Tony Awards 1992, Best Musical, Crazy for You

27 Jan

crazy for youSo, Crazy for You was the big winner for best musical of 1992.   It’s a western based on Gershwin’s music, and it’s….kinda everything you’d expect.  It starred Jodi Benson, the voice of the Little Mermaid, and I couldn’t fault the Tonys for giving the award to this one.   Then again, it’s so thoroughly unsurprising that it’s an uninspired choice in a way.

There were three other shows:  Five Guys Named Moe was a so-so jukebox musical based on Louis Jordan, I have little to say about this one other than it had a great amount of energy.  The other two are more interesting–the first Jelly’s Last Jam was a fantastic bio-show about Jelly Roll Morton, the father of Jazz.   This probably should have been the winner of 1992–the music is inventive, the story engaging, and the show manages to make Jazz sound fresh and modern–compared to Five Guys Named Moe and Crazy for You, it sounds like it’s from another millennium.  The Falsettos is notable because it’s a modern story, and it focuses on the AIDS crisis.  As much as I want to praise this show, at the same time the music isn’t quite all the way there, and it doesn’t completely age well.

Crazy for You ended being the peak show of the early nineties nostalgia craze–for the next few years we get some interesting choices before Disney takes over Broadway.  Stay tuned.

Tony Awards 1991: The Will Rogers Follies

17 Jan

What the heck 1991?  What is wrong with you?    Ok, for that year we had four shows to pick from–the marvelous and huge hit Miss Saigon, the haunting and evocative Secret Garden, and the multicultural extravaganza Once on this Island.  I could have accepted any of those three as the winner.   Of course they picked The Will Rogers Follies, the extremely nostalgic and slightly smarmy show of the year.   I can understand City of Angels the year before, after all, there wasn’t that much to pick from, but in 1991 they had plenty to pick from.

Ok, so for those who don’t know, Will Rogers was the cowboy comic that was a star from the early days of Broadway, through the early thirties, known for his wisecracks and dry sense of humor, he was a true American great.   However, the show itself is exactly the sort that Rogers would have made fun of in his time.  You might recall a one man show about Mark Twain, that tells his life story, but also exaggerates it a little for humor.  A nice show for such a thing, but add a dozen cast members, flat musical numbers, and a lot of mugging, it becomes incredibly twee and smug at the same time, I guess I could call that “twug” as that would be the kind of joke that would go on this show.

Keep in mind, in another year I might have had no objection, but The Secret Garden that year is (in my opinion) the masterpiece of the bunch–it’s a marvelous work, and one of the few shows which features children that I don’t find obnoxious in the least.

Oh well, I can’t always agree with the Tonys.   Next time, the nostalgia craze peaks in 1992 before Disney eats half of broadway.

Tony Awards 1990: City of Angels

27 Dec

Well, 1989 for whatever reason, was a very nostalgic season.  The four big shows were City of Angels–a film noir influenced musical set in the forties, Meet me in St. Louis–a fluff show set in the turn of the century, Aspects of Love–Andrew Lloyd Weber’s latest piece of victoriana, and finally Grand Hotel–celebrating the thirties.

City of Angels, like the Noir it celebrates, is high on style but low on substance.   Most of the songs are comedic, and parts are clever, but as for something that rises above its source material, this is not one of those shows.   I can’t say there’s anything else that should have won however.   Aspects of Love and Meet Me in St. Louis are both so saccharine that they are painful, and Grand Hotel is a very decent show that perhaps could have used a bit more focus (but then again, the original story had the same problem, so there you go.)  On top of it, Grand Hotel pretty much covers the same ground as 42nd street, a show that went 10 years earlier.

For better or for worse, City of Angels accurately sets the tone for how Broadway would develop over the next decade–the mega-musical was on its way out, and on its way in are theme musicals and while Disney might have been the big motivator towards the new family friendly Broadway, City of Angels (and the rest of the shows of 1990) really opened up the door for a Disney show to be mentioned in the same breath as something like West Side Story or Chicago.

Oh well, if anything, the year before proved that Broadway needed to do something to stay alive.   So maybe in a way it was inevitable.

