Tag Archives: Tony

Tony Awards 1972, Two Gentlemen of Verona

4 Apr

two gentlemen

 

Two Gentlemen of Verona has to be one of the most obscure Tony Award winners of all time, and that’s saying a lot.   In a year that brought us Follies, Grease, and Jesus Christ Superstar we choose this as best musical?     There’s reasons for that.

Not many people know that Jesus Christ Superstar didn’t start its life as a musical at all, but as a concept album.   The original Broadway show came more than a year after the album, and neither Broadway nor Andrew Lloyd Weber liked it.    On top of that it was controversial both from Conservative Christian crowd (Judas was too relatable, and Jesus had some notable weaknesses if not flaws.)    The concept album had already done quite well (hitting number one) and something about this show seemed anticlimactic.

Follies was a good show, but so ludicrously expensive that it ended up losing money.   Also Sondheim had just won the year previous for Company.

Grease is a fine show and all, but compared to the other big shows this year, doesn’t it seem a little silly?

So we’re left with Two Gentlemen–MacDermot won because 1) The Tonys shafted him a few years before with Hair 2) Shakespeare (even hippified naughty Shakespeare) is hard to fight with as something significant without being controversial, and 3) It was a moderate hit.

The problem is that Two Gentlemen wasn’t significant.  Don’t get me wrong–MacDermot writes some good songs here, but this isn’t what he’s remembered for.  In fact, the tunes here all kind of meld together into one big mishmosh.  Also, the hippie aesthetic–so very fresh in 1967 is already seeming a bit strained in 1972.

Oh well. I’m glad he did win a Tony.  I just wish it was for the right work.

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Tony Award Winners, 1970, Applause

31 Mar

applause

For whatever reason 1970 was the battle for the aging movie stars from the 40’s who cannot sing for best musical.   There were three real contenders:  Coco (with Katherine Hepburn who cannot sing), Applause (Lauren Bacall, who cannot sing either but does a decent facsimile of it), and Purlie (the odd man out.)     Applause won.

In a way I can see it.  Applause is a retelling of All About Eve, but incredibly stylishly–Lauren Bacall is perfect to play Margo Channing, and the show is just campy and fun–a true cocktail hour classic.   The problem is that the songs mostly have very little character–But Alive is the best of the bunch, the rest are all talking and posing.   What we’re listening to is the Laugh-in version of All About Eve, and while it can be a hoot, I don’t think it’s all that engaging.

The musical that should have won was Purlie,  Its mixture of gospel, blues, and rock is overflowing with energy.     While Applause is amusing, Purlie is damn good, handling Jim Crow America with a deft touch–using it as an excuse to make a wonderful sonic quilt, homey and wonderful.

Tony Award Winners: 1969, 1776

30 Mar

1776

The late sixties were not kind to the Broadway musical–more and more, musicals seemed to be irrelevant.  Rock music was peaking in becoming an artistic artform, and  Broadway was not prepared to take that on.

Not that I have anything against 1776–it’s a good work–it just seems like it was written by your high school history teacher.   You see people doing their best impressions of the founding fathers as we know them through paintings, copying many famous scenes.  Through it, you can see the show pointing at things like “see, see?  These people aren’t all that different from us!  They still were lustful, and silly, and political.”   To give it credit, the show was a hit.  However there was that other hit that nobody wanted to talk about–Hair.

Hair was the biggest hit of the previous season, still going strong.  Hair wasn’t eligible until 1969 due to a technicality.   (It really should have won the year before, where Hallelujah, Baby looked quaint in comparison.)   Funnily enough, despite the rock music soundtrack and lack of a real plot, Hair met all the other qualifications for a smash.  It was the first show in a long time to have hit songs on the radio (and many of them), it had a very successful tour, and it really met the zeitgeist of the time.  I’m not saying that Hair is the best musical ever, in fact it dates quite badly, but at that time it was the most important thing on Broadway, and by turning their backs on it, the Tony awards set Broadway for a whole series of failures.

You see, rock music was desperate (like the generation that listened to it) to be taken seriously.  The stage is a place that can give a type of music a sense of legitimacy.  It should have been a marriage made in heaven.  However, faced with aging theatre owners, and composers much more comfortable with the Jazz/pop type of composition, the theatre community was not about to encourage this sort of thing.

In the end, Hair was a one-off anyway, the trend in musicals didn’t really move in that direction in the long term.   However by embracing this new sort of music, rather than shunning it, they could have opened up Broadway to a greater range of options long before they were forced to.

As for 1776, it’s a pleasant enough show, and I bet the Tonys were very relieved that they had a bona fide hit to put over Hair that year.   They could even justify that 1776 because of its historic content was the one  more likely to last.   The songs are ok (if a bit corny).   However, even though the Hair style musical was not the wave of the future, the History in Action piece certainly was not either.

Tony Award Winner: 1965, Fiddler on the Roof

24 Mar

fiddler

I have a horrible story to tell about Fiddler on the Roof.  When I worked in the college library, we would do a fair share of helping with student papers, particularly the 100 levels.  One such composition class had its students every year watch Fiddler on the Roof and write a paper about it.  Very simple, almost high school level.    Most of the papers were incredibly boring, but one student’s paper was one of the most judgmental, ignorant things I ever read. In it she talked about how lazy all the people were there, how they all just sat around singing, how their traditions were stupid, and how her father was a Baptist minister and if they were not going to worship the one and only Jesus Christ, then they deserved whatever treatment they got.

