2016 Tony Awards: Predictions

It’s been about 1,000 years since I’ve posted, but that doesn’t mean I’ve also been remiss in my theatre-going. In fact, I’ve seen more of the Tony-nominated shows this year than ever before—and, in the spirit of getting this blog going again (and in the format of NYT’s predictions), I’m putting my thoughts down in blog form.

There are some incredibly tight categories this year. Although I loved Hamilton, I’m not with the crowd that thinks it should (or will) make the sweep. And, full disclosure, I won’t see two of the big musical nominees—Shuffle Along and The Color Purple—until after the awards, so I’m going with research and the critics on those two.

Okay, get your work Tony ballots ready! Without further ado:

Best Play
Who Will Win: The Humans
Who Should Win: The Humans
*No-brainer.

Best Musical
Who Will Win: Hamilton
Who Should Win: Hamilton
*Even bigger no-brainer. 

Best Book of a Musical
Who Will Win: Hamilton
Who Should Win: Hamilton
*Also a no-brainer… I think? Sorry, Steve Martin and ALW.

Best Original Score
Who Will Win: Hamilton
Who Should Win: Hamilton
*Ditto above, plus Sara Bareilles.

Best Revival of a Play
Who Will Win: The Crucible
Who Should Win: A View from the Bridge
*Taking nothing away from The Crucible, A View from the Bridge was so thoughtfully crafted and artfully directed, I’m going to hate seeing it miss out on this award. But with Crucible still on and its rave reviews, its more likely to take the cake. Either way, another win for van Hove.

Best Revival of a Musical
Who Will Win: She Loves Me
Who Should Win: Spring Awakening
*How were none of the seriously incredible actors, deaf or hearing, nominated from the Spring Awakening cast? Travesty—so let’s recognize them with a win here instead. Plus, while the She Loves Me revival was true to its original, Spring Awakening brought something new, thought-provoking, and wholly perfect to the table, while still staying true to the original. It deserves the win. I just don’t think it’ll get the votes.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Who Will Win: Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey
Who Should Win: Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge
*I don’t get the love affair New York has with Gabriel Byrne. He was good; he was also overshadowed by Shannon and Lange. Strong, on the other hand, gave a powerful, jarring performance. But with Long Day’s Journey still on and Byrne being so excellently reviewed, he has the edge.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Who Will Win: Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey
Who Should Win: Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey
*Lupita Nyong’o could take this category on her name alone, but her performance isn’t what elevated Eclipsed; the performances around her did. Sophie Okonedo could take it, too—she’s getting raves—but I wasn’t sure I fully bought her in this role. I’m feeling relatively confident this one will go to Lange.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Who Will Win: Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton
Who Should Win: Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton
*This will be a fun one to watch! Lin-Manuel could take it, easily, but I think audiences will recognize him for his book/the show as a whole, and give this award to Odom (who totally deserves it). They could also split the vote, though, in which case it’d go to Burstein.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Who Will Win: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Who Should Win: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
*Another fun one… Phillipa Soo could take it on the strength of being part of the Hamilton crew, but I think Erivo is most deserving here. There was debate over whether or not Soo should even be nominated as Leading; I’m still in the camp that argues she should have been Featured.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Who Will Win: Reed Birney, The Humans
Who Should Win: Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey
*Shannon was incredible, especially in the second act. His performance sets the entire theater on edge. Super tense. But I think the Humans love will continue here.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Who Will Win: Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Who Should Win: Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
*Armand’s performance was a step above; she brought humor to an otherwise devastating show. Houdyshell will take it, though, recognizing her for a great performance here and for her prior nominated work, too.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Who Will Win: Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
*I think Diggs is a lock here. Normally I’d be afraid the three nominated Hamiltonians would split the vote, but Diggs is clearly being put out there as the frontrunner. Jackson is great—Diggs is better. But if Groff wins… let’s just say #problematic.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Who Will Win: Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
*Werk.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Who Will Win: David Zinn, The Humans
Who Should Win: Jan Versweyveld, A View from the Bridge
*Both of these nominees’ scenic design was masterfully sparse, but View had such a purpose to it. I loved the boxing-ring set, how clean it was… though you could argue that it’s Ivo van Hove’s direction that took it to the next level, not the design itself. Regardless, I think Humans will get this one.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Who Will Win: David Korins, Hamilton
Who Should Win: David Korins, Hamilton

