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

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I’m Just a Broadway Baby…

3-year-old me

What’s this? Becca posting on a Saturday? This must be a special occasion of some sort. There must be something unusual going on tomorrow…like, maybe she’s going to the Tony Award Dress Rehearsal?

WHAAAAAAT?!

You heard right, my friends. Thanks to a fateful turn of events, Jenn and I will be attending the Tony Dress Rehearsal tomorrow morning. Cause we’re fancy like that. Aka I’m freaking out, and I cried when she told me.

Tomorrow at 9am, we’ll show up at Radio City Music Hall (my first time if you can believe it) and take our seats left orchestra to soak in all of the Tony madness. For those of you who don’t know, Tony day is CRAZY for the people in the Broadway community. They get to Radio City at the crack of dawn to prep, rehearse from 9:30-1pm, rush over to their respective theatres to do a Sunday matinee (!!), get red carpet ready, arrive at the ceremony, sit and watch, change into costume for their show’s performance, change back, watch the rest, maybe win a Tony, and then party the night away. I’m exhausted just writing about it.

This is the closest I’ve come to the Tony Awards. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the Tony parties for two Best Musical winners, In the Heights and Memphis (Marquee shout-out!). But the thought of being in that enormous hall to see everyone rehearse the songs, transitions, costume changes, and whatever else goes down, is making 5-year-old Becca geek out pretty hard. Who am I kidding? 30-year-old Becca, too.

I hope you’re all tuning in tomorrow (CBS at 8pm ET) for a night full of theatre. There’s a lot of talk right now focused solely on who’s going to win or lose, but what this evening should ultimately be about is the performances. Those are what I’ll be watching on repeat for years to come after it’s over. Those are what the folks around the world can experience if they can’t afford a trip to the city. So let’s celebrate the theatre, yes? See you on the Broadway.


Fun Home

Fun Home

We interrupt our normally scheduled programming (aka the chronological order of the shows I’ve seen) to first talk about Fun Home because it’s too important. I’ve been waiting for this show all season. I know this might sound a little over-the-top, but I can’t help myself: it’s flawless. End of story. A musical like this only comes around once in a while (you can see highlights here). Consider me officially obsessed.

Some backstory: Fun Home is based on the graphic novel “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by cartoonist Alison Bechdel about her relationship with her closeted father. The name Bechdel might ring a bell if you’re familiar with the Bechdel test or the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” Nevertheless, you’re about to get to know Alison and her family very well as she looks back on her childhood and teenage years, building a timeline and attempting to unlock (and draw) the mystery of her father. We meet her at three different stages: Young Alison is nine or so, Medium Alison a freshman in college, and current-day 43-year-old Alison.

Present-day Alison doesn’t quite narrate; rather she excavates her past with the audience in tow. As she sifts through her dad’s old things, she pieces together memories to literally draw from them and make a cartoon. And then she captions the different moments, casting a new light or interpretation on them whenever possible. “Caption: Dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay, and I was gay.” Through her eyes, we quickly fall into this world of memories. It’s additionally effective because the production is performed in the round; company and audience, we’re all in this together. The set pieces spin and shift and disappear through the floor as we move through time. Like the recent production of The Glass Menagerie, the design does an excellent job of creating a memory piece (shout-out to Associate Scenic Designer Tim McMath who designed our gorgeous Summertime set).

And within the in-the-round theatre, we meet fully developed, three-dimensional characters, and the fact that they’re based on a real family makes the experience all the more visceral. Each performance is more fantastic than the last. The chillingly good Tony-nominated Michael Cerveris loses himself in Bruce, Alison’s father – his inner pain radiating from every move, every smile or outburst, every awkward attempt to connect or push people away. The same goes for Tony-nominated Judy Kuhn’s poignant, understated performance as Alison’s mother, Helen. And the three Tony-nominated women who play Alison each bring something unique and beautiful to the role. Eleven-year-old Sydney Lucas plays Young Alison, and all I want to know is where did this girl come from?! She’s stellar and changes everything when she sings THIS (it will also be the Tony performance on Sunday). Emily Skeggs brings an infectious, wide-eyed joy to Medium Alison as she discovers her sexuality. And Beth Malone as adult Alison is the center of this show, keeping everyone and everything grounded. From the moment she starts speaking, you know you’re in good hands.

