Random and Highly Opinionated Thoughts on the 2018 Tony Awards

CAROUSEL Blow High

“Blow High Blow Low” from Carousel, Tony 2018 Winner for Best Choreography

For several years, I’ve made a practice of writing about the Tonys. But every year it seems to get harder, largely because so many of the same things I complain about haven’t changed, and likely never will. Presenting important awards off-camera, for example – or marginalizing Broadway’s senior stars (this year, including Chita Rivera), in favor of familiar telegenic (read “younger”) actors whose relationship to the theater is thin.

So this year, I’m offering more of a stream-of-consciousness set of observations. I make no claim to completeness or even to coherence.  But here goes…

** In the almost unwinnable battle to find an appealing way to host the Tonys, the team of Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban were fine, at times even terrific. Both have very good voices, and both actually sing in time, on-pitch, and without heaping on unnecessary riffs and grace notes—rare qualities today, as many of the musical excerpts demonstrated. (Of course, neither is centrally involved in Broadway theater, but I’m in a take-what-I-can-get mood.)

** Watching Bareilles and Groban, I had a flashback to last year’s Tonys, when the emcee was… (wait for it)… Kevin Spacey. Actually, it may be the last thing I saw him do. He was appalling, and at the time I thought, I’ll bet he’s hoping we all forget he did this. Who knew then that a year later, he’d vastly prefer we remember that, rather than what he’s now best known for.

** I was no fan of Marianne Elliott’s Angels in America as seen from the National Theatre via telecast. You can read more about my take on it here, but among other things, I felt it had little feeling of America about it. I admired Lane in his quieter moments, but found Garfield too self-consciously doing a star turn. (His overlong if heartfelt acceptance speech made me feel similarly.) The production and performances may have changed and improved on Broadway, but I’m skeptical. Nevertheless…

** Yet I’m convinced that the power of Angels as a play is such that even a second-rate production will likely sweep awards anytime it’s presented—more so in year that produced little truly distinguished playwrighting on Broadway.

** When Rachel Bloom was backstage, trying to conduct some kind of interview with the odd couple of Amy Schumer and Carey Mulligan, I swear I could see Mulligan—whose face was locked in a smile—rather desperately searching for possible exits.

** If there was any logic as to what music was played for presenter intros and outros, I’ll be damned if I can figure it out. OK, to be fair it occasionally made some sense, as in “I Could Write a Book,” which ushered in Tina Fey, who an hour later would lose in this category (Best Book for a Musical). But more often than not, it was nonsensical. “Once Upon a Time” from All American by Strouse and Lee to bring on the Russian Mikhail Baryshnikov, who would in turn introduce a Rodgers and Hammerstein show? Speaking of which…

** Baryshnikov—with his dead-behind-the-eyes affect and thicker than Borscht with sour cream Russian accent—seemed to be channeling the serial killer in Gorky Park. He was an almost comically inappropriate choice to introduce that most American of musicals, Carousel. The reason he was there was that Carousel was choreographed by Justin Peck of the New York City Ballet, who won a Tony for his virtuosic dances. But…

** This, too, was strange. “Blow High, Blow Low” would be nobody’s idea of a signature song from the show. This dance sequence was a Peck invention, full of leaps and twirls, and it made me think of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride sprung to life. What it doesn’t look like is Carousel, unless you think nothing says whaling town in New England like multiple pirouettes en dehors.

** The compressed and hectic musical montages that are now a Tony staple do a disservice to the shows they’re designed to promote. Lauren Ambrose, a nuanced actress, looked overwrought and confounded in the My Fair Lady sequence, and it’s only because I know that show well that I could make sense of it. I can only hope that Mean Girls (whose high school students all look to be in their mid-thirties) and Spongebob the Musical come off better in the theater than they did on TV.

** Bruce Springsteen’s long, elegiac monologue-to-piano-accompaniment felt oddly out-of-place, yet it made me think he’d be interesting casting as the Stage Manager in Our Town.

** Did Glenda Jackson, who called her director “John” Mantello in her thank you speech, also call him that through the rehearsal process, I wonder? I can believe she did—and that he was too scared to correct her. (Jackson’s win was a near certainty, and absolutely deserved. I hope to get around to reviewing Three Tall Women sometime in the next few days.)

GLENDA Tony

Glenda Jackson thanks director “John” Mantello

** Patti Murin can very successfully impersonate a cartoon. Make of that what you will.

** While I fundamentally agree with Robert De Niro’s take on the state of our union, it was tacky grandstanding to open his introduction with “Fuck Trump.” It guaranteed that De Niro and this stunt would be front and center for the rest of the night, pulling focus from where it should be—on Broadway and its performers.

** Yet for all this, I felt mostly happy about these Tonys—largely because of a near-sweep by The Band’s Visit. It’s a truly special show (you can read my review here). Still, even in a decade when a number of out-of-the-box musicals have been honored, The Band’s Visit seemed like a long shot. Among the deserving winners: actors Tony Shaloub, Katrina Lenk, and the beyond adorable Ari’el Stachel; also director David Cromer, composer David Yazbeck, and book writer Itamar Moses.

** When The Band’s Visit can win 10 Tony Awards – one short of Hamilton’s 11 (and two short of The Producers’ ill-deserved 12) – something is right with Broadway.

 

 

 

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