Best Costume Design of a Play
Who Will Win: Tom Scutt, King Charles III
Who Should Win: Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
*King Charles III is one of the few plays that I think will be memorable enough to nab a Tony despite being closed. I personally liked the Eclipsed costuming better, but I won’t be upset with a win for Scutt.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Who Will Win: Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Paul Tazewell, Hamilton

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Who Will Win: Jan Versweyveld, The Crucible
Who Should Win: Jan Versweyveld, A View from the Bridge
*Versweyveld vs Versweyveld—try saying that five times fast. (Or even once.) Again, I personally preferred View, but Crucible is still on, and equally special.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Who Will Win: Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Howell Binkley, Hamilton

Best Direction of a Play
Who Will Win: Joe Mantello, The Humans
Who Should Win: Ivo van Hove, A View from the Bridge
*This category is probably the one I’m least sure about. Voters love van Hove and raved about View, but they’re eager to reward Humans, too. It’s too close to call. Personally, I’d argue that van Hove’s direction is what made View special, while The Humans excelled because of script and concept—so I guess I’d give it to van Hove? But my gut tells me Mantello will win, so… yeah, I dunno.

Best Direction of a Musical
Who Will Win: Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Thomas Kail, Hamilton
*… but I would love, love, love to see Michael Arden take this category. If Spring Awakening doesn’t take the revival category, which I think it only has a small chance of doing, a win for Arden would be the next best thing.

Best Choreography
Who Will Win: Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Savion Glover, Shuffle Along
*This is based on next to nothing, considering I’ve only seen footage from Shuffle Along. That said, while I enjoyed the Hamilton choreo, Savion’s choreo seems much more integral to the show. Plus, Tony voters will likely have Hamilton fatigue and be looking to throw Shuffle a win; if so, this is the category where it’ll happen.

Best Orchestrations
Who Will Win: Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Who Should Win: Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
*…but I wouldn’t mind seeing a Bright Star win here; as much as I love Lacamoire, I’m in awe of what August Eriksmoen accomplished with Bright Star‘s bluegrass score.

tl;dr? Hamilton will win 12 awards and tie The Producers‘ record, I’m in love with The Humans and anything Ivo van Hove touches, and Spring Awakening better win something or I’ll riot. Riot, I tell you.

For my live thoughts, comments, and general snark and angst, follow along on June 12 at @alsinger. Happy Tony Awards!

#6: Spring Awakening

#5: Spring Awakening

Opening date, original: December 10, 2006
I saw it: three times (yes, three) at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre
Book: Steven Sater
Music: Duncan Sheik
Lyrics: Steven Sater
Director: Michael Mayer
Choreographer: Bill T. Jones

Opening date, revival: September 27, 2015
I saw it: in previews at the Brooks Atkinson on September 25
Director: Michael Arden
Choreographer: Spencer Liff

I saw the original production of Spring Awakening—with Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff, and John Gallagher, Jr.—three times, and have listened to the soundtrack straight through probably a hundred times since. Then I followed the Deaf West production’s success via the media until it landed on Broadway and I could snag a lottery ticket. So yeah, you could say I’m a little familiar with this show.

My lottery-winner happiness is only comparable to my four-year-old clown happiness.

My lottery-winner happiness is only comparable to my four-year-old clown happiness.

There are two ways to look at Deaf West’s Spring Awakening: You could look at is as an extension of the first production and compare the two, and you could look at it as it’s own entity and somewhat ignore what came before.

