Tony Awards 2017

You thought you’d get away with no Tony recap post this year, did you? Fat chance! And plus, I’ve belatedly decided to write about the shows I saw this year, too. I composed half of it and then decided to split up the posts. This one’s just about the Tonys themselves.

Yesterday I kept asking colleagues and friends if they had watched the Tonys. “Oh I forgot about them!” “I never watch the Tonys.” “I was watching the hockey game!” “I don’t see much theater, so…” (And this is New York City! Imagine what people think in the rest of the country!) How disappointing! Once again this Sunday’s show illustrated that even a mediocre Tony ceremony is miles more fun than the Oscars. The speeches are better (and shorter!), for one thing. The musical performances, good or bad, are always interesting and fun to discuss. The show usually ends at 11, although this year was a little late. And it’s much less annoyingly grandiose than the Oscars. Like last year, I watched the show at my friend Cheryl’s house. This time, it was just the two of us, which gave us the opportunity to truly nerd out and play Scrabble during the commercials. (She won by a hundred, but I shall have my revenge someday.)

The Performances
The first performance to discuss, of course, is the one that never happened at all. Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly. Cheryl just about squawked with outrage when she realized that they wouldn’t be featuring Bette in a song from the show. It’s all we wanted. It’s all any of us wanted. How could this possibly have happened? Who’s to blame? Now, I was lucky enough to see Hello, Dolly a few weeks ago, and could tell you firsthand that Bette Midler lives up to the hype. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, because it looks like most of the country won’t get to see any part of her performance. Just think of all the kids who won’t get a chance to see her. I lived for those Tony performances as a kid. Plus, the song they actually performed (“Penny in My Pocket”) was downright lame. I’m still outraged. I’m banging my fist on a table! I mean, it’s bad enough without Bette performing but couldn’t they at least put on a song that shows how much fun the production is? (“It Takes a Woman!” “Elegance!” “It Only Takes a Moment!” ANYTHING!) As I said last year, I’ll occasionally spend hours looking at old Tony clips and reliving the magic of theater gone by. This will never happen with the 2017 Hello, Dolly. How could you, Scott Rudin? Now, I do realize there are a lot more important things going on in the nation. But surely this is something Republicans and Democrats can agree upon.

The other performance that worked me into a lather, though to a lesser extent, was Groundhog Day. Last year, I ranted against big Act Two “diva numbers” as Tony showcases. The Groundhog Day performance, a song called “Seeing You,” is similar in that it’s another big Act Two emotional payoff song. I don’t know the show well enough to say for certain what song would have been better (the suicide song? Or the car chase song? I don’t know. I’ll think on this), but this one gives you no sense of the show. It’s clever, it’s joyous, it’s funny as hell. “Seeing You” is nice in the context of the show, but came off as boring and treacly as a standalone number. And the song doesn’t even really indicate how terrific Andy Karl is as Phil Connors. Missed opportunity, guys.

No complaints about Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away or Great Comet (especially Great Comet! How much fun was that number?), but War Paint and Falsettos did not come across well. Miss Saigon showcased its leading lady well but was far too heavy with its murder in the first five seconds. Or maybe I just don’t tend to much like overdramatic Tony performances. And I’m undecided about Bandstand. I have a ridiculous and ill-placed concern about the historical accuracy in its (Tony winning!) swing dance choreography. Stay tuned for developing thoughts on this Very Important Issue when I actually see the show.

But what I really want to do is get back to complaining about the lack of Bette Midler, so I guess I’d better stop here.

The Host
What on earth was going on with the opening number? I am a big fan of Broadway and musicals and would seem to be the target audience, but a few of the in-jokes about specific shows went over my head. If I’m not getting it, then you are doing it wrong. Plus, seeing Stephen Colbert and Billy Crystal reminded us of all the things we couldn’t have. And the closing number was even worse. I don’t know that song. and it seemed lugubrious, and a waste of Patti LuPone. And it was under-rehearsed and sloppy. Didn’t they learn anything from Neil Patrick Harris? Kevin Spacey started and ended on the wrong foot (note: I am not making a lame Keiser Soze pun). I wonder how much of this is his own responsibility, and how much was a producers’ decision. In any case, things weren’t going very well for Kevin Spacey.