This really doesn’t have to do with the musical, but I just had to put that story out there, because although I knew there were ignorant people in the world, I never thought I would come face to face with such meanness that went along with it.

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the great musicals of all time, in fact I can say if there is one Broadway musical that will be saved from the 20th century, it will likely be this one.   It’s a literary show, filled with allegory, messages, intelligence, and a huge breathtaking scope.   As a kid I didn’t really like it because I did not understand it–that’s one thing about this show, many musicals are easily keyed into by children because they are that basic–not Fiddler, this is very adult, and its meditations on change, on suffering, on aging, on tradition are ones that still resonate today.

The music in it is almost too well known–Tradition; Far From the Home I Love; Sunrise, Sunset; If I Were a Rich Man–you’ve likely heard these songs before.   The music is rich and deep and I have to give Zero Mostel huge kudos for playing the lead–this is not the character he normally plays, and he just wins it.

This is well worth your time.   This is the show you need to see, not necessarily the one you want to–and it will change you.

Tony Awards, 1964, Hello Dolly

23 Mar

hello dolly

 

While everything that became popular in 1964-1965 is usually attributed to the Kennedy Assassination, there’s a strong case for Hello Dolly.   I wasn’t alive then, but after any national trauma entertainment tends to go into an escapist comfort food place.   So while satires on contemporary times were all the rage the last three or four seasons, Dolly is a very traditional musical, not all that different than a Rogers and Hammerstein production.  Not that I’m complaining, the music is incredibly solid, Carol Channing is delightful, and this musical broke a ton of records.

I must mention something about the records here–now on Broadway shows tend to have very long runs–5 years+ for a successful show, back in the mid-sixties a big show might run 2 years, most shows ran less than that.  If you look at listings of Broadway productions around that time, it wasn’t unusual for there to be 20-30 new musical productions a year.  Now we’re lucky to get more than 7.  I’m not saying that this is better or worse, though very often things stick around on Broadway much longer than they deserve to these days.

Also I have to warn you about the movie–people will watch it and get the wrong impression.  Don’t get me wrong, Barbra Streisand sings great here (though Walter Matthau is not a great singer at all.)   However, the movie Hello Dolly is completely different–trying to revive the old style MGM musical–and it ends up looking like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.   The Broadway Musical is much more fun and interesting and just oozes personality.

There’s rumors of bringing this back to Broadway, and while there are oodles of women who would just love to play the part, I’m wondering if they could pull it off.  It’s turned into one of those community theatre shows that has been done nearly to death.    I hope they would work hard to find a fresh new take without ruining the central character.   Nothing else could have possibly won the Tony that year.

Tony Award Winners: 1963, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

22 Mar

forum

 

Ah yes, Sondheim.   Forum was Sondheim’s first show on Broadway by himself, and it was a huge smash.   One interesting way to look at all these shows is as a time capsule for the year they were first produced.   It won’t work for all of them, but for Forum, it certainly does.   Forum bases most of its humor on the mid-sixties sex comedy.   Generally, that’s not my favorite sort of thing.   Imagine Benny Hill, and you’ve got all the basic materials for any sex comedy–scantily clad women, a comically horny man, an authority figure, slapstick, drag, and very broad humor.   I don’t really enjoy these sorts of films/shows, in fact I find them vaguely icky and not funny at all.

So it’s a miracle that I like Forum at all, because it has all those things and more, but the music is really good.   Of course there’s Comedy Tonight–but the other songs like Everybody Ought to Have a Maid, or Lovely both are equally as good.   So this has improved to a degree in my estimation.

However, the musical that should have won that year was Oliver!  I used to hate Oliver! thinking it full of winsome children and basically like throwing 20 Annies in victorian times.  It’s not–the music is first rate, and the show is much more universal than forum.   Many many other Sondheim works won or should have won Tonys, Oliver really should have had a day in the sun.

Tony Awards: 1962, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

21 Mar

HT$

 

If you want the original version of Mad Men, here you go.  How To Succeed…was the pinnacle of the late fifties/early sixties satirical musical, and this one has the most bite of all of them (not that it’s very much in the end, but I digress.)  This sort of musical had a simplistic plot (climbing the corporate ladder), an overall theme (corporations), and very soft satire, more like gentle cultural critique towards an American institution.  Earlier examples of this are Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, and Bye Bye Birdie.   Unlike a book musical (like Oklahoma) the story and the music are secondary to the satire shown, and this grew more and more prominent in the early sixties.   The theme would always drift into the music and dancing, so you’d get songs like A Secretary is Not a Toy, and Coffee Break.  Unlike star vehicles (like anything Merman was in) there wasn’t usually a showstopper song either.

So as it stands, How to Succeed is rather clever, sometimes schticky, sometimes a little too clever for its own good.   I don’t think it has anything really significant to say about corporate culture other than how silly it all can be sometimes.    The music is mostly good, some of it having a little bit of a throwaway feel.   It doesn’t date too well, but this was the last big hit of this kind of musical for awhile.   This was the big hit of the season with nothing else coming close to its success on Broadway, so there’s that.