Doing the latter means writing about how groundbreaking Deaf West’s production is. For the first time, deaf actors are on Broadway playing deaf characters. In many ways, the addition of American Sign Language (ASL) begins to feel like an integral part of the show—it’s acting in and of itself. As Camryn Manheim put it on Channel Thirteen’s Theatre Talk, “Signs don’t really exist without facial expression and without the emotion behind it…. The signing adds so much more.” Essentially, signing can’t exist without acting, and this production sets out to prove that acting, though it can exist without signing, is better for it. In truth, the next show I saw felt remarkably still for a reason I couldn’t put my finger on—until I realized I missed the ASL.

Looking at the show as its own entity means you should also consider Spencer Liff’s specialized choreography and how successful it is; how the incorporation of deafness and ASL into the musical was done in a way that feels natural, rather than as an afterthought; how the dual-actor parts (one singing, one signing) added depth to the characters. All these things are true.

IMG_20151031_112750

A nice insert in the revival’s Playbill explaining a bit about the ASL in the show

Those are points I’d definitely hit on in a review of Deaf West’s production. But, I think the media have that all well covered. I could point you to a few reviews that really really nail it, and I hope to add the ASL adaptation of Big River to my list soon, at which point I can delve even deeper into what it means to combine deafness with musicals. Since I’ve seen both the original production of Spring Awakening and the revival, though, what I feel more equipped to talk about at this moment is how the story inherently differs between the two.

Most fascinating to me is looking at the three main characters and how they have changed, or not changed, from one production to the next. These three characters are Melchior, the golden-boy revolutionary who excels at school and sets the actions of the play in motion; Wendla, Melchior’s sort-of love interest, a girl who is infantilized and sheltered by her mother; and Moritz, Melchior’s schoolmate, considered a failure by his father and his teachers, collapsing under the stress.

(Note: There will be some big spoilers from this point out.)

From the outside, Melchior looks to be the same character in the original and the revival, but I find his motivations to be very different. In the revival, it’s very clear to me that he knows what he’s doing when he has sex with Wendla. He knows what the consequences could be, and he seems to do it anyway out of a need to be an adult, to prove he knows the way of the world. It’s clear to me in the revival that this isn’t a love story. In the original, though, Melchior appeared to have real feelings for Wendla, and those drove his actions. When he finds out Wendla is pregnant and escapes back to town, you feel as if he’s going back for her, to protect her, to start a family with her. In the revival, though, I felt as if he’s going back to protect himself; if he can’t set this right, if means he was wrong, and maybe he isn’t as untouchable as he once thought himself to be. Although Melchior walks and talks similarly in the original and the revival, for me, the revival makes me realize he’s just a boy, and he’s floundering. He may seem to have all the answers, but you know he doesn’t.

The character of Wendla is very much the same in the original and the revival, both inside and out. She is young, she is curious, she is eager to learn. There are things stirring in her that she doesn’t understand, and which her mother won’t explain. These stirrings are soon directed at Melchior, who she comes to trust, leading to her downfall. She loves him—or, at very least, she’s got a solid crush—but she doesn’t know what that means. Though Wendla is played by dual actors in the revival, looking at Sandra Mae Frank (deaf) and listening to Katie Boeck’s voice (hearing) definitely brings back glimpses of Lea Michele.  

Moritz may look different on the outside—in the original, he is an anxious, frantic, twitchy mess, while in the revival, Daniel N. Durant plays him as a subtler, slightly stabler, mess—but his character, trials, and motivation remain the same. He is trying, but he is failing, and the adults of his world are against him. John Gallagher, Jr. as Moritz is anxious and skittish; watching him get beaten down again and again in the original is like watching a nervous chihuahua repeatedly attacked by a vacuum cleaner. Revival Moritz (Durant, deaf, and Alex Boniello, hearing) is stronger, and you feel as if he would be relateively fine if the adults would let him be—which they won’t. When Moritz reaches his the end of his storyline in the two productions, each approach is equally devastating.

Now, these comparisons are certainly biased. I saw the original production as an undergrad who was looking for a love story, and so found one. I saw the revival as a slightly older someone who had spent years thinking about the show and all of its implications.

