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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.

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Musical Review–Drood

2 Nov

drood5

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?