The Tonys Bring It Home

Tony Award Dress Rehearsal

Can I get an AMEN?! What a wonderful thing to celebrate the success of Fun Home last night (and all the other winners and nominees and non-nominees). It was a fun evening of surprises right and left (all four Actor/Actress in a Musical categories went the opposite way of the predictions).

Before I dive into my high/lowlights of the evening including links to all the performances, a brief word about yesterday morning. If you haven’t heard, I attended the Tony Dress Rehearsal with Miss Jenn Haltman, and it was a grand ol’ time. The best moment for me may have been stepping into Radio City and seeing the iconic Tony set on the stage. It was pretty surreal. The dress rehearsal is as you might expect – they run through the entire evening, all the performances, all the banter, presenters, even fake winners and acceptance speeches. There’s a set of ten or so actors who “play” the nominees, sit in their seats, and one goes up to deliver a thank-you speech after each award is announced. It’s actually quite entertaining. You also get to see how the sausage is made, like how the cameras work and how the crane reaches over the audience. It was a super cool morning, but now, onto the real thing.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Let’s begin with the best of the best: Sydney. Effin. Lucas. Is there really anything else to discuss? This was the performance of the evening. The folks at Fun Home made the (very) smart decision to highlight one song and one performer (with cameos by Tony nominee Beth Malone and now two-time Tony winner Michael Cerveris) to represent their show, a decision I fully support. And to have Joel and Jennifer Grey introduce the number made it all the more apropos. This song stands for so much in the musical theatre genre, and the fact that an 11-year-old is delivering it makes it all the more impressive. I could talk about it for ages, but I’ll let the song speak for itself. Here’s Tony nominee Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home. Also, a mini-anecdote from director Sam Gold in the press room after winning his Tony, talking about directing Sydney in that song: “The day that I was first going to stage that song with Sydney in rehearsal, I was really nervous…What was I going to say to her? She was nine at the time. I started to ask her, ‘Do you understand what this song is about? What can we talk about?’ And she was like, ‘I got this.’ She had it already. She understood everything about it. She’s a very mature actor and didn’t need to be treated like a kid. I treated her [from] that moment forward like all of the adults.”
  • Something Rotten also gave a great performance. Since there was no real opening number (missing you, NPH), Rotten ended up serving as the big opening of the night, presenting the Act One show-stopper “A Musical” featuring Tony nominees Brian D’Arcy James and Brad Oscar. It’s funny, right?
  • Let’s focus now on the lady power happening last night. I did a lap around my living room every time a woman won. Firstly, yay lady director Marianne Elliott for Curious Incident. Second, representation in all the design categories: Catherine Zuber for The King and I Costume Design, Bunny Christie for Curious Scenic Design, and Natasha Katz for American Lighting Design. And then! Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori for Best Book and Score for Fun Home. They made history by being the first all-female writing team to win for a musical. What should be on the lowlights is the fact that these wins happened during commercials. Considered “Creative Arts Awards” – and deemed not worthy to be aired with the rest of the program – book, score, choreography, and designer awards all happen off-screen with only five-second snippets of their speeches shown later. So here I share their fantastic and important speeches: Lisa Kron for Best Book and Jeanine Tesori/Lisa Kron for Best Score.
  • Let’s hear it for Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang. This category seemed like a shoe-in for one of the Fun Home ladies. I haven’t seen The King and I yet (going in July), but I’m still so excited for her and her adorable speech. And how nice to squeeze in a little bit of diversity on that stage (wow, I just looked it up: she is the second Asian actress ever to win a Tony).
  • While we’re on the topic of The King and I, let us all bow down to the wonder that is Kelli O’Hara. Congrats on winning your first Tony after six nominations. Yes, standing ovation! And that speech!! And have you seen the quick change video going around right now? Amazing offstage choreography. Kelli, I hope you’re still shuffling off to Buffalo filled with joy.
  • I want to do a couple of shout-outs to my other favorite actor wins. Alex Sharp is so wonderfully earnest. Annaleigh Ashford I’ve been rooting for since I first saw her in Legally Blonde in 2007. And Michael Cerveris for Fun Home! A frazzled Tony speech but a terrific performance as Bruce Bechdel.
  • Best presenters of the night were Larry David and Jason Alexander. How Larry David manages to ride that line of hilarious yet offensive is quite the feat.

