The Tony Telecast
|Broadway alumni and 2018 Tony hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles|
When it came to the performance numbers from this season's shows, there were more good than bad, although not every show was a home run. The Mean Girls cast in particular seemed slightly terrified, an understandable case of nerves for a group where a high percentage of the cast was making their Tony Award debut. My Fair Lady also did itself a disservice by trying to cram 3 separate songs into their allotted time, which caused Norbert Leo Butz's normally showstopping "Get Me to the Church on Time" to appear unnecessarily manic and chaotic (Lauren Ambrose was in fine voice for her abridged "The Rain in Spain/I Could Have Danced All Night"). There were some odd sound issues with the Frozen number, although it still showcased the production well and demonstrated how surprising it was that neither Patti Murin or Caissie Levy netted even a nomination (Murin in particular is utterly charming).
On the positive side, Once On This Island absolutely *killed* it. From the recreation of the show's unique environmental staging to the phenomenally talented cast, they were easily my favorite performance of the night and would be the show I'd most want tickets for after the telecast (even before their Best Revival win). Tony nominee Hailey Kilgore was particularly luminous in her highlighted section, and Alex Newell just reaffirmed my assertion that he was robbed of a Best Feature Actor nomination. The divisive revival of Carousel also looked great with the surprising choice to do "Blow Low, Blow High;" in retrospect it was a brilliant choice that allowed them to highlight the show's strongest assets, Joshua Henry's glorious baritone and Justin Peck's Tony-winning choreography. And even the most cynical audience member had to be at least a tad charmed by Gavin Lee's tap-tastic "(I'm Not a) Loser" from SpongeBob SquarePants, proving the Nickelodeon adaptation didn't get all those Tony nods by accident.
The show also moved at a good clip, although that occasionally came at the expense of the winners' acceptance speeches. The telecast producers sure seemed to arbitrarily enforce the acceptance time limit, allowing certain (usually famous) winners to ramble on while others were cut off entirely. It seemed particularly egregious that they didn't let Jack Thorne, author of the Tony-winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, utter a single word while allowing John Leguizamo's rambling introduction of an equally rambling underscored monologue by Bruce Springsteen.
And while I have begrudgingly accepted that a lot of the "lesser" awards will be given out off air, they *really* couldn't make time for Broadway ROYALTY Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber to receive their Lifetime Achievement awards on air?!? It's as if to say, "Thank you for dedicating your entire life to the theatre, but you're not as important as the Hollywood celebrities and recording artists that pop by once a decade or so." For shame, CBS. For shame.
|Lead producer Orin Wolf accepts the Best Musical Tony on behalf of The Band's Visit.|
Best Actor is probably the most egregious mistake. First of all, Tony Shahloub was nominated in the wrong category, as his performance is a featured one and he was clearly only upgraded to leading status due to his fame. More importantly, his merely adequate performance in no way deserved to triumph over truly sensational work by Joshua Henry in Carousel or Henry Hadden-Paton in My Fair Lady. David Cromer's Best Direction win also feels exceedingly generous considering the superbly inventive work done by people like SpongeBob SquarePants' Tina Landau or Once On This Island's Michael Arden. And while I don't claim to be an expert in sound design, SpongeBob has a live Foley pit that produces the cartoon sound effects live each night; how is that not enough to win a Tony? And finally, I would like to point out that even the CBS producers clearly expected Tina Fey to win Best Book, which would explain why that category merited inclusion on the actual telecast instead of being relegated to the Tony preshow like Best Score (an award The Band's Visit both won and deserved).
The most common explanation offered for The Band's Visit's surprisingly strong showing is that Tony voters were rebelling against a season they felt was too overtly commercial. Which may well be true, but would also be a somewhat erroneous justification on voters' part as it is also based on a movie just like the rest of this year's Best Musical nominees. I guess the fact that it's an obscure movie makes it more palatable to voters? Regardless, it is not a show I foresee having a long life either in New York or afterward, nor do I think it will be much remembered or performed in 5-10 years' time.
In happier news, I was positively thrilled for Once On This Island's Best Revival win. While I would have been more than happy for expected winner My Fair Lady to take the crown, Once On This Island is the most heartfelt production of the current season and more than deserves the recognition. And Broadway baby Lindsay Mendez is another well deserving winner for her performance in Carousel, whose acceptance speech was equal parts charming and inspiring. Her speech is also a sobering reminder the recent discussions around diversity onstage are sorely needed, as whoever advised the now 35 year old Mendez to change her last name to get more work clearly did so in the past 10-15 years.
Overall, after some exceptional recent seasons this past year's crop of Broadway shows were a bit of an artistic letdown, particularly when it comes to new works. Yet it was also the highest grossing and best attended season on record, which provides little incentive for producers to change what they're doing. (Although it should be pointed out a good portion of that money comes from past seasons' blockbusters like Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Hello, Dolly! and of course Hamilton.) It will be interesting to see if The Band's Visit's massive Tony haul affects what gets produced in the coming years, or if Broadway continues down the path of adapting relatively safe/known properties.
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