Tony Winners I Liked

It’s Tony Awards week, so it makes sense to look back at some of the Tony-winning plays and musicals that I had the opportunity to review on nytheatre.com. People who know me will not be surprised to know that most of the time I did not endorse the decisions made by the Tony voters; I don’t even necessarily approve of the awards at all, except to the extent that the Tony broadcast has the capacity to bring NYC theater to the rest of the world (about which I will write in a future post).

But with the awards coming along in a few days, I’ll keep things jolly in this post and look back at the winning plays and musicals that I loved when I wrote about them. (The titles below are linked to my full original review in the nytheater indie archive.)

Musicals

The Producers (2001): “Everything that made American musical comedy (and vaudeville, and burlesque) great–slapstick, corny jokes, beautiful chorus girls, Borscht Belt shtick, ethnic jokes poking fun at every imaginable constituency, more beautiful chorus girls, unsubtle dirty jokes, hummable melodies, vigorous tap dancing, opulent and entirely unmotivated musical numbers, and some more beautiful chorus girls–it’s all here, unabashed, the way that Brooks has celebrated it throughout his career. We just never thought we’d actually get to see it on stage.”

Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002): “Thoroughly Modern Millie is as pretty to look at as it is to listen to. David Gallo’s sets–and there are quite a few of them–are attractive and elegant and inventive. Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are bright and colorful and eye-popping…. It’s a musical comedy that really is musical and comical; a show where you leave happier than when you came in. Who says musicals can’t soar on gossamer wings anymore?”

Hairspray (2003): “I had a wonderful time at this show, thanks to its peppy, rock & roll and sometimes R&B-inflected score; its engaging, enthusiastic cast; its joyous, effervescent choreography; and its charmer of a book, which takes in camp, kitsch, satire, and parody and tempers them all with a healthy dose of sentiment.  Hairspray is happy and silly and infectiously giddy; it’s also fueled by a message that is heartfelt and honorable. It’s loads of fun, it makes you feel good, it’s even a little bit deliciously subversive: it ends, after all, with an overweight teenager, a black diva, and a drag queen singing their hearts out to tumultuous applause.”

Jersey Boys (2006): “So how do you take a story that everybody already knows how it ends, a story that is (upon reflection) merely one overused American Entertainment Cliché right after another, and turn it into the most exciting hour of musical theatre this side of Act One of Michael Bennett’s Dreamgirls? Know-how, my friend; know-how, and chemistry, and love. Without all three ingredients, we get formulaic junk (or just ill-crafted junk; which is worse?), the kind of stuff that gives Broadway a very bad name. With all three, you get combustion, you get goose-bump-inducing excitement, you get the stuff that memories are made of: the happy miracle that makes Broadway the world’s showplace bar none.”

Once (2012): “Once is a paean to the power of music, and the celebration begins well before the official curtain time, with an on-stage pre-show in which the members of the ensemble–who supply ALL of the show’s music, vocally and on a variety of (mostly string) instruments–each get a chance to strut their stuff and cut the rug a little, too…. I particularly loved that, bucking what seems to be the new norm for Broadway musicals, this show is content to let us come to it and discover its charms for ourselves, rather than trying to beat its audience into submission with abundant noise and production value and relentless hyperactivity.”

Plays

The Last Night of Ballyhoo (1997): “Author Alfred Uhry (who wrote Driving Miss Daisy) provides us with some interesting things to think about here, but gently; mostly this work is a loving depiction of a family coping with the most basic events of life. Reba and Boo are watching their daughters grow up; Lala and Sunny, meanwhile, are entering the adult world with all the wonder and naiveté of the young; Uncle Adolph provides the sheltering center for all four. Uhry has created wonderfully quirky, three-dimensional characters, and the actors gathered here bring them to vivid life.”

Art (1998): “It’s not exactly a news flash, but the fact is that Alan Alda is a supremely funny man. In the excellent new play Art, he stars as Marc, a curmudgeonly intellectual who is stymied by the fact that his best friend Serge has paid 200,000 francs for a painting that consists of some white lines on a white background. Shortly after the play begins, Marc goes to see the painting for the first time. Observe Mr. Alda in this act of observing: he steps back, he squints, he puts his glasses on, he adjusts his head, he blinks, he takes his glasses off, he moves right up to the canvas–it’s almost a ballet, this hilarious, futile attempt at comprehending what his pal sees that he cannot see.”

Side Man (1999): “What is Side Man about? A young man, the narrator Clifford, finding his way out of a dysfunctional family into independence. ‘There are no clean breaks,’ he tells us; and then he tells us about his parents and his childhood to try to finagle one anyway. Side Man is about perspective, about struggling to understand one’s parents; about, more importantly, finding a way to forgive them.”

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (2002): “It’s a play that demands to be seen, and read, and heard; there’s stuff in it that will feel ringingly true and significant and useful to you. The particulars–the meaning, the precise resonance–are going to be different for each of us, I think, because the nature of Albee’s work generally and The Goat specifically is to be dense, knotty, and not quite knowable. At once a profound conundrum and a malevolent game, The Goat is engineered not to be solved. It’s designed, instead, to provoke, to challenge, to push buttons, to awaken us from lethargy and ignorance, to shock, and–yes–to amuse, too.”

Doubt (2005): “Though Shanley touches upon the very troubling notion of a priest abusing one of his altar boys, this is assuredly not the subject of this challenging and intelligent play. Doubt is about doubt, and more importantly its opposite, blind faith. This is not a whodunnit but a whydoit: Sister Aloysius builds her case against Father Flynn from the inside out, with its fueling core composed of nothing stronger than unempirical conviction. Of course, it is often true that nothing is stronger than unempirical conviction–that’s precisely the point.”

Red (2010): “Red, the new play by John Logan at Broadway’s John Golden Theatre, is a stimulating, thought-provoking exploration of art. It asks what art is for, and it plumbs deeply into the process of its creation: a director friend of mine remarked that she felt Red looked more nakedly and truthfully at the pain that goes into the making of art than anything she’d ever seen…. This play stands out among the current offerings on Broadway for its intelligence, intellectual rigor, and–especially–for knowing that audiences are smart and curious and don’t need to be served warmed-over or dumbed-down fare. If that excites you, then you will do well to make this new play the one you see this season on the Great White Way.”

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