LOWLIGHTS

  • I said it before and I’ll say it again, It Shoulda Been You drives me nuts. From David Hyde Pierce’s intro with a fan letter to the jokes to the song itself, I can’t do it. But let’s give well-deserved credit to the talent that is Lisa Howard and the sound that she produces. I just wish I liked the song.
  • I can’t really speak too much of Gigi because I have not seen it (nor do I intend to quite honestly), but it doesn’t do anything for me. Here’s Vanessa Hudgens performing “The Night They Invented Champagne.”
  • As Jenn said about Finding Neverland while we watched the performance yesterday morning, “Everything is happening onstage, and nothing is happening onstage.” Yes, Matthew Morrison can still sing underneath that beard of his, but this number was literally smoke and mirrors to distract from the fact that so little is actually going on. Here’s “Stronger” featuring Morrison and Kelsey Grammer. Also? That intro.
  • I would never speak badly of Chita Rivera; she’s Broadway royalty. But The Visit, or as I’m now calling it, “The Visit – What Is It?”…I just had no idea what to make of that performance. And sadly I’m not the only one – they just posted the closing notice this afternoon.
  • Although the memoriam was touching and featured a record amount of performers in a Tony number (not to mention actually being aired on the live show as opposed to last year), the speed of that slideshow left something to be desired. It didn’t need to be rushed! Why not start it at the top of the song (with the right notes ideally) instead of featuring Josh Groban for one minute and twenty seconds?
  • Let’s talk about the E.T. bit. While funny and unexpected, let’s read the room, shall we? Wait to send Kristin out in that ridiculous costume until the audience has stopped reeling from Sydney’s performance. The music had barely faded out when she wobbled out, unfortunately reducing the moment that had just occurred.
  • The Jersey Boys finale was a little bit of a letdown after some of the great closing bits we’ve had over the last couple years.
  • As I mentioned above, any award happening during the commercials is a lowlight.
  • And now, a mini-rant on medleys. Have you heard this before from me? Medleys are so rarely a good idea in my book. I totally understand that you want to show as much of your production’s range and stars as possible. I get that one number doesn’t fully represent what your musical is, but what a medley tends to do instead is get all…jumbly. It gets messy because too much is being squeezed into a few minutes. So for example, On the Twentieth Century, which I very much enjoyed the other week (review to come), comes off looking all over the place. There were technically FOUR songs covered in those few minutes. People don’t know what to come away with after seeing that. Why not just do the last song in the medley? I know we don’t get to see Peter Gallagher or the adorable tapping porters, but we’ll get to see Kristin sing her heart out and we’ll enjoy one full song. It’s a bummer Tony winner Christian Borle didn’t get to perform in the Something Rotten number, but guess what? It was still great, and now people get a sense of what that show will be. Why not just do “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I or one dance with the two leads in American in Paris? Haven’t we learned yet that medleys don’t do a show justice?

Alright, let’s not dwell too much on the negative (like no love for Hand to God). Things like this exist now! Not all of the shows can be recognized, and there will always be a lot of BS that gets in the way of celebrating the arts, but Fun Home taking home the big wins last night is a huge accomplishment. So let’s bask in that while we can. One more time, here’s a link to all of the performances. Go see a Broadway show!

Oh yeah, one more thing. Bring back Sound Design.

Tony Award Dress Rehearsal


It’s Gonna Be a Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve

Friends! I promise I’ll be returning in the blink of an eye with more reviews. I’ve got Honeymoon in Vegas and Constellations on deck, and let’s not forget “Into the Woods!”

But since we’re all on holiday, let’s step off the interwebs for a bit this evening and look forward to the New Year approaching. My pal Dina and I create a slogan each year to pump us up. This tradition started on NYE 2007 back when it was easier to rhyme – we had “Great in ’08,” “Divine in ’09,” “Zen in 10,” “Leaven in ’11.” Ya know, some real classics. It’s been trickier lately with these darn teens. Nonetheless, this year we ask that you…drumroll please…glean. That’s right: “You betta glean in 2015.” Gather gradually bit by bit. Gather what, I hear you say? Anything, my friends. Knowledge, love, art, anything.

Oh! Before we abandon the Internet, I’ll leave you with one video in honor of tonight’s celebrations –goddesses Laura Benanti, Kelli O’Hara, and Jessie Mueller singing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors for Tom Hanks.

Now…glean. Happy New Year!

Photo Credit: Diana Chan
Pictured: Liz Wasser, Becca Schneider, Nathan Greene, and Dina Percia delving into ’12


Tony Tony Tony: A Recap

Tony Awards

So I know I’m beyond behind on my reviews, but I figure we should take a moment to discuss Sunday night’s Tony Awards. Did you watch? DVR it for later? I got comfortable in my pajamas and sat back to enjoy an evening of theatre. Here’s a brief look at my take on some of the highs and lows of the evening.