But then in the middle of the show he came out and did an adorable Johnny Carson impression. I hadn’t thought about Johnny Carson for years and seeing the wig and hearing the hokey jokes and that rimshot after every punch line… It brought me back to my childhood when I occasionally got to stay up late to watch Carson on TV. I thought it was an absolutely delightful bit of nostalgia and I forgave Kevin Spacey for everything that came before and after. I realize this makes no sense. Yesterday on the Today on Broadway podcast they mocked Spacey’s impersonations, especially the Carson one, as totally out-of-touch. I agree with them. It’s corny! It shouldn’t make up for a mediocre hosting job! And that Clinton impression was pretty lousy, as well. I can’t really explain it. Occasionally while watching the Tonys you learn things about yourself, and this year I came to realize that I can be totally won over by an unexpected Johnny Carson impersonation.

The Winners
I’m actually going to save most of my thoughts for a separate post, as I saw all four of the nominated plays this year and three of the nominated musicals. (Sort of — I saw Great Comet in the tent, but not on Broadway. Yet.) I will say that once again the Tonys proved that theater makers know how to craft an awards speech. My personal favorite: Pasek and Paul. Clearly rehearsed and yet so heartfelt and winning. “Are they together? Are they a couple? I LOVE THEM!” I squealed to Cheryl. “I don’t know if they are together but they definitely have that mind meld thing going on,” she responded. (Update: they are NOT a couple but this makes them no less wonderful. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned productive writing partnership. They even share credit on everything just like Lennon and McCartney.)

And of course, Bette Midler’s refusal to be played off. You tell ‘em, Bette! Love you forever! (PS — I’m still mad at you for not performing.)

What’s Next
Well, there’s Frozen, of course, and Harry Potter, which are probably going to be the two massive hits of the year. I don’t have much interest in either, but I’m am more or less certain that I’ll end up seeing both. (And of course, for the people involved in both productions, I truly hope that both are as wonderful as they are expected to be.) I will say my lack of interest in Frozen is a little unfair, since I still haven’t got around to seeing the movie. Harry Potter’s script underwhelmed me (to say the least), but everyone is always saying that it’s a lot better in person. I’m more interested in The Band’s Visit — will it be the third Best Musical in a row to come from an acclaimed off-Broadway run? Or maybe it will be Mean Girls or Freaky Friday. I’m excited just thinking about it! As for plays, I’m interested in Junk, Farinelli and the King, and who knows what else. I think I’m going to try and see 1984 soon, too. We’ll see. I can’t wait for another wonderful year of theatergoing. Bring it on!

Tony Awards 2016

A recap of the Tonys is something of a Show Me Shows tradition, but it’s also a little dangerous. Truth is, I’m not generally very critical about the Tonys. You could even call me a Tony cheerleader. So, fair warning: You may be up for several paragraphs of Julia squealing about how much she likes Broadway.

The other thing, of course, is that it feels a little wrong to post merry Tony ramblings after a national tragedy like the mass murder in Orlando. My sister Elizabeth admitted this morning that she couldn’t even really think about the Tonys in the light of the massacre, and I can understand that.

But I’ve decided to put up a few thoughts for anyone who might like to think about something a little happier for a few minutes.

The Host
James Corden was a really wonderful Tony host: charming, unobtrusive, fun. Hard for me to imagine anyone disliking him, to be honest. And I’d have him back anytime. His variety-show type opening number seemed cute but not memorable. In fact, I feel like I barely remember it even now, and it was only a day ago. But then he brought it up a notch (and I got a lump in my throat) when all the kids onstage transformed into the 2016 musical acting nominees. Bringing the nominees together in that way is one of those ideas that seems so obvious in retrospect, but I don’t remember seeing anything like it before. Such a beautiful idea to bring these talented folks together before ruining all the fun by actually picking favorites.

