Tag Archives: broadway

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.

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?

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

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, 1980, Evita

17 Apr

evita

Well, 1980 was the year that Andrew Lloyd Weber broke open the door and claimed the rest of the decade for himself.   What surprised me about Evita was how close to Jesus Christ Superstar it was.   I always looked at Jesus Christ Superstar as an anomaly–after all, it’s the only one where Andrew Lloyd Weber really rocks, it’s the only one that has raw emotions, it’s the only one that even approaches edginess.   However, if you listen to the two back to back, you’ve got a lot in common, more in common than Evita and any of his works afterwords.

In a way this makes sense.   Weber has always been fascinated by the martyr figure, and while Jesus was certainly the world’s best known martyr, Weber couldn’t really go all out there in terms of him as a public personality, because he had to be sensitive about people’s religious beliefs (and even then, I might add, people still got offended by it.)   Evita, by comparison, is a much safer bet.   She was someone who was loved by the public, but also someone who wasn’t exactly a sanctimonious figure,  nobody claimed that she was entirely pure of heart.   And there’s a couple of interesting things that Weber brings out about these cults of personality–they almost have nothing to do with whatever the person stands for, or is actually doing.

Patti Lupone really knocked this out of the park, because believe me, if you’ve got a weak Evita, the rest of this show just goes straight down the drain no matter how good everyone else is.   The music is–sorta ok I guess.  It’s extremely repetitive, and while Jesus Christ Superstar certainly had its repeating themes, the ones here are much simpler.  However they vary it enough so that it doesn’t make your ears bleed or anything.   Also, this marks the transition of Andrew Lloyd Weber from shows that are about something, to shows that are largely pageantry.   Here the pageantry is largely part of the story, so it’s forgivable I guess, but later–oooooh later, style would definitely trump substance in every single manner.

Oh well, the only other show that year that came close was the unfairly forgotten Barnum.  Nobody really denies Evita its win.

Tony Awards, 1979, Sweeney Todd

15 Apr

sweeney todd

There was never any doubt on this one.  Not only is Sondheim the Meryl Streep of the Tony’s getting nominated for any musical urp he lets out, this movie was the trendsetter of that season.

Sondheim switched gears here, and honestly he never made anything like this since–moving away from his character studies, he embraces the dark musical, completely undermining the toothy smiles and tap dancing that Broadway always had in large abundance.  (Want to know what bi-polar feels like?  Just chase this with Annie and you’ve just about got it.)   I wonder if the success of Annie allowed for this to have such an impact–because we’ve got quite another story of an impish redhead living in poverty right here.

We start with a dark undertone, and the darkness never relents.   I’m amazed at how well this play works, by breaking all the rules–by following such a penny dreadful pattern, by having all the characters being ghastly exaggerations.  It’s like watching a funhouse mirror.   The Phantom of the Opera’s ersatz darkness can’t hold a candle to this story.

Oh well, we’re done with the seventies.   Andrew Lloyd Weber is about to bust the door down and start things over again.