HIGHLIGHTS 

Jessie Mueller! Carole King! A wonderful performance and a much-deserved win for Miss Mueller as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. I haven’t even seen the show, and I love her! I do admit that I was also deeply rooting for Kelli O’Hara as it was her fifth nomination and she certainly deserves it after all these years. Perhaps next year for The King and I? Nonetheless, Jessie has been taking the theatre community by storm ever since On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. I’m stoked for her and can’t wait to see Beautiful.

Three words: Idina. Effin. Menzel. Well, let me back up. First there was Jonathan Groff’s brilliant introduction, and then the house was subsequently brought down with her If/Then 11 o’clock number. And yet, people haven’t been talking about it! I did not see my Facebook or Twitter feed freaking out afterward. Weren’t you watching, theatre fans? Honestly, in my eyes, this may have been the performance of the evening.

Also, let’s rejoice for Best Musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – a fantastic performance and an even more hilarious introduction by Jefferson Mays. Let’s hear it for the underdog of the season actually getting its due with its multiple wins.

Cabaret and Alan Cumming? Solid of course.

James Monroe Iglehart’s praise shout.

Lena Hall’s heartfelt speech.

I also want to give a shout-out to Sutton for always being glorious.

And that Hedwig performance?? Yes! I’m so excited to see it in a few weeks!

And perhaps the ultimate highlight of the evening: Audra. Tears. Will Swenson. Tears. Standing ovation. More tears. Making history in two ways. For those of you who don’t know the momentousness of Audra’s win on Sunday for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, she is now the winner of the most Tony awards. She had five, tying with Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris, and now she has a whopping six, on top of the fact that she is now the only person who has won in all four performance categories! Audra McDonald = Queen of Broadway. Can she host next year?

LOWLIGHTS

Clint Eastwood and whatever that presenting was supposed to be.

The opening? I’m sorry, I just wasn’t into it. I do like how so many shows had cameos, and the awkward elevator ride with NPH was delightful, and I understand that they likely didn’t bother with a “traditional” opening number because it could never compete with last year’s. But seriously – Hugh Jackman just bouncing the whole time? Yes, I know it refers to something specific, but we’re really going to take an obscure reference and make it the centerpiece of a four-minute opening number? C’mon Tony writers, you can do better than that. You want more people to tune in? Don’t lose them in the first few minutes!

Sting, I’m bored.

Aladdin’s Friend Like Me was like watching a seizure on stage. And listen, if the funniest part of the song is when the Genie stops to sing from different Disney movies, then I think there’s an inherent problem with the show. People out there who want to spend money on Aladdin? I’m just saying – that’s the best you’re gonna get. They played their best hand on Sunday, so if you didn’t enjoy that number, you might want to reconsider your options.

Zach Braff’s hair.

I thought ROCKY was a musical. Also? Shortest fight ever.

This has been a common rant on Facebook and everywhere else so I won’t digress too long, but I will say I too am tired of the out-of-place Hollywood actors presenting. I love you Tina Fey, but why are you up there and not a Broadway vet? It’s all to improve ratings and get viewers, right? Well, ratings were lower this year. Maybe they should focus more on the theatre community and what we do best and feature more performances from the current season instead of a Music Man rap with LL Cool J and T.I.? Sure, The Bridges of Madison County closed, but couldn’t we get a song with Steven and Kelli? Anyway, more on that and the recent Tony Award Administration Committee ruling in a later post.

All in all, it was a relatively smooth evening without too many hitches, and we got to see some great numbers (go here to watch the rest of the performances). Here’s to another season of theatre!


The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County

A few short weeks ago I wrote a post about the upcoming production of The Bridges of Madison County. It has since arrived on Broadway and is set to open on February 20th (check out photos here). So, how did it measure up to expectations? Honestly, it’s quite the mix.

Here’s the basic premise. It’s 1965 in Madison County, Iowa. We open on a housewife named Francesca (Kelli O’Hara), who lives with her husband Bud (Hunter Foster) and their two kids. Hubbie and the kids are heading out of town for a few days for some cattle steer contest thing that makes absolutely no sense to an East Coast girl like me. Fran is still adjusting to Iowan life. She’s originally from Italy and looks pretty darn bored with her daily chores in this flat town. Enter Robert Kincaid (Steven Pasquale)! He’s the dreamy, traveling photographer who pulls into town right when Fran’s family hits the road. Most everyone coming to this show knows that these two are destined to fall in love from the second he asks for directions to one of the covered bridges…of Madison County. And oddly enough, it’s these two we root for despite the fact that it’s an extramarital affair. Bud isn’t a bad guy by any means, but we still want this for Francesca.