Here is one of my theories about musicals. If it has a bad score, it dies, it’s forgotten. If it has a great score and not the strongest book, it’s forgiven. As long as it’s got that score, people let the bad, typically contrived, book slide. So when a musical comes along with a book that’s just as strong as the score, if not stronger, it leaves a mark. Shows that meet this criteria stand out (think Sweeney Todd, Next to Normal). So bless you Lisa Kron for this book and lyrics, and Jeanine Tesori – whose music doesn’t always click with me – for writing a beautiful score that I’ve been listening to nonstop since Monday evening. The story weaves seamlessly in and out of song and spoken word (hear the nominee hopefuls discuss the music and lyrics here).

And just a quick word about the subject matter and gay characters. I won’t delve into this too much because I fear I’m not eloquent enough to discuss how important and enormous it is to have a lesbian character be the lead of a musical. It’s unheard of. So instead I’m going to quote an LA Times interview I just read with Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director at the Public Theater where Fun Home began Off-Broadway:

Fun Home, Eustis believes, has the potential to do for lesbians what Angels in America did for gay men: “Take a marginalized group and say, ‘No, you are actually center stage.’ The art form…depends on empathy. It has been magical watching Broadway audiences at Fun Home. No one is thinking, ‘Oh, I know a lesbian.’ They are identifying themselves with the story, and that changes you. Once you’ve identified with someone, you can’t think of them as the other anymore.”

As for Sunday’s awards, there are legit races this year with no clear frontrunner in multiple categories. And as far as Best Musical goes, Fun Home wins in my book, hands-down, but An American in Paris (truly gorgeous, review to come) may have the edge. We’ll have to tune in to find out how the chips fall. Regardless of who wins, this is an intimate, heart-wrenching, funny, true-to-life story of love, self-denial, self-discovery, and above all, family.

Caption: Get your tickets, and come on home.

Fun Home
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron, Based on the Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdel, Directed by Sam Gold
Circle in the Square Theatre, Open-ended
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus and Jenny Anderson
Pictured: Sydney Lucas, Beth Malone, Emily Skeggs, and the Cast of Fun Home

Fun Home


Summertime Recap and Tony Prep

Summertime

Well hello, old friends. Sorry to disappear on you for so long there. As most of you probably know, I’ve been practically living in Gowanus, Brooklyn the past two weeks putting up our production of Summertime. Despite a tumultuous chain of events, I think we made a beautiful play, and I’m so proud of it and everyone involved. Here is a peek at some production photos to give you a little taste. And to stay up-to-date on our future projects, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

But now down to business. It is prime Tony season, and I am BEHIND! I gotta stop producing shows in May! Here is what’s topping my list right now of what I need to see, ideally before Tony Night on June 7th.

  • Fun Home – Missing the run at the Public was my big regret of the 2013 season, but I found solace knowing it would likely come to Broadway. And yet I STILL haven’t made my way over there so this is definitely a top priority.
  • An American in Paris – I should’ve snagged preview tickets on TDF when I had the chance. Now it’s a huge hit and a main contender for Best Musical this year. I’m buying tickets for this later today to catch it next Wednesday.
  • Airline Highway – I never miss a Julie White show. I’m also buying tickets for this today to go next Saturday.
  • On the Twentieth Century – I’m seeing this next Thursday with Jenn! It’s going to be a busy week!
  • The King and I – Sadly I won’t get to this in time for the awards, but I did snag tickets for mid-July with the roomie.

There are others of course (The Visit, Skylight, etc.), but they’ll have to fall to the wayside for the time being.

So – are you ready for Tony night? Excited for Alan and Kristin? Which performance are you most excited to see? What do you think will take home Best Musical?

Summertime
Written by Charles L. Mee, Directed by Jenn Haltman
Gowanus Loft, May 7 – 17
Photo Credit: Craig Hanson Photography
Pictured: Spencer Aste, Josh Doucette, and Becca Schneider


Something Rotten!