Musical Review–Drood

2 Nov


Drood might not be the best show ever to win a Tony, but by gum it might well be the most fun.   I was surprised to find this nestled among the Tony winners of the eighties–the decade of gigantic overproduced shows, but every herd has one black sheep, and this is it.

In a way, Drood is the amicable, smiling relation to Sweeney Todd.   While Sweeney is an exercise in horror, Drood has a much lighter touch, dark humor to be sure, but the characters are such broad stereotypes, and the show is set up as a play within a play, so there is a certain amount of distance.   What Drood is, more than any other Broadway show, is a game, and quite an enjoyable one at that.

First, you might as well forget about Charles Dickens to start with.  He wrote the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood, right before his death, and never got so far as to solve his own mystery that he started.   The book is Typical Dickens, perhaps a bit more melodramatic than most (and the guy was pretty melodramatic to start with.)

This show is not what Dickens would ever make.  It’s set up as an old fashioned music hall, with bawdy jokes, double entendres, slapstick, and talking directly to the audience.   Because the mystery was never finished, the audience votes on who the murderer was, and the rest of the show goes according to the results of that vote.

The music is the sort that drunk people would sing at a bar–with lyrics that are alternately clever and strange.    All of the music is good–the standouts are Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead, Moonfall, and No Good Can Come from Bad.   Even though this show is a comedy, many of the numbers are surprisingly touching.   The only thing about the soundtrack is that it plays the songs from all the endings, which gets quite repetative, since the music for them is generally repeated, in fact some lines are as well.  This wouldn’t hurt the show though, as only one of these songs would have been performed.

Quite a rollicking little show.  However, we’ll sadly steer away from such fun little trifles as this, as the rest of the decade Broadway got eaten up by that ungainly behemoth known as the mega-musical.

Tony Awards, 1985, Big River

21 Sep

big river

Well, Big River–the story of Huckleberry Finn–is…adequate.   Don’t get me wrong, Miss Chontash your seventh grade English teacher would be sure to book a field trip to get kids there if it was showing at the local amateur theatre troupe, even though it meant feeding her cats late, which Miss Chontash really doesn’t like to do.   However, I’ve listened to this soundtrack many times, and each time it’s failed to make any impression.

The soundtrack certainly is suitable–the production team got a non-broadway country star, Roger Miller, to write the music for this one, and I can see the occasional wink and grin of his Okie honky-tonk humor, and he’s certainly not trying to have any real show stoppers–he wasn’t the sort to try to write those in the first place.  The whole sound is a strange mix of laid-back and broadway overachieving–I think most of these tunes would sound much better with one person performing them rather than a whole cast.

The other thing I noticed is that in Huckleberry Finn, there’s a fine line to have your actor walk in playing him.   Huck is supposed to be pre-adolescent, so he’s not really all that interested in girls yet, but he’s also supposed to be old enough to have a certain understanding of things going around him.  He can’t be a brat, he can’t be a goody-two-shoes–he’s got to be young enough to understandably get himself in some scrapes that those with more experience would avoid, but old enough to not be completely defenseless.

And this show–it pretty readily homogenizes the whole story–this isn’t the Huck we find in Mark Twain’s books, but a Disney-esque version of Huck, that loveable scamp who always gets in crazy adventures.

I guess there isn’t a worse way to spend an evening, but considering how expensive Broadway is, I’d opt for something with a little more to it.

Oh and Hello John Goodman!   It’s such a surprise to find him in here pre-Roseanne.    I don’t know if I imagined he was created by Roseanne out of spare parts or what, but there he is, on Broadway.  Who woulda thunk?

Pewterbreath Returns

20 Sep

Hello folks! Sorry I’ve been away, I completely lost my password and had to do a lot of finagling to get back on, but for all three of you that are waiting with baited breath, I am back again! I am glad to see the blogosphere has not collapsed in my absence, and the black hole that could have very well opened up in the space I left behind has not erupted, thus sucking other blogs in at beyond lightspeed and threatening the whole internet.

…so how have you been?

Tony Awards, 1984: La Cage aux Folles

6 May

la cage

Oh 1984–I have such mixed feelings about the shows of this year.   We’ve got two shows that were duking it out for the win–La Cage, and Sondheim’s Sundays in the Park with George.    The first is socially revolutionary, the second is artistically flawless.