One of the more minor, but still important, differences I noticed between the two productions was the treatment of the gay characters and their romance. In the original, it felt like comic relief, in a way that was funny at the time but over the years has begun to strike me as in pretty bad taste. In the revival, there is still humor—but it’s more grounded in a smarmy tomcat character’s seduction of his naive prey. It hardly matters that the two characters are male.

Did I mention I saw the original three times?

Did I mention I saw the original three times?

On a side note, I have to say that the revival of Spring Awakening has one of the most vibrant marketing and social media campaigns I’ve ever seen. The young cast—most if not all of them are making their Broadway debuts, I think—are doing snarky Instagram takeovers, YouTube vlogs, post-show pizza parties. It’s not subtle who their intended audience is. And based on the outpouring of love from their commenters and followers, you’d think the approach was a huge success. Unfortunately, looking at the weekly grosses on Broadway World reveals they’re actually filling the lowest percentage of seats of any musical on Broadway right now, and at less than half of their gross earning potential. You can reach out to a young, enthusiastic, worldwide audience, but the buying power rarely sits with them. I wish Spring Awakening all the best for the rest of its limited run, and by nearly any standard the show can be considering a smashing success. It’s breaking barriers, inspiring audiences, taking risks. I only hope more people get the message before their chance to see this fascinating and carefully developed production is passed.

#5: Smokey Joe’s Cafe

#5: Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Opening date: March 2, 1995
I saw it: at the Virginia Theatre on a kids’ night in late ’97/early ’98
Music and Lyrics: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Director: Jerry Zaks
Musical Staging: Joey McKneely

Smokey Joe’s Cafe is one of the first Broadway musicals I saw, thanks in large part to a Broadway kids’ night, and in larger part to parents who grew up appreciating music and theatre themselves. Prior to Smokey Joe’s, we’d seen Grease and Footloose—both exactly the happy-go-lucky shows you might choose to bring your bright-eyed 8- and 10-year-old daughters to. Both shows have lots of singing, dancing, and fun, with the added bonus of an easy-to-follow storyline. Smokey Joe’s had the singing, dancing, and fun, certainly, and maybe even some of the happy-go-lucky pluck. But it had the opposite of an easy-to-follow storyline: It’s a musical revue, sans any coherent plot. I’m pretty sure it blew my little mind.

Playbill signed by Paige Price, a KAD alum and standby for the show

Playbill signed by Paige Price, an alum of my dance studio and standby for the show

At ten, I’d had a full six years of recreational dance training, so obviously I was planning to go pro. I’d fallen in love with tap, and I’d left “boring” ballet behind. (My biggest life regret? Yeah, it’s up there.) I already knew I couldn’t sing, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t act, so my choices for a professional tap career were limited: I’d have to be a Rockette. Obviously.

Okay, so now I can see a few holes in that plan, but ten-year-old Allie knew the logic was sound. I think attending that performance of Smokey Joe’s was the very, very beginning of my realizing the world of dance and theatre was bigger than I had thought. I’m not saying Smokey Joe’s wasn’t filled with amazing songs and incredible voices—it was. But the dancing, staging, and structure of the show are what stood out to me as special, as different, and the revue made me wonder what else was out there. Seeing Fosse later blew out whatever parts of my little mind had survived the original impact. Dance and movement can tell a story just as well as lyrics can, even when the lyrics are Leiber and Stoller’s. It was settled.

For some reason, one of the clearest theatre memories I have is of the “D.W. Washburn”/“Saved” sequence:

There are other memorable moments in the show, but that’s the first one that comes to my mind. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it was how different in tone it was than the other numbers in other shows I had seen to that point. Or, bluntly, maybe my little white brain didn’t know how to handle issues of poverty, diversity, and religion yet and, not ready to process, moved this memory to long-term. All I know is I can recall it on a moment’s notice, and that’s something I’m grateful for. I’ve also got a pretty clear picture in my mind of Brenda Braxton’s “Don Juan”:

Don Juan, your baby’s gone
Stiff upper lip now, Don
You have to carry on
Stiff… lip.
You thought I was saying something else, didn’t ya?