My only Corden quibble that I can think of: I didn’t quite understand why they showed the Carpool Karaoke segment again. It’s still cute, but we all watched it already five days ago! In a year when the Tonys went 17 minutes over its three hour time slot, it seemed completely unnecessary.

The Numbers
Hamilton and School of Rock were particular highlights in the song department. Since I’ve had little-to-no interest in School of Rock, I was a little surprised at how much fun it was. (So this is the show I’ve been sneering about for all these months. Hmm. Maybe I should rethink my uninformed opinion.) As for the other shows: not bad, for the most part! I generally take an anti-medley stance, but the She Loves Me numbers worked well, probably because they all look like they’re having so much fun. Spring Awakening‘s number was which was a jubilant excerpt, whereas Shuffle Along seemed a little jumbled. (But maybe that’s because everyone watching at Cheryl’s house got distracted trying to figure out how far along Audra McDonald is. Surely no more than four months? Four and a half?)

Some other ones didn’t quite work for me, though: On Your Feet gave me no indication that this was a must-see. Although I believe people tend to like it, so maybe I’m not giving it a shot. Maybe I’ll check it out eventually, but it’s pretty low on my priority list. As for Gloria Estefan, who performed with the cast: my friend Meredith hilariously pointed out how annoying it would be to have to sing and dance next to a decades younger, and far more limber version of yourself. Yikes. But maybe Gloria Estefan isn’t troubled about things like that. (After all, it didn’t seem to bother Carole King back in 2014.) Bright Star was all right, I suppose, because Carmen Cusack really is great, but those lyrics sound worse and worse every time you hear them.

More problematic: I really wish musicals would stop featuring the Big Act Two diva number on the Tonys. I’m referring specifically to Waitress and The Color Purple. Now, as I said in my reviews, I’m a big fan of both Jessie Mueller and Cynthia Erivo, but both of their songs come as the climax after a long build-up through the course of the show. Why not save the big number for the theater, and include something a little more accessible for the Tony viewers? I vividly remember seeing the Caroline or Change Tony number in 2004 and thinking “WHAT is this woman shouting about???” Of course, that song is incredibly powerful in context, but it seemed so incomprehensible without knowing the show itself. I later fell in love with the song — and the show — but only because I was given a free ticket and gave it another chance.

On the other hand, I can admit that Bernadette Peters’s Rose’s Turn, which is exactly the kind of song I usually rail against, was a wonderful documentation of an incredible performance. The same can be said for many others, I’m sure. I generally go for winning over the audience rather than documenting a performance, though, and I tend to think producers are crazy for not agreeing with me.

The Big Winner
I just looked over my Tony recaps from 2014 and 2015, and funnily enough, both of them end with a mention of Hamilton. In 2014 I mentioned the shows I was looking forward to in the year to come:

… And all the exciting Off-Broadway shows we’ll be getting, like Hamilton and who knows what else.

Then in 2015:

In any case, I’m happy to relax and celebrate Fun Home‘s very well deserved win while waiting for Hamilton‘s coronation next year. For once, a Best Musical race won’t be stressful. (I’d say “famous last words” but seriously. No one is beating Hamilton.)

Last night was the culmination of all that. It felt like the end of the road in a sense — I know the show isn’t going anywhere, but I can’t afford another ticket, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is leaving in a month, and I know the CD by heart. What more is there to do, or say here? I’ve even found myself listening to Hamilton a lot less lately. Just feels like time to move on.