Something Rotten

I gotta say, Something Rotten has Best Musical written all over it. Admittedly, I have yet to see most of the new musicals this season as they’re all coming out right about…now (pre-Tony time is busy, friends!). So it’s true, I might change my tune after seeing Fun Home or Finding Neverland or It Shoulda Been You. Lots of new musical potential this year (update since I wrote those last two sentences: It Shoulda and Neverland did not do too well with the critics).

But Something Rotten knows what it’s doing, and it’s got Casey Nicholaw at the helm (you can view highlights here). Now Casey and I don’t always see eye to eye. I couldn’t quite get on board with his productions of Aladdin and Elf, but then there’s the hilarious The Drowsy Chaperone and underdog The Book of Mormon. And now he’s back delivering a brand new (that’s right! NEW!), yet deliciously old-school musical full of big shtick, big comedy, and big musical numbers. And Shakespeare references!

Wait, hold up – this show is about Shakespeare? Don’t run off just yet! It’s not all uppity with super insider-y jokes (although there are plenty for the big Shakespeare fans out there). Here’s the basic premise. All the Bottom brothers, Nick (Brian D’Arcy James) and Nigel (John Cariani), want is to write a hit of their own, but they can’t get a word in edgewise because William Shakespeare (Christian Borle) is all anyone can talk about, and his new play Romeo and Juliet just premiered at the Globe. Nick will do anything to top his rival, so he goes out in search of a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to find out what the “next big thing” might be. And what does he learn about? Why, musical theatre of course! So he dives headfirst into creating the world’s very first musical. Cut to countless hit musical references. I mean, so many you won’t catch all of them in one viewing.

Now sure, there are some easy jokes that drove me a little crazy (a woman guarantees there will be gender equality in no more than five years – get it?!), but on the whole, it’s a silly ball of fun. I don’t know the last time I laughed that hard at a musical. The score is packed with catchy tunes that you will actually leave the theatre humming. And to top it off, you have the impeccably talented cast.

Led by D’Arcy James and Borle, right off the bat, you know you’re in good hands. D’Arcy James is steadfast in everything he touches. He plays a solid straight man amidst all of the craziness but still gets his chance to cut loose. As the Bard, it’s so much fun to once again see the cockiness of Black Stache mixed with the bravado of Tony winner Borle himself. Brad Oscar is insane and hilarious, and Cariani and Kate Reinders are adorably charming and funny as the young will-they-won’t-they-couple. Oh, and Heidi Blickenstaff – I could listen to her sing all day. I wish there were more to her character, but sadly it’s not her show. This is very much about the Bottom brothers and Shakespeare, and the women unfortunately are left in the sidelines. I guess that’s what happens when a show takes place in 2015 – sorry, I mean 1595.

So. A musical chockfull of Shakespeare AND musical references? It sounds like this was made for me. How can you go wrong with a musical that’s an ode to musicals? I’m eager to see what the critics will be saying after the opening tonight, but honestly? I’m not the least bit worried about this show. Nothing’s gone rotten here.

Something Rotten! A Very New Musical
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Directed by Casey Nicholaw
St. James Theatre, Open-ended
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Christian Borle and the cast of Something Rotten


A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

What a jolly good time! What’s that you say? An entirely new musical? Original writing, choreography, a wonderful cast and director, AND a success as this year’s Tony-winning Best Musical? What a breath of fresh air. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was the underdog of the season, despite the fantastic reviews this past fall. It simply fell in the shadow of blockbusters like Aladdin, but as the Act One Finale “The Last One You’d Expect” states, this was the musical to take home the awards this year (Best Musical, Book, Costume Design, and Direction) plus six additional Tony nominations.

Written by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics – and a welcome newcomer to Broadway), Gentleman’s Guide is based on a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman. Bryce Pinkham plays the titular character, a gentleman named Monty Navarro. Monty tells his story from prison as he takes us back to how everything began – when he finds out that he is a distant relative of the royal family, the D’Ysquiths. In fact, only eight relations stand between him and the current Earl of Highhurst. Meanwhile, Jefferson Mays plays all of said relations, and after being scorned by the family, Monty begins to take them out, one by one, getting closer and closer to the Earl himself. Both men are hilarious and spot-on in their roles(sss). Monty also finds himself torn between two women, Sibella and Phoebe, played by Lisa O’Hare and Lauren Worsham respectively, who are making fantastic Broadway debuts.