Perfect for a 10-year-old, no? (Kidding, Mom, kidding.) But seriously, Braxton dragging that chair around the stage felt special to me for some reason at the time, in a way I couldn’t put words to at the time… and still can’t. A cop-out for a writer, sure, but it’s the truth.

It’s funny to think how a pop-song jukebox musical was received as something against the norm when Smokey Joe’s hit Broadway in 1995. Now you can hardly throw a stone. Variety’s scathing (and unsurprisingly un-bylined) review called the production “a slick songfest put across by some attractive singers.” Ouch. Maybe Variety saw the start of a trend it didn’t like and was trying to dissuade. Recently I’ve caught myself having a similar reaction to shows on Broadway now—do we really need 2+ hours of straight Gloria Estefan music?—but, but, if the shows put a smile on audience members’ faces and a song in 10-year-old future-Rockette’s hearts, who am I to judge?

Other than a self-professed theatre blogger. Oops.

Non-B’way: London Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center

Though I plan to focus this blog almost entirely on Broadway, I can’t help wanting a record of my other music and theatre outings in the city. So I plan to digress every now and then, and if you have a problem with that, you can just leave.

Wait, wait, don’t leave! Please come back. I’m sorry. I love you.

Anyway…

The London Symphony Orchestra played at Lincoln Center today, and I was able to snag two tickets through the amazing Great Performances Lincoln Center lottery. Lottery winners had the opportunity to purchase up to two tickets at the price they were sold for in 1965—six dollars. A great deal, and a hat tip to Lincoln Center for offering it. I’m not sure how quickly I would have made it to a performance at David Geffen Hall otherwise, and I’m so glad I did.

David Geffen Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic

David Geffen Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic

I don’t pretend to be knowledgable about classical or orchestral music. I took music theory in high school, and although I loved it… let’s just say I didn’t ace it. And actually, this was my first symphony experience. The show was split into two halves, with an intermission between. In the first half, the orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev, played Béla Bartók’s Dance Suite (1923) and Piano Concerto No. 2 (1930–31). The second half consisted fully of Bartók’s 40-minute Concerto for Orchestra (1943/45).

I particularly enjoyed Dance Suite, with its jaunty pace and lightheartedness; big surprise that I liked the piece related to dance, right? My friend Max who came along to the performance thought it was chaotic, and the program notes somewhat agree with him, but I didn’t feel that way. It does jump from one style to another, but in a way that felt intentional to me.

London Symphony Orchestra

London Symphony Orchestra

Though I enjoyed Dance Suite, I was the most moved by Concerto for Orchestra. Having not attended a orchestral performance before, at first it didn’t even strike me to follow along with the music by reading the program notes. I flipped through my program during intermission—on the gorgeous balcony I’ve come to love Lincoln Center for—and read through them, and that gave me a foothold to enjoy the Concerto afterward. Knowing the sudden explosion of sound in the third movement wasn’t just lots of loud fun, but a not-so-friendly mocking of a fellow composer Bartók thought was too simple-minded, added a new level of depth. Max and I looked at each other laughed at that moment; we both felt in on the joke. Many thanks to the writer of these notes for drafting them in a way that was could be easily understood by us rookies.

The second piece of the afternoon, just before the intermission, featured Yefim Bronfman on the piano, and I’ve rarely seen fingers move so fluidly. It was truly beautiful to watch, and to hear. Though his performance of Concerto No. 2 was fantastic, it was the song he treated the audience to as an encore—a simple melody, clean and bright—that I fell in love with most.

View from the balcony, featuring the David H. Koch Theater and the Lincoln Center fountain, my favorite place in New York

View from the balcony, featuring the David H. Koch Theater and the Lincoln Center fountain, my favorite place in New York

Having attended today’s performance at David Geffen, and having seen Sleeping Beauty at the David H. Koch Theater across the way, I’ve got one Lincoln Center hall to go, and it’s a biggie: the Metropolitan Opera House. With $25 rush tickets being offered through their website, I have no excuse.

