Friday, June 21, 2024

The Friday 5: 5 Tony Awards Highs...and Lows

5 Things the Tony Awards Got Right...and Wrong

High #1: The Lifetime Achievement Awards Speeches
Both George C. Wolfe and Jack O'Brien gave thoughtful, insightful and humorous speeches. Humble and grateful, these gentlemen showed us exactly why they deserved this honor...and why they aren't finished yet.

Low #1: The Opening Number
You know I worship at the altar of Tom Kitt, and Amanda Green is right up there in my esteem, too. But this slog of an opening was bland and had the energy of a deflating balloon. I'm no dancer, but considering what Ariana DeBose did with last year's opener, I can't see why she was that out of breath.

High  #2: Kara Young winning Featured Actress in a Play
When we saw Purlie Victorious this past winter, I remember saying to Mike as we exited the Music Box that Kara Young was going to win the Tony for her mesmerizing performance. It truly was one for the ages. I know I'll never forget it.

Low 2: The sound & camera work
It was embarrassing, really. From the opening number, right through The Outsiders' rumble, each musical number felt like I was listening through cotton at best, from underwater at worst. And the camera work was just as bad. When the presenters were naming their respective nominees, the camera was so close to their faces, they looked like they were in carnival fish bowls. And when will they learn that cutting to close ups in most production numbers ruins the effect. Long shots and stand still! (I'm still nauseated from the Cabaret shenanigans.)

High #3: Danya Taymor's shocking victory
I (and pretty much everyone I know) was so sure Maria Friedman was going to win, I almost got up to refill my drink instead of watching. I'm glad I didn't! And I'm happy for Danya Taymor, and she did some amazing work bringing The Outsiders from page to stage. It was 100% theatrical in all the best ways. Gritty and real. And gold.

Low #3: Hell's Kitchen & Cabaret
I can't remember the last time a Tonys performance made me not want to see a show, but it happened twice this year. Cabaret is one of my all-rime favorite musicals, but what I saw on Sunday was overblown, self-indulgent and creepy for the sake of being creepy. Eddie Redmayne was ridiculous. Period. And then there's Hell's Kitchen, which was granted nearly twice as much time as every other show. It looked sloppy, was definitely off-key throughout, and didn't showcase its strongest asset, Maleah Joi Moon. I feel sorry for ticket buyers who think Alicia Keys and Jay-Z are actually in the show. 

High #4: The Chita Rivera tribute number
It was as moving and exciting as the great lady they were paying tribute to. I loved how each of her signature numbers from her greatest triumphs were instantly recognizable, and so beautifully rendered by the ensemble. 

Low #4: No mention of the earlier award winners
As if it wasn't already shameful that so many artists are relegated to the no-man's land of the "warm-up" show, but then not to mention any of them during the main telecast? What an absolute insult.

High #5: The "In Memoriam" segment
Tastefully presented with large, flattering pictures and names, it was lovely. And hearing "What I Did For Love" sung with such poignancy by Nicole Scherzinger was the icing on the cake. She's sensational.

Low #5: The shout-outs
When pre-show host Utkarsh Ambudkar did it the first couple of times, it was funny and felt clever. But giving shout-outs is a bit with diminishing returns, and ended up sounding like what it was: name-dropping to let everyone know he has Broadway connections, no matter how distant they may be - Freestyle Love Supreme counts, but not as much as, say, being in Hamilton. And besides that, were it me, I'd have pointed out that Anthony Ramos wasn't wearing a shirt, and then have asked, "why are you wearing a jacket?"

Bonus Friday 5: 5 Favorite Shows of the 2024 Broadway Season
(In alphabetical order!)
1. Appropriate
2. Illinoise
3. The Notebook
4. The Outsiders
5. Water For Elephants
On any given day, this list might also include Back to the Future most fun), Days of Wine and Roses (most brave), Lempicka (most thought-provoking), Purlie Victorious (most uplifting) or Stereophonic (most on my mind since seeing it). So it looks like I really have 10 five favorite shows!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Play It Again: West Side Story's "Something's Coming"

Play It Again:
West Side Story's "Somewhere"

For this new series, Jeff has invited me to choose some classic Broadway show tunes and compare versions of these songs from several different cast recordings. Wherever possible, I’ll link to the songs on YouTube, where I listen to most of them myself.