To say the least, the show is a romp full of catchy, clever songs. It’s packed with mugging and “wink winks” at the audience, and it works because the jokes are solid, and the actors telling them know what they’re doing. Once your ear adjusts to the English accent, it’s pretty much non-stop laughter with comedy ranging from sly wit to full-out slapstick. To the best of my knowledge, farcical musicals are few and far between. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the closest thing I can compare it to within the musical genre. Like Drood, this is clean and sharp. The number performed on the Tony Awards, although it seems like it’s in hyper speed taken out of context, certainly does the show justice in my book.

Another reason the show is so successful is you can tell that the cast is having a blast, too. I mean, how can you not with material like that? Murder has never been so much fun.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak, Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Walter Kerr Theatre, Open-Ended
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Jefferson Mays and the Cast of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder


Tony Committee Ruling

Tony Awards

If you haven’t yet heard (no pun intended), on Wednesday the Tony Committee eliminated the Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical categories from next year’s award season. As you might imagine, there has been a huge backlash from the theatre community, culminating quite quickly in this petition to reinstate the categories. Now I know there is already a lot out there in terms of angry responses in the form of articles, blog posts, and social media alike, but if you’ll allow me to add a few flames to the fire…

Over the years I’m finding the Tony Awards have become more and more like a secret club that only certain people are worthy enough to be included. There has been so much concern over getting better ratings in recent years that it has consistently become more about that than celebrating theatre. To begin with, as I mentioned in my last post, you have LL Cool J rapping a Meredith Wilson song instead of dedicating time to a number from the Tony-winning score of The Bridges of Madison County (re: Steven Pasquale’s tweet). Jason Robert Brown certainly let people know his thoughts on the matter in his thank you speech. Or we get a song from Sting’s The Last Ship or J-Hud doing Finding Neverland (neither of which has even made it to Broadway yet) instead of giving ROCKY the proper time needed to do a full number. I’ve read in a few places that the ceremony has turned into a commercial for next season rather than a look-back at what was accomplished this year.

Then you’ve got all of the awards that aren’t considered “mainstream” enough to be aired along with the rest of the broadcast. You know, like the designers. Cause who needs lights, costumes, and sound? I remember a few years back when even more awards were added to this unaired portion, categories like Best Score, Book of a Musical, Choreography, etc. And what have we been getting in place of that? They even cut the In Memoriam segment this year from the main broadcast! I mean, come on.

And now back to the sound design issue. Every year friends and I talk about categories that should be added to the awards season: casting directors, stage managers, musical directors, book of a play, best replacement, etc. We look for opportunities to honor more people. And now we’re taking things away? Sound only started getting recognized in 2008! This article touches on some of the reasoning behind the committee’s decision. I understand that it might be difficult to assess sound design, especially when often the goal is to not even notice the design at all when watching a production. “Members believe that sound design is more of a technical craft, rather than a theatrical art form.” It’s funny; I just had an intense debate with my brother Jeff last weekend about what is art versus what is entertainment. This seems like a similar debate: technical craft versus art. What deserves to be honored? What makes a design one and not the other?

When this ruling was announced, my friend Jenn (the brilliant director of a little play called The Understudy) and I immediately started discussing just how integral our sound designer (the fantastic Ien DeNio) was to our show. Sure it’s a technical skill, but her work was a vital part of the artistic process as well. For example, there were these three enormous set changes in the play, and it was a last-minute decision during tech (per Ien’s suggestion) to add sound. She had a very specific idea in mind for what would work, and because she had been a part of the artistic contribution from the beginning, we trusted her to take the idea and run with it. This addition of sound ended up filling in the spaces and further enhancing the world we had built together with the entire creative team.

In honor of the sound designers out there (and all of the others who have yet to be recognized in the main ceremony, if at all), please consider signing this petition to reinstate these awards. Okay, I’m stepping off my Broadway soapbox now. Thanks for listening.

What do you think about the committee’s decision?