#4: La Cage aux Folles

#4: La Cage aux Folles

Opening date, original: August 21, 1983
Book: Harvey Fierstein
Music and lyrics: Jerry Herman

Opening date, revival: April 18, 2010
I saw it: at the Longacre Theatre on April 6, 2011
Director: Terry Johnson
Choreographer: Lynne Page

Who doesn’t love The Birdcage? I know I do. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve seen that movie. The first time I saw it as a kid, I’m sure I had no idea it had anything to do with a stage musical. It was fast paced, and colorful, and Nathan Lane is funny, and oh-look-it’s-Mrs.-Doubtfire!

But then there was this.

There are a few songs in musical theatre I can count on to give me chills every time I hear them. “Defying Gravity” from Wicked is one of them. So is the title song in Cabaret. And so is “I Am What I Am”—especially when George Hearn is singing it in the original Broadway production, in that perfect moment of passionate self-assertion and pride. If you ask any musicals buff to make a list of their Top 10 show-stopping numbers, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t include “I Am Who I Am” on that list. (Resisting the urge to interrupt writing this blog post to draft that list instead. Later, Allie. Later.)

With RuPaul on TV weekly, and Caitlyn Jenner in the news daily, and Hedwig freshly having ripped through Broadway, La Cage may not seem so shocking or new now. But when it first premiered on Broadway in 1983, it was much needed and long overdue. It was a rallying cry for the gay theatre community who had supported and performed in musicals for years, but too rarely saw themselves and their struggles reflected. At the start of the show, Georges welcomes the audience to the club by imploring them, “And now, I beg you, open your eyes. You have arrived at La Cage aux Folles.” He is asking theatre-goers to literally open their eyes to watch the show, yes; but also to open their eyes, and their minds, to those who have been in front of them all along. 

There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say
“Hey world, I am what I am!”

I mean, “I Am What I Am”—can anything more clearly translate to, “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it”?

La Cage aux Folles

I saw the 2010 revival of La Cage with Christopher Sieber as Georges and Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book, as Albin.The musical I saw before it was the revival of Promises, Promises, which was, in a word, cute. The musical I saw after it was Rock of Ages, which was, in a word, a-show-I-was-dragged-to-and-kind-of-regret-spending-money-on. But La Cage feels grounded, and stately, and important, while still maintaining a high level of fun. In it, Jerry Herman has created a lasting soundtrack that is as unexpected as it is catchy. La Cage is a playbill I’m proud to have in my binder.

#2: On the Town and #3: An American in Paris — Ballet Meets Broadway

#2: On the Town

Opening date, original: December 28, 1944
Book: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Opening date, revival: October 16, 2014
I saw it: at the Lyric Theatre on July 2, 2015
Director: John Rando
Choreographer: Joshua Bergasse

#3: An American in Paris

Opening date: April 12, 2015
I saw it: in previews at the Palace Theatre on March 27, 2015
Book: Craig Lucas
Music: George Gershwin
Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
Director and choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon

The last few days have been particularly ballet-heavy, and I’m not complaining. A “Ballerinas on Broadway” panel at the New York City Ballet last Monday got me thinking about the differences between the two art forms, and last night’s screening of A Ballerina’s Tale (for which I’m going to need to plan a whole separate post) followed by a Q&A with the amazing Misty Copeland kept the momentum going. After hearing these women speak, seeing one of them dance on Broadway earlier this year, and seeing Leanne Cope’s gorgeous performance in An American in Paris back in March, I’m prepped to consider ballet, Broadway, and the intersection of the two.