This week’s entry considers five recordings of the classic “Something’s Coming” from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story. The first of several rather introspective songs for Tony, it foreshadows the world-changing events, good and bad, that will befall him in the next couple of days. A true collaborative effort, Sondheim’s lyrics borrow heavily from book writer Arthur Laurents’ descriptive sketches for the scene, while Bernstein’s setting of the trippy 3/4 opening section was in turn suggested to him by Sondheim.

These five versions are mostly identical in terms of music and lyrics, with only the last few measures attesting to some subtle tinkering over the course of 64 years. They do, however, differ markedly in orchestration and in each vocalist’s approach to the song. I ended up awarding a tie for my top choice here, as the original boasts an almost miraculous vocal delivery, while the first film soundtrack features a merely great performance backed by top-notch sound and orchestration. With one surprising exception, all of them are sublime listening experiences.

My overall favorite version is marked with two stars (**); one star (*) is used to indicate that a particular version stands out in terms of singing, orchestra, sound, or other miscellaneous qualities. 

- YouTube

Tony: Larry Kert

*SINGING: I’m not one for thinking that the original is always the best, but Kert’s otherworldly vocals set an extremely high bar for this song. His tightly controlled delivery, with joyful outbursts barely restrained by the character’s cerebral tendencies, puts the listener right into Tony’s head space. It’s certainly a performance for the ages.

ORCHESTRA: The original orchestration is surprisingly spare compared to later entries, with its simple percussive brass, woodwind touches, and dynamic string section. 

SOUND: One of producer Goddard Lieberson’s masterly 1950s recordings, the sound is extremely clear and atmospheric. The balance is tilted a bit towards the vocalist for my taste, but most orchestral details are still distinct.

MISCELLANEOUS: This original version has a rather mysterious ending, with a single repetition of “maybe tonight” ending on a level note with no real musical conclusion to the song. 


Tony: Jimmy Bryant

SINGING: Bryant’s approach is similar to Kert’s, and the results are almost as satisfying. He takes the melody a step lower than his predecessor (and most of his successors), and he transitions a little less smoothly between calm and unbridled joy, but he still manages to deliver masterful vocals with a natural simplicity befitting the character.

*ORCHESTRA: The orchestration builds organically on the original, adding a few extra layers of detail and a noticeably fuller string section that playfully jostles with Bryant’s vocals. Uniquely, this version of the song ends with a lovely extended woodwind flourish that really earns this one the star. 

*SOUND: This is an extremely clear recording, with the brass prominent but not obtrusive, and a good balance in general between singer and orchestra.

*MISCELLANEOUS: This one features the best ending, with the repetition of the last line culminating in one final ascending “tonight,” chillingly anticipating Tony’s duet with Maria. The above-mentioned woodwind melody that brings the track to a close is subtle but satisfyingly conclusive. 

- YouTube

Tony: José Carreras

SINGING: Carreras can obviously sing the notes perfectly, but he’s not a great actor, and this interpretation lacks the range and nuance of the others. There’s a bit of an issue with diction, too, especially in some of the more quickly delivered lyrics. Opera singers have been hugely successful in certain musical theater roles, but this is just not a good match of performer and character.

ORCHESTRA: This recording introduces a notably busier orchestration, which is basically retained in subsequent versions. In particular, the brass section is much more aggressive, inserting little outbursts that reflect the Jets’ characteristic dissonant themes. It’s not that I find this inappropriate or intrusive, but I prefer the more limited elaboration of the earlier film soundtrack.

SOUND: Generally fine, but slightly muddy in some of the louder parts, with singing and orchestra blending together.

