitch built from a slow burning snowball.  Circumstances need to pile up, with only a single, hilarious evolution towards a fabulously silly conclusion.  On paper, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor, is not really a perfect farce.  Its got the elements, but its first act fundamentally does not move the snowball down the hill with any real momentum.  And the characters are fundamentally two-dimensional in a way that doesn’t necessarily help the play along.

However, in the revival directed by Stanley Tucci, the centrifugal force of the final act is so well driven, that the show ends up being a delight.  Tucci has been a part of many a poorly written script, and its nice to know he knows it.  His acting talents have often been wasted, but his flair for detail and humor carries through in his first Broadway directing effort.

And he debuts with a cast of his friends, most notably including Tony Shalhoub and his wife Brooke Adams.  (That’s Shalhoub’s wife, not Tucci’s.)  Also on board are Broadway vets Jan Maxwell, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Anthony LaPaglia, and Jay Klaitz.  Making his Broadway debut to round out a generally solid cast is Justin Bartha, who’s better known for his bland film work.

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It’s one thing to use off-putting language to make a point.  However, epithets and bigotry used for the same of calling attention to yourself is entirely another story.  Martin McDonaugh is a master of being off-putting, and his newest play, A Behanding in Spokane, finds the writer very clearly in his element.  However, that’s not always a good thing.

The play opens with Christopher Walken sitting on a bed.  And just seeing his delightful scowl is enjoyable.  Walken, here as an aging white supremacist, does his best to chew the scenery and own every moment he’s onstage.  Particularly enjoyable is the final scene, where he’s on the phone with his mother.  It’s  vintage Walken, done magnificently to the nth degree.

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