Friday, June 11, 2010

The Tonys: My Thoughts on the Musical Nominees

I promised some time ago that I would not even comment on the Tony Award nominations until I saw every show that I could this season. Well, through the miracles of modern (and completely legal) technology (Ragtime), I have managed to see every new and revival musical of the season, either by live attendance (most of the shows) or via the Internet (OK, I pieced together about 95% of Fela! on YouTube, but I only watched B Roll footage, nothing contributed by people who illegally recorded).

Since I only saw two plays this season, Lend Me a Tenor and Next Fall, I won't even try to comment or make guesses about any of the plays and their nominations (or lack of) except to say this: Both of these plays deserved more recognition than they got, and I again say, "Bring on the Best Ensemble Tony!" I can't believe there was no room for Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub or Justin Bartha, not to mention Stanley Tucci's direction of Tenor!?

OK, here are my thoughts on the nominees and the un-nominees of the musical categories, all with the following caveat: Congratulations to everyone in every show, nominated or not. You make a tough job look easy.

Best Orchestrations:

- La Cage, really? The day I saw it, the brass guy was so out of kilter, Kelsey Grammer even flinched a bit. Minimalist orchestrations are best left to the folks who did the revivals Company and Sweeney Todd, who managed to marry great sound with meaning, not just trimming down the payroll.

+ American Idiot When the band who wrote the score of an album that ranks among the best ever written (by all the rock 'n roll critics I've read on the subject) says that Tom Kitt's arrangements and instrumental additions are better than their originals, attention must be paid. "21 Guns" alone made that nomination a necessity.

Best Sound Design of a Musical

- La Cage, really? What was so special about it? The theatre is tiny, the set makes the stage very small. So you could hear every word? Big deal. Boeing Boeing played the same theatre without mics and you could still hear every word.

+ American Idiot Here is a glaring omission. With music this loud and staging so frenetic, that you could understand every word, and knew exactly who was singing is a small miracle.

The Addams Family Company

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

All four nominees, in my mind were worthy. But I would add:

+ The Addams Family This show is, at the very least, a visual feast. The lighting was spot on (pun intended) and perfect for the show: creepy, kooky, ooky and spooky.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

None of the musical set designs this year were big spectaculars. But come on...

- American Idiot   A big plywood box with some TVs and a ton of messy decoupage that was distracting any time anyone in a spotlight stood near the set.  Size doesn't always matter.

- Ragtime  A big Erector Set.  It evoked an era and helped the tedious lining up and unlining up of the cast.  Zzzzz

+ The Addams Family  This show is, at the very least, a visual feast. The set was funny, interesting and very complex, but never got in the way of the show, it only added to it, and it was perfect for the show: creepy, kooky, ooky and spooky.

+ Memphis  The most conventional set design of the year, but it helped the entire show...mood, place, economic setting...and it moved just like the show: fast and smooth.

The A Little Night Music Company

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Even if the Ragtime costumes nod stuck, they should have made room for:

+ A Little Night Music  Quiet elegance, just like the show.

Best Direction of a Musical

- Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles  The first act is a mess, the second act borders on brilliance.  The show is more bi-polar than next to normal.

- Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime Boring, uninspired.  Zzzz!  It plays more like a spelling bee (the most important person stands center stage and sings or talks) and a marching band competition (let's see how many ways we can line up three groups of people).  Honestly, I have seen a more interesting staging of this at a dinner theatre.  The score remains the best thing about this show. Until someone really knows how to stage it, Ragtime will always be the musical with the most unrealized potential.

+ Trevor Nunn, A Little Night Music  Why shouldn't the show be staged simply as long as the themes and tone are in tact.  Even Stephen Sondheim admitted this version is what he always envisioned.  Trevor Nunn brought elegance and subtlety back with style.

+ Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises Maybe conventional, maybe not ground-breaking. But the show is extremely well put together and the book scenes flow as smoothly as his fun, exciting choreography.