MISCELLANEOUS: The ending is similar to the original recording. Given that Bernstein conceived of and conducted this version, it’s a surprising misfire for me overall. 

- YouTube

Tony: Matt Cavenaugh

SINGING: Cavenaugh’s approach is decidedly different from the others, rather actorly and tinged with more modern-sounding pop touches. It’s a legitimate choice that I am certain worked well on stage, but his voice occasionally sounds a bit too nasal and the vibrato too aggressive for my taste.

ORCHESTRA: The orchestration is very similar to the studio version just discussed.

SOUND: Generally excellent with good balance, perhaps a bit less detailed than a couple of the other versions.

MISCELLANEOUS: The ending features the repetition of “maybe tonight” with the ascending final note, this time with a dramatic brassy button to bring the song to a close.

- YouTube

Tony: Ansel Elgort

SINGING: Elgort’s approach marks a return to the sensibility of the earlier stage and film versions; his voice has a simple retro feel to it that fits the character like a glove. He sings the song in a much lower key than the others, and of course he can’t match a Larry Kert in terms of vocal purity, but he makes up for it with an abundance of charisma and personality. 

ORCHESTRA: The orchestration is similar to the other latter-day versions, with very active brass and percussion, but sounds slightly more restrained here, perhaps due to the huge size of the ambient orchestra.

*SOUND: Like the earlier movie soundtrack, the sound of this one is pretty much perfect. Great attention was obviously paid to making every word and every note completely distinct.

MISCELLANEOUS: The ending combines the now-standard high note on the final “tonight” with the inconclusive fade-out of the original recording.


Monday, June 17, 2024

Star-To-Be: The Outsiders' Brent Comer

If you are at all familiar with the film version of The Outsiders, you know that as great as he was, Patrick Swayze had a pretty small role as Darryl Curtis, Ponyboy's oldest brother. So, when I saw the musical version on Broadway a few weeks ago, I didn't expect I would see much of whoever would take on part. Boy, was I wrong! Not only did Adam Rapp and Justin Levine's book expand the role, but the young actor playing the character was wonderful in it. Nuanced and heartfelt, Broadway newcomer Brent Comer became one of the emotional centers of 2024's Best Musical and catapulted himself to the top of my list of new talent to follow. 

The Outsiders' Brent Comer

A regular in the local theater scene of Western Maryland, Comer played such roles as The Baker in Into the Woods, Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid, and Melchior in Spring Awakening. While earning his degree in musical theater from James Madison University in Virginia, he had featured roles in the family musical Schoolhouse Rock Live! and as the Wolf/Cinderella's Prince in Into the Woods. His professional debut came when he was cast in the 2019 National Tour of Les Miserables, which got cut short due to the pandemic. Then, he got an even better break when he was cast as Paul in the pre-Broadway production of The Outsiders at La Jolla Playhouse. Before transferring to the Jacobs Theatre, he was promoted to the role of Darryl when its originator, Ryan Vasquez, went on to The Notebook. The rest is history - and I suspect Mr. Comer will have a long career on stage.

The Little Mermaid

Into the Woods/Spring Awakening

Rehearsing Schoolhouse Rock Live!

Into the Woods (left)

Promo Shots

Production Photos

Opening Night with Angelina Jolie

Friday, June 14, 2024

The 2024 Tony Awards: Our Predictions

The 2024 Tony Awards:
Our Predictions

At last the Super Bowl of theater is upon us! As usual, Mike and I have given thought to all of the shows we've seen this season - including 1 new play, 2 play revivals, 2 musical revivals and 11 new musicals. As such, we'll do our best to predict the winners in the musical categories at The 77th Annual Tony Awards, plus some thoughts in the play categories.