Yesterday I spent an embarrassingly large portion of the day watching old highlights of Tony performances. I couldn’t get enough. Seeing those shows again after all these years — shows like like Ragtime, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park with George, Annie, Cabaret, In the Heights and dozens more — I felt as though I was getting a welcoming hug from an old friend. It brought back so many good memories. So who knows? Maybe in 20 years when Hamilton is well past its prime or long closed, I’ll turn on that clip and see Barack Obama’s introduction, and the youthful and vibrant cast, and Lin-Manuel Miranda performing his own songs and I’ll think. “Oh yes. What a magical time.”

What’s Next?
I’m freely admitting that I’m way behind on plays, and I hope to catch up over my summer blogging sabbatical*. Obviously I’ll have to get to The Humans, but I don’t think I’ll get to The Father before it closes. Intellectually, I’m interested in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but I must say that Cheryl dampened my enthusiasm a bit at her Tony party by reminding me that it’s four hours of people making each other miserable. (Ugh, do I hafta? Sounds like homework.) As for musicals, I’m going to try and catch School of Rock, and everyone at Cheryl’s party felt like Fiddler would be fun to experience again. We may arrange an outing.

As for next year? I missed Dear Evan Hansen at Second Stage, but rumor has it it’s already a strong contender for Best Musical next June. Looking at Playbill’s schedule of upcoming Broadway shows, it looks like we’re in for a lot of play revivals (The Cherry Orchard, The Front Page, The Master Builder, etc). What else is new, though? We have a lot of play revivals every year. But a few of the new musicals (A Bronx Tale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Bandstand) look intriguing. And I did like Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet a whole lot when I saw it in the tent a few years ago. I will say that nothing on Playbill’s upcoming shows page makes me think we’ll have anything like another Hamilton on our hands. But as a great man once said: “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, ‘You never know.'” So who knows what 2016-2017 will feature? Bring it on!


* – Note: I am not announcing that I am absolutely taking a summer sabbatical from writing blog posts, but it may happen despite all my best intentions. Seems to be a pattern with me.

Tony Awards 2015

Just like last year, I went to my friend Vanessa’s to watch the Tonys, dish on the nominees, and nosh on some lovely vegan food. And just like last year, I’m writing up a few of my post-Tony musings for you.

The Hosts
Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth were cheesy, they mugged too frequently, they worked some pretty lame jokes, and they were given lousy song and dance material. Kristin could hardly walk in those massive heels. Alan looked ludicrous in those shorts. And you know what? I liked ’em anyway. I found them dorky and lovable. There was no pretense that this show was for anyone but theater nerds, and to me they fit much better into the Tonysphere than Hugh Jackman and his Hollywood splash. Of course, they were not any match for Neil Patrick Harris, but come now. They were never going to be any match for Neil Patrick Harris. I don’t care that it wasn’t objectively a very good hosting performance. I liked the silly irreverence a lot more than the bloated grandiosity of the Oscars. They were cute.

The Numbers
Halfway through, I turned to Vanessa and exclaimed: All the show numbers thus far were pretty terrific! Wow! Something Rotten‘s big number translated fairly well, Gigi seemed like old-fashioned fun, An American in Paris looked beautiful. Plus On The Town and The King and I showed that Tony medleys can sometimes work. (I generally hate Tony medleys. Just do one song!) Fun Home sounded wonderful, of course, though I do wonder why they cut the very helpful line from Beth Malone’s Big Allison at the beginning. “She was a delivery woman, an old school butch” is how the song is introduced onstage, and those lines were inexplicably missing. I almost wonder if Sydney Lucas accidentally started too early and cut off that line from Beth Malone. Or maybe the orchestra started too early and she had no choice. Something seemed messed up. In any case, it was a lovely performance once it got going.

Things went pear-shaped later in the telecast, though. The Finding Neverland song was completely ridiculous (“I don’t remember anything like THIS in the movie…” I said, dumbfounded) and On The Twentieth Century medley was frenetic, manic, and confusing. (Again, medleys don’t usually work, producers!) And then there was The Visit. What a mess! As Vanessa, who hadn’t seen the show, exclaimed halfway through the song: “I DON’T UNDERSTAND THESE PEOPLE!” I explained a little bit of the context (“Well, Chita was dancing with her younger self, and those guys are singing like that because they are eunuchs”) but how the show’s producers gave it the green light baffles me. Josh Groban’s In Memoriam was OK, I guess, especially once the stage filled up with Broadway performers and musicians, but the Tommy Tune tribute was simply pathetic. And that closing number: I like Jersey Boys, but enough already! Why is Jersey Boys always on the Tonys?