La Cage was an extremely brave show to have out in 1984–an attempt to humanize gay men at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and also a love letter to a time that was about to be over, and also looking forward to how society would change.   In 1984 the idea of two gay men raising a child together was foreign to middle class America, and positive portrayals of gay men were few and far between.   This was right at the time that AIDS was first coming into public consciousness–in fact 1984 was the year that AIDS got its name–before it was known as Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (GRID).

I don’t think anybody can know what a dark time that was.  There was a disease where the causes weren’t even completely known yet, and whole groups of friends would grow suddenly ill and disappear.   People were afraid and suspicious, and for a long time there seemed to be little progress in understanding much less fighting this disease.   The president was receptive, and homophobia reared its head (one of the first gay jokes I ever heard was that it stood for got aids yet?)   I was just a child then, but I knew I was gay relatively early and in the eighties identifying as gay was akin to signing your own death warrant.

And no, this comedy doesn’t come close to touching the subject of AIDS, but it went a long way towards showing gay men as ordinary people, and putting on a comedy showing things being the norm was so refreshing in that time.   Plus I just adore Harvey Fierstein–his gruff campy sense of humor is all over this show, and that’s the biggest reason it shines.

The score?  It’s ok.  It has one big song I Am What I Am, which despite sounding like Popeye should sing it, is a rousing pride anthem.  It’s really very conservative–very necessarily so, because this show is all about making gay men approachable.  However, sometimes it’s too conservative, many of the songs would have fit in shows 20 years before this, and a lot of the songs repeat.

For all the reasons above this show deserved the Tony.   (Besides it was a smash).  However, I’m divided with Sundays in the Park with George–Sondheim’s most personal creation and his artistic peak.   The score here just shines–the sounds, as odd as they are, fit the show, and in 100 years I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Sundays in the Park was still relevant, while La Cage would seem like a cultural oddity.

Jerry Herman (whether purposefully or by accident) ruffled a few feathers by saying that “the simple hummable tune was still alive and well on Broadway.”   This innocuous statement can be read as thumbing his nose at Sondheim who was known for making music that was most definitely NOT hummable.    Personally, I don’t really get into the whole sophisticated vs. simple argument.  Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim are music makers that have completely different approaches and both of them succeed or fail in their own ways and there’s room enough for both of them in this world.

Tony Awards, 1983, Cats

30 Apr


Cats was the behemoth of 80’s Broadway until Andrew Lloyd Weber one-upped himself with Phantom of the Opera.   However, there’s a quote from Angels in America that really fits this show:  “Cats.  It’s about cats.  Singing cats.  You’ll love it.”

I don’t love Cats, but I find the show interesting.  The best way to consider this show is as the best theater for children ever made.   For children, this show is clever, fun, not too challenging, but with a little smidgen of thought that your average ice capades wouldn’t include.   As a Tony Award winning Broadway show—I think it’s a little bit weak.   Not that it shouldn’t have won, this show was one of the biggest of that era, It’s just very very simple, and not always in the good way, a bit too darling for my tastes, and the book could have been written by Spielberg when he was coming off of E.T.   And the whole thing just screams 80’s.    The costuming–how they look like if Kiss had made themselves some cat costumes by way of an 80’s mall.  (I mean look at this group up here and compare them to the USA in Africa group a few years later.)   And each one is just slightly different, so you can buy all the figures!!!!!   Talk about marketing!

This does have the huge song Memory in it–which deservedly is the breakaway song, however much it doesn’t really fit with all the other songs we hear.   Lots of feline dancing, a big junkyard, a tractor tire space ship to reincarnation.   Characters named Rum-Tum-Tugger, and Teacozy and I don’t know what.

Again, like all the other mega-musicals, the star is a thing–here it’s the dancers’ makeup.   There’s no progression, just song after song after song, which get samey after a bit.   Gotta say one thing–Andrew Lloyd Weber certainly knows what to bank on.   This show was HUUGE.

Tony Awards 1982, Nine

28 Apr


Nine is a completely left of field show to win amidst a decade of big budget behemoths.  I have very little to say about it, which is why I’ve been procrastinating on this post.  I’ve listened to the soundtrack many times, and still, very few of the songs stick (other than Be On Your Own)–in fact the music sounds entirely incidental.