Below are our picks for "Will Win" and "Should Win," as well as notes for each. We've also included a few "Overlooked" nominees. Of course, we congratulate all of the nominees and winners. It was a great season!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Daniel Radcliffe: Merrily We Roll AlongWill Win:Daniel Radcliffe: Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:Daniel Radcliffe: Merrily We Roll AlongShould Win:Daniel Radcliffe: Merrily We Roll Along
Overlooked:Ricky Ubeda: IllinoiseOverlooked:Ricky Ubeda: Illinoise
Jeff's NotesRadcliffe is the biggest and best reason to see Merrily. He delivers, and this caps a Broadway career of being overlooked.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Bebe Neuwirth: CabaretWill Win:Lindsay Mendez: Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:Lindsay Mendez: Merrily We Roll AlongShould Win:Lindsay Mendez: Merrily We Roll Along
Overlooked:Hannah Cruz, Jenn Colella: SuffsOverlooked:
Jeff's NotesBebe is making a hell of a return, and she's the only thing about Cabaret that got universal acclaim. Plus, I can't imagine that show going home without any trophies.

Best Book of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Adam Rapp & Justin Levine: The OutsidersWill Win:Shaina Taub: Suffs
Should Win:Adam Rapp & Justin Levine: The OutsidersShould Win:Adam Rapp & Justin Levine: The Outsiders
Overlooked:Justin Peck & Jackie Sibblies Drury: IllinoiseOverlooked:Justin Peck & Jackie Sibblies Drury: Illinoise
Jeff's NotesRapp and Levine's book added layers to the novel's characters, while staying true to the beloved classic. And the book into song element was seamless. Of course, I could say the same about Brunstetter's book for The Notebook.
Best Score Written for the Theater
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Will Butler: StereophonicWill Win:Will Butler: Stereophonic
Should Win:Jamestown Revival & Justin Levine: The OutsidersShould Win:Adam Guettel: Days of Wine and Roses
Overlooked:Ingrid Michaelson: The Notebook, PigPen Theatre Co.: Water For ElephantsOverlooked:Ingrid Michaelson: The Notebook
Jeff's NotesI think the Tony voters will want to look "hip," but The Outsiders score, like its book, is a beautiful extension of its source, traditional but not really.
Best Orchestrations
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Justin Levine, Matt Hinkley & Jamestown Revival: The OutsidersWill Win:Jonathan Tunick: Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:Timo Andres: IllinoiseShould Win:Timo Andres: Illinoise
Overlooked:John Clancy & Carmel Dean: The NotebookOverlooked:Adam Guettel & Jamie Lawrence: Days of Wine and Roses
Jeff's NotesAgain, this could go to any of the nominees...

Best Revival of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Merrily We Roll AlongWill Win:Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:Merrily We Roll AlongShould Win:Merrily We Roll Along
Jeff's NotesNot my favorite show this year by a long shot, but Cabaret is too...much, Gutenberg is a distant memory, and Tommy is a loud disappointment.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Tim Hatley & Finn Ross: Back to the FutureWill Win:Tim Hatley & Finn Ross: Back to the Future
Should Win:David Korins: Here Lies LoveShould Win:David Korins: Here Lies Love
Jeff's NotesAny of these could win, and honestly, they all are deserving, all for different reasons.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Bradley King & David Bengali: Water For ElephantsWill Win:Brian MacDevitt & Hana S. Kim: The Outsiders
Should Win:Brandon Stirling Baker: IllinoiseShould Win:Brian MacDevitt & Hana S. Kim: The Outsiders
Overlooked:Justin Townsend: Here Lies LoveOverlooked:
Jeff's NotesThey'll want to give something to Elephants. and I think this might be it's best chance.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Paul Tazewell: SuffsWill Win:Paul Tazewell: Suffs
Should Win:Linda Cho: The Great GatsbyShould Win:Paul Tazewell: Suffs
Jeff's NotesCabaret is just too... much (again), Gatsby is traditionally splashy, Elephants isn't circus-splashy enough.
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Gareth Owen: Hell's KitchenWill Win:Kai Harada: Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:M.L. Dogg & Cody Spencer: Here Lies LoveShould Win:Cody Spencer: The Outsiders
Overlooked:Gareth Owen: Back to the FutureOverlooked:Kai Harada: Days of Wine and Roses
Jeff's NotesI don't know much about sound design, but I'm guessing a pop/jukebox score sounding good in a theater could get a lot of votes. Here Lies Love was a technical marvel, and deserves all of those awards,