The Male Ensemble of Memphis

Best Choreography

- Fela!  OK, this is a vast improvement over Bill T. Jones' Tony winning masturbation-while-walking-in-squares "choreography"  for Spring Awakening, but like the rest of the show, a little goes a long way.  I'll concede that the dancing must be harder than it looks and that it probably is more spectacular live, but it is very repetitive.  Very.  And messily staged.  Very.

- La Cage, really?  I don't understand the heaps of praise on this show to begin with (beyond the cast), but the choreography... is it really hard to make boring muscle boys look like they can't dance well and still call it good dancing.  Give me a giant beach ball, a corset and some seriously overrated dancers and let me see what I can come up with.

+ Memphis   That this show was overlooked is a sin.  It never stops moving.  It covers a wide variety of period styles, and did I mention it never stops moving?  This should have been Sergio Trujillo's award from the day the show opened.  But not even a nomination?  Please!

Best Book of a Musical

- Million Dollar Quartet   There was a book?  An A&E Biography narration is more interesting.
- Everyday Rapture  There was a book?  Ick.

+ The Addams Family  Plot, interesting characters, themes and some seriously funny jokes.  Sounds like a book to a musical to me.

Best Score of a Musical

They did everything they could, I guess.

Stark Sands (right) in American Idiot

Best Supporting Actor

- Robin De Jesus, La Cage aux Folles  His performance is the shining example of all that is wrong with this revival.  Act One:  He is a mess, and not in a good way.  Act Two:  He has heart, humor and is actually funny.  Go figure.

- Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow He gets a nod, but Jim Norton is left out?  For shame.  I've said it before: why does this mug-reliant actor keep getting jobs?

+ Stark Sands, American Idiot He makes a whole character and provides the emotional centerpiece of an emotionally needy show.  He does this with a few lines from songs that never really included him to start with.  THAT is acting!

Best Supporting Actress

- Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim  She has most of her voice left and she has great timing.  But mostly she sits, stands still or waits to be guided off stage.  Love the legend, not the performance.

+ Rebecca Naomi Jones, American Idiot  She manages a nuanced and even subtle performance.  She has a great voice.  And just like with Passing Strange, she is better than the material.  Maybe that's the problem.

+ Elizabeth Stanley, Million Dollar Quartet  She and Levi are the only reason I can accept for this show still playing.

+ Krysta Rodriguez, The Addams Family  Even up against Bebe, Nathan, Jackie, Kevin and the critics, she carries the show with triple-threat confidence.

Best Actor

All five are worthy of a nod this year.  If I had to get rid of one, it would be Douglas Hodge, likely winner.  Why?  Because he is all over the map in act one.  He deserves it for act two alone.  But Kelsey Grammer is incredible throughout the entire show.

If there was room for just one more, I'd add

+ John Gallagher, Jr., American Idiot  By far the most intense, detailed and passionate performance of the year.

Best Actress

- Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture  I hated her performance.  Whiny, screechy and self-serving (even considering that it is supposed to be self-serving).  I love the actress, not the role.  And this is really not fair, is it.  Who can play you better than you?  If that's the case, give Elaine Stritch a best actress Tony for her show.  She was way better at being "Elaine" than Sherie is at being "Sherie."  I'll bet Carrie Fisher is PISSED!

+ Kristin Chenoweth, Promises, Promises  She took a chance and she delivered.  Period.  All the great ones can be funny and heart-breaking.  She is one of the great ones.

Kristin Chenoweth and the gals of Promises, Promises

Best Revival

- Ragtime  Talk about overrated.
- Finian's Rainbow  Talk about overrated.

+ Promises, Promises  Talk about underrated.

Best Musical

- Million Dollar Quartet  Were they really trying that hard to exclude The Addams Family?  Fine.  Don't nominate that show (though it deserves it).  But ANY OTHER new musical was better.

+ The Addams Family
+ Come Fly Away
+ Sondheim on Sondheim

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