Playbills | On the Town, An American in Paris

All three of the dancers at the NYCB panel—Megan Fairchild, Sara Mearns, and Georgina Pazcoguin—and Copeland have performed in the revival of On the Town that played at the Lyric Theatre through September 6. Fairchild starred as Ivy Smith (Miss Turnstiles) when the show opened in October 2014, and she’s the Ivy I saw when I attended the performance on July 2 after winning tickets through W42ST magazine. In retrospect, seeing On the Town the week of Independence Day couldn’t have been better timed; the show literally begins by asking everyone to rise and playing the national anthem, large American-flag background billowing behind the stage, and it only gets more American—or maybe New York-ian?—from there. I remember being surprised how much I enjoyed the show. I had expected a more-than-slightly cheesy tourist extravaganza, and instead was entirely delightful: “a bustling, jostling cartoon that also floats like a swan,” as Ben Brantley puts it so perfectly. It’s your cheerful little sister who leaps around gracefully and can’t help but make you smile.

An American in Paris is similar, but subtler. Like On the TownParis presents a classic story with a predictable, comfortable ending that it’s a pleasure getting to, because the ride is so nice. Leanne Cope’s performance is gorgeous, there’s really no other way to describe it, and the corps is elegant. When I left the show, I remember thinking that I would have paid for my ticket just to see the twenty-minute ballet sequence in the second act.

I doubt that the majority of ticket buyers for On the Town or Paris bought their ticket solely to see professional ballerinas; if that’s what they were looking for, they would have gone to Lincoln Center. Instead, they’re likely looking for dancing, singing, acting, costumes, sets… the whole Broadway package, the whole Broadway experience.

I often wonder if bringing a professionally-trained dancer, one who has spent his or her entire life with a strict focus on a certain style of dance, into a Broadway show means something is inevitably lost in the rest of that performance. For instance, when I saw Fairchild as Ivy, I thought her dancing was incredible, and I thought her singing and acting were fine. Is “fine” enough for Broadway? (Or, I guess, should “fine” be enough for Broadway? Because there are plenty of movie and TV actors who have done a “fine” job on Broadway pretty successfully in recent years. That’s another topic.) Is “fine” singing and acting worth it if you get to see such a remarkable level of dancing, a level you wouldn’t see with a performer whose singing and acting were incredible?

What’s nice about a Broadway musical, though, is that it has to be taken in whole-enchilada. You can’t say, “That wasn’t a good show because the lead actress was an amazing dancer with an OK voice.” You can say, though, “That was a great show, but the lead actress’s voice wasn’t strong.” Or, you can say, “That wasn’t a good show because the lead actress’s voice wasn’t strong, the sets were odd, the choreography was off,” etc. What’s I’m trying to say is, there’s room in a Broadway production for someone with remarkable skill in one area—in this case, dance/ballet—because other performers can be relied on to carry the load in other areas.

But there isn’t that room in a ballet company. Bottom line, you must be a strong dancer to succeed. The same goes for something like opera—you need to be a strong singer to succeed. Or a concert pianist: No one says, “That pianist gave an OK performance, but boy did the set make up for it!” The point I’m trying to make is that there’s room for balance on Broadway, there’s room for error, and with that comes room for risk. Inviting classically trained ballerinas who may not have the voice training or acting experience to take the stage in a Broadway show is a risk. Similarly, each of the ballerinas I heard speak this week—Fairchild and Copeland in particular—made clear that stepping into a Broadway production is stepping out of their comfort zone. They’re taking the risk, as well. And in both On the Town and An American in Paris, I was glad to see the risks pay off, both for the productions and for the ballerinas.

#1: Hamilton

#1: Hamilton

Opening date: August 6, 2015
I saw it: at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on August 7, 2015
Book, music, and lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Director: Thomas Kail
Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuehler

Ironic that show number one is Broadway’s latest, but fresh-in-my-mind Hamilton starts the count.

Below is a review reposted from my personal blog, Allie Edits the World. But, nothing in my review sums the show up as perfectly as this, from the great Ben Brantley’s New York Times piece:

“I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But ‘Hamilton’ … might just about be worth it”

And with that—on to my thoughts.

