I’m pleased that Memphis, the only Tony nominee this year with original music, won Best New Musical. Look at the other options: American Idiot – not original music and even though Greenday rocks, the show isn’t memorable; Million Dollar Quartet – based on a true event that honors four legends including Elvis; and Fela!, – the only true contender for Best Musical introduced the sounds of a Nigerian DJ, the documentary style of the show can be a little difficult to follow but great dancing choreographed by Bill T. Jones.
Let’s review 2009 awards – Billy Elliot won over Next to Normal which was EXTREMELY disappointing, yet I understood why: 1) Billy Elliot has a bigger cast, thus larger production numbers; 2) The incredible talent of the young Billy is inspiring and encourages youth seeking to have a career in dance/theater; 3) Billy has the potential to do better on tour; 4) I haven’t seen Next to Normal without Alice Ripley, but she makes the show one of the best performances I’ve seen on Broadway, is she replicable?. 5) Next to Normal is a “debby downer” and might not appeal to a mass public who feel musicals should be light and fluffy like the classic Rogers and Hammerstein series.
What similarities can be applied to the 2010 winner from the previous list: 1) I presume it would be fairly difficult to replicate Fela! star Sahr Ngaujah regionally, he’s a one-of-a-kind; 2) Music, story and history of Memphis has potential to do better on tour even if the theme has been overplayed; Fela’s story is clouded with chancy messages. Ultimately, recognition and awards play a large role in recouping investment and making theater profitable.
Maybe the Tony Committee also wanted to send the message they are fed up with the movie to musical concept as well as shows creating a mediocre story based on a playlist of one particular artist/band – original musicals (purists) will be awarded? While I agree with this message, I disapprove of the other message sent last night – in each category where a Hollywood star was nominated they beat out a more deserving nominee. I suspect lots of Broadway fans are ticked Catherine Zeta Jones won Best Actress after her glaringly awful performance of “Send in the Clowns” during the Tony program. Whether or not Jones, Scarlett Johansson and Denzel Washington’s wins are deserved will remain debatable, but there have been many Hollywood to Broadway disasters in the past many years. Theater launched the careers of many successful film/TV actors (Audrey Hepburn, Angela Lansbury…), will this new trend diminish opportunities for Broadway stars?
On a separate note, Sally and I decided to take our Annual Tony’s Party to Times Square this year. The Times Square Alliance set up a big screen and broadcast the Tony’s live, including the creative awards. With rain threatening our plans, we stuck it out and enjoyed a unique New York experience. However, it won’t be too difficult to convince me to swap out the uncomfortable chairs for a comfy couch next year.