The first act is like a beautiful, slow crescendo. It’s full of folksy tunes and soaring, lush ballads. It is also funnier than I expected. It’s hard to believe Steven Pasquale has never done a Broadway musical before, but finally audiences are getting a chance to hear his pipes, which of course sound amazing alongside the glory that is Kelli O’Hara (everything she touches is gold). The story relies on a strong bond between the two leads, and there is great chemistry between O’Hara and Pasquale. Over the course of Act I, the string on the violin is pulled tighter and tighter as the sexual tension builds between them. The ensemble isn’t used as effectively. They’re either under-utilized or one-dimensional. I like the snooping yet caring neighbor (Cass Morgan) for comedy purposes and also having a real face to the husband and kids out at the cattle event, but everything else somewhat fades to the background. Even the supporting characters feel like filler, because we are really just waiting for Robert and Francesca to be together.

It starts out so strong. All through the first half I was curious, longing for the next song, eager for the upcoming moment. That eagerness slowly faded during Act II. In fact, it turned into a distant memory. To sport a 90s reference, like the Energizer bunny, the show keeps going and going and going (running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes). The second act falls off track and turns into the same idea set to music over and over again. Want to hear another song about love? Here’s one. How about one about loss? Hit it! Oooh, love AND loss? That’s new! Bring it on. I know it sounds harsh, but I was disappointed to be disappointed.

I think it’s mainly a storytelling issue. After Robert and Francesca get together, there isn’t much left to cover or to fill the time. There is the fact that Fran is left with a decision to make: does she stay with her family or run off with Rob to take lots of pictures of bridges? The thing is, her decision is made sometime in Act II and then there is still another 20 minutes of material. All of a sudden we find ourselves in a montage time leap, jumping years into the future. I wonder if this happens in the movie/book as well. The plot problem reminds me of the “Moonlighting” curse which people like to bring up for every TV show known to man with a will-they-or-won’t-they couple. You know the drill: once a couple gets together, people assume the show will fall apart and lose viewers. I personally don’t think a relationship has to kill a show. Now, if the sexual tension was all the show had going for it, then there were problems to begin with. A couple can get together, but the writing has to keep up!

Musically, the two duets between Francesca and Robert are the big highlights: Falling Into You and One Second and a Million Miles. They also each have an 11 o’clock number, but by that point it’s all so repetitive we care less and less. Granted, it might just be me (and the people who were griping around me). I’m curious to see what the reviews will be and if changes are made during the preview period. I hear there are folks coming out of this show sobbing. So who knows? I like to think I’m a romantic and I always love to root for the couple, but the story left something to be desired after these crazy kids got together.


The Bridges of Madison County
Written by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman, Directed by Barlett Sher
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, opening night February 20th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale


On the Horizon: The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County

Another new musical I’m excited for this season is The Bridges of Madison County. Ironically I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. It’s once again the cast and creative team that have me revved up for this show.

Directed by Tony winner Bartlett Sher, the music is written by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown and the book by Marsha Norman. Marsha Norman, guys! She’s a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote the book for the musical The Secret Garden, a personal favorite from my youth.

The trio of stars are Kelli O’Hara, Steven Pasquale, and the recently announced Hunter Foster. I love these three. Kelli, a four-time Tony nominee, is wonderful; not just a beautiful blonde with a beautiful voice, but that girl can act (see: South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza). Steven you might know from TV land (Rescue Me or the less successful Do No Harm), but I’ve been listening to him woo me with his sweet, sweet voice for years in A Man of No Importance, singing The Streets of Dublin. And Hunter? Please. I’ve had a legit crush on him since 2001 when he starred as Bobby Strong in Urinetown. I try to see him in everything he does (yes, I even saw Hands on a Hardbody).

Here’s a song preview featuring O’Hara and Pasquale (and here is some rehearsal footage). If you’re a fan of Jason Robert Brown, I think you’ll enjoy the new tune. It has a Parade-like feel to it (for which he won the Tony for Best Score in 1999). Don’t know JRB’s music? Be sure to also listen to Songs for a New World and The Last Five Years on good ol’ Spotify.

Overall, there is a lot of potential here between the creatives and cast. Bridges begins previews on January 17th at the Schoenfeld Theatre and opens February 20th. Check back around then for a review from me!


The Bridges of Madison County
Written by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman, Directed by Barlett Sher
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, first preview January 17th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Steven Pasquale and Kelli O’Hara