Best Direction of a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Maria Friedman: Merrily We Roll AlongWill Win:Maria Friedman: Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:Jessica Stone: Water For Elephants or Danya Taymor: The OutsidersShould Win:Danya Taymor: The Outsiders
Overlooked:Alex Timbers - Here Lies LoveOverlooked:Justin Peck: Illinoise
Jeff's NotesMaria Friedman will win because she's "fixed" the unfixable. She isn't even in my top 5 for the season. Both Stone and Taymor found the most creative and cohesive ways to bring their shows' worlds to vibrant life.
Best Choreography
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Justin Peck: IllinoiseWill Win:Justin Peck: Illinoise
Should Win:Justin Peck: IllinoiseShould Win:Justin Peck: Illinoise
Jeff's NotesThere simply isn't another choice here.

The Plays: Appropriate, Purlie Victorious, Stereophonic
Jeff's NotesI'll be shocked if Stereophonic and Appropriate don't win Best Play and Best Revival of a Play, respectively. Same with Sarah Paulson for Leading Actress. I hope that Kara Young wins - hers was a tour de force performance, though I won't be upset if Sarah Pidgeon wins. The Featured Actor category is anybody's guess, though I think either Eli Gelb or Tom Pecinka are likely. Edge to Pecinka for me.
Mike's Notes:I think Kara Young will edge out the Stereophonic women for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Appropriate and Stereophonic seem like near-locks in their respective categories, as does Sarah Paulson. Among the Stereophonic men, I slightly favor Eli Gelb to win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Jonathan Groff: Merrily We Roll AlongWill Win:Jonathan Groff: Merrily We Roll Along
Should Win:Brian d'Arcy James: Days of Wine and RosesShould Win:Brody Grant: The Outsiders
Jeff's NotesGroff is popular and does a fine job in the comeback show of all time. James is giving the performance of his storied career. Grant could be a dark horse.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:Maleah Joi Moon: Hell's KitchenWill Win:Kelli O'Hara: Days of Wine and Roses
Should Win:Kelli O'Hara: Days of Wine and RosesShould Win:Kelli O'Hara: Days of Wine and Roses
Jeff's NotesAny of these women are deserving by all accounts. Plunkett is amazing, and she could pull off an upset. That said, I've never seen O'Hara do better work.

Best Musical
Jeff Predicts:Mike Predicts:
Will Win:The OutsidersWill Win:Suffs
Should Win:The OutsidersShould Win:Illinoise
Overlooked:The Notebook, Here Lies LoveOverlooked:Days of Wine and Roses, Here Lies Love
Jeff's NotesThis could go several ways. Hell's Kitchen is possible. How great to have so many viable winners for a change! (I'd be thrilled for Illinoise!)


Jeff Predicts: 4 - Merrily We Roll Along, 3 - The Outsiders, 3 - Stereophonic*, 2 - Appropriate*, 2 - Hell's Kitchen^, 1 - Back to the Future, 1 - Cabaret^, 1 - Illinoise, 1 - Purlie Victorious*, 1 - Suffs, 1 - Water For Elephants

Mike Predicts: 7 - Merrily We Roll Along, 3 - Suffs, 3 - Stereophonic*, 2 - Appropriate*, 1 - Back to the Future, 1 - Days of Wine and Roses, 1 - Illinoise, 1 - Purlie Victorious*, 1 - The Outsiders

* - For the plays, we just went with general thoughts on Best Play, Best Revival, and the acting categories. We both figure these 3 plays will have success in their other categories.

^ - These predictions are pure speculation, as I did not see Cabaret or Hell's Kitchen.


Jeff: 10 out of 20: 50%
Mike: 11 out of 20: 55%

Mike wins every year! 😎 
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