***

Hamilton | BroadwayBox.com winners!

Two thrilled BroadwayBox.com lottery winners

Yesterday was my best friend’s birthday, and we had a lovely evening planned: reading in Central Park, catching a movie, possibly getting a drink at the bar around the corner. But all of that went quickly out the window when I WON THE BROADWAY BOX TICKET LOTTERY and got FREE ORCHESTRA SEATS TO HAMILTON ON BROADWAY which ONLY JUST OPENED ON THURSDAY.

I’m still a little in shock. Can you tell?

After seeing the show last night, I can now confirm that all of the press and accolades this show is receiving are 100% earned. A hip-hop historical musical told almost entirely via rap lyrics is something that likely wouldn’t have made it to Broadway at any other time in history. Now, it’s the hottest ticket in New York. Hamilton probably has the Best Musical Tony on lockdown, which controversial Fun Home took home this year. I just love watching the huge, exciting risks Broadway is taking right now. (Speaking of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening… but I digress.)

I saw a commenter on the Broadway World boards asking whether it was possible to enjoy the show if you don’t like rap music. The answer to that question is solidly yes. I’d argue that people who love musical theatre but aren’t into rap are exactly the people who should see this show. You might find a whole new appreciation for the art form and its storytelling capabilities, especially when in the hands of a lyricist as visionary as Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The first thing I want to comment on is the pacing. This show moves. Basically, try not to blink for the entire three hours. (OK, you can blink during intermission. Unless you’re scouring the audience for celebs, whom you’re more than likely to find. We sure did.) The lyrics go by fast and the plot points go by faster. That’s not a complaint; it’s furious pacing in the very best way, and I had no trouble keeping up. I only wish I had more time to appreciate each and every rhyme. I’m definitely looking forward to buying the soundtrack when it comes out, and listening while reading the lyrics.

The rotating stage, which I noticed when I first sat down, plays a small but inspired part in that pacing. At first I didn’t think would be necessary; the set is minimal, the story grounded and historical rather than fantastical. But what the rotation does is visually add to how frenetically the show moves along. Actors are able to go from one side of the stage to the other more quickly, as they’re spouting lyrics quickly, and it makes the entire show feel like its constantly and inevitably in motion. I don’t know if a rotating stage was part of the set at the Public, but I would be surprised if it weren’t, because the choreography looks to have been designed perfectly around it. And that’s a good segue into my favorite part of the show:

The ensemble. The choreography. I mean, I’m speechless. The dancers are so talented, there were times I found myself watching them when I was supposed to be focusing my attention on a lead. The movement is strong, and the choreography is unlike anything else I’ve seen on Broadway. Each dancer’s style and interpretation is oh-so-slightly different, yet they come together in a way that tells a united story. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has done a masterful job.

All of the actors are fantastic, but there were definite standouts. In my opinion, Renée Elise Goldsberry kind of steals the show. I was surprised to find myself tearing up during her number in the first act, in which a wedding scene is recreated from her (devastating) point of view. I hadn’t been invested in her character whatsoever prior to that moment, so her making me care and bringing me to tears during the course of just one song is pretty incredible. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr was also great. My friend and I feel pretty confident he’s secured a Tony nom for his performance, which was understated and powerful. And then there’s Jonathan Groff as King George, who also brought me to tears — laughing. Groff’s deadpanned comic relief is ridiculous and perfect (as I imagine Brian d’Arcy James’s was Off-Broadway, as well). Look closely and you can see a few of the other actors trying, and failing, not to crack up when Groff is on stage.

Playbills in hand, with a perfect twelfth-row view

Playbills in hand, with a perfect twelfth-row view at the Richard Rodgers Theater

Hamilton is going to be on Broadway for a very long time. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. But, when its run does end, what really excites me is the addition of an outstanding, nuanced rap musical to the musical theater genre. I can see the regional productions, the college and high school productions, giving those who might not have had a chance to get up and show their talent. It’s bringing diversity, much needed diversity, to Broadway in more ways than one.