On the other hand, I’m very happy whenever anything experimental gets on Broadway in the first place, and nine certainly is that.     It’s mid-life crisis storyline has a very theatre-ish tone to it.   The women in Guido’s head coming to life around him, and him finding it hard to create without a new flame to inspire him.

It’s really set up as a problem play, showing a situation and all the good and bad parts, then not resolving the situation.   Because of that, it’s a hard show to love, and the music is hard to love with it.  However I can’t help but respect it.

Tony Awards 1981, 42nd Street

20 Apr

42nd street

One thing that you’ll hear a lot with discussing 42nd Street is how it’s the end of an era.   David Merrick was one of the last big producers on Broadway, and this was his last effort to bring an old style Broadway show like it used to be.

Never trust anybody who claims to be putting on a show the way Broadway “used to be.”   And most especially don’t trust David Merrick who probably wrote all this copy himself.   David Merrick was a combination of Jack Warner and a publicity hound who would stop at nothing to not only have his shows succeed but become cultural phenomenons.   He was not very nice, not many people liked him, but damn–the man got stuff done yo.   No, 42nd Street has nothing to do with Broadway in the days of yore–and more has to do with the upcoming flavor of musicals in the 80’s and 90s–this is the rise of the mega-musical.

Now, I’m not claiming that this is the first mega-musical exactly, there have been many shows before this that have had long runs, but this is the first show that I know of that was intentionally trying to have a long run–before 42nd street a show lasting more than one season was (generally) considered a success.   Now we’ve got shows (hello Spiderman!) that have to run for at least 5 years before earning a dime.   So instead of my normal review, I’m going to lay out all the aspects of the mega-musical, and how 42nd street fills the bill.

1.  An expectation of a long run.

2.  Big sets, big casts, big big big–the idea is to overwhelm the audience, which leads to…

3.  An emphasis on pageantry rather than storytelling.

4.  A conversation piece happening that bring people out of the show talking about to build word of mouth.  Here it’s the huge cast of tap-dancers practically overflowing from the stage, but a more famous one would be the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera.

5.  Broad Characters–42nd street has a bunch of characters we already know–the up and coming star, the jaded old star that’s on her way out, the tricky producers, the director who’s committed to his art, mobsters, stage-door johnnies, the love interest with a heart of gold.  You are told exactly who to root for from the very beginning.

6.  Simple plot–The good people are good, the bad people are bad.    At the end everyone gets their deserved reward.

7.  Songs that are set-pieces rather than pushing forward the story–this is a 180 degree turn from the direction that Broadway shows have been generally developing since the 40’s.

8.   Family-friendliness–While not kiddie fare, 42nd street is primarily an unthreatening landscape–there’s no attempt to connect the actions on the stage to the real world whatsoever.   No current events please.

9.   Connection to a subject that people are familiar with, but is not canonized.  42nd Street is perfect because it’s familiar, you know all the songs already, but the story isn’t one where its fans would start saying but in the original movie she didn’t do that….

10.  Emphasis away from its central stars.  Mega-musicals could have a star in them if it was convenient, but mostly they shied away from that–they wanted the sort of show that you could endlessly replace people and the audience wouldn’t really care.  In fact, this sort of musical actively resisted having an individual actor place their stamp on it too heavily.

11.  An easily recognizable theme.    Here I mean more like a dress up party theme than anything else.  Here we have the 30’s, bright lights, chlorines, pork-pie hats, tap-dancing, sparkly outfits, coat and cane, the whole nine yards.

You probably can tell I’m not a big fan of this sort of show.  Yes, they’re impressive, but they run so slickly, so like a well oiled machine, they more remind me of a carnival ride than a show that really gets to you.  You’re supposed to watch these with your brains firmly off, and your wonderment scanners on high.   The reason I don’t really review this show is there’s nothing here to really review.  It’s very professionally done, but it’s not really all that interesting (to me), in fact the production values here completely erase all the edges and interesting parts this story originally had.   The whole point of it is to make something as familiar and unchallenging as possible so that the widest possible audience would pour in.  And boy did they.

However, as a harbinger of things to come, this show was extremely accurate and thus deserved the Tony.