The Best Actress
I’m going to focus on one Tony winner in particular: Kelli O’Hara. Since I didn’t write about The King and I when I saw it (it was during my fallow period), I thought I’d give a few thoughts on her performance. To get right to it: I was a little surprised that this was the performance that finally won her a Tony. Don’t get me wrong, she was a good Anna Leonowens: She was poised, she was determined, she was in lovely voice, she looks beautiful as ever. But to me she didn’t bring anything revelatory or particularly moving to the role. I didn’t find myself getting choked up during “Hello Young Lovers”, and I wasn’t emotionally drawn into the love story between Anna and the King either.

I have two theories as to why this was the case.

  • Theory One is that’s my fault: I have become so deeply familiar with The King and I that I’m more or less immune to it by this point. How many times have I seen the movie? How many times have I listened to the cast recordings? How many times have I seen the stage show over the years? And this production, though lovely, doesn’t really plumb new depths in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic. It doesn’t matter what kind of performance she is giving, because I’ve exhausted the emotional possibilities of this musical through overexposure.
  • Theory Two puts a little more blame on Ms. O’Hara. A friend made the case that “She has absolutely no warmth!” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I do think she really played to her strengths in Bridges. Her role as Francesca was a little more thoughtful, a little more still, a little more wistful. Two minutes into her performance of the Bridges opening number and I’m ready to give her a dozen Tonys, but as Anna she just didn’t win me over in the same way. Perhaps it’s just not as good of a fit.

In any case, I haven’t seen On the Twentieth Century, so I certainly can’t say Kristin Chenoweth deserved it more. Plus Ms. O’Hara gave an absolutely lovely thank you speech. It’s just wonderful to see an actress who has really focused her career on Broadway finally get her due. I just wish that she’d have gotten the award last year, when I was rooting for her wholeheartedly.

The Big Win
And then of course, there was Fun Home‘s win for Best Musical. The highlight of the night, of course. If you saw my last post (or have spoken to me in the last few weeks) you know that I was simply desperate for this show to get the recognition it deserves. I was full of preemptive woe and irritation. In fact I’ve essentially been throwing a tantrum all week as though An American in Paris had the thing sewn up: “Broadway doesn’t know a good thing when it gets it!” “Why are we so concerned about which show is going to tour better? Can’t we just give the best musical Tony to the actual best musical of the season?” “How is a movie musical adaptation a NEW MUSICAL?” “What is WITH the Gershwin obsession anyway?”

Naturally, I gasped and cheered when Jason Alexander said: “Bravo. Fun Home.” Oh Tony voters. Let’s be friends again. I like you better than ever and that ridiculous win for Kinky Boots is a distant memory. However on my bike ride home I gave it a bit more thought: “Now why am I so thrilled that the Tony voters picked the obvious best musical? WE SHOULD BE EXPECTING THIS!”  In any case, I’m happy to relax and celebrate Fun Home‘s very well deserved win while waiting for Hamilton‘s coronation next year. For once, a Best Musical race won’t be stressful. (I’d say “famous last words” but seriously. No one is beating Hamilton.)

The Shows I Want to See Now
The Tonys left me wanting to see The Curious Incident, of course, but no more than I’d already wanted to see it. No surprise there, as plays are barely featured in the telecast. As for musicals: I’m sure I’ll get to An American in Paris at some point, though to be honest I’m a little reluctant to pay $57 for a balcony ticket. I may wait a few years until it goes back up on TDF. On the Twentieth Century didn’t particularly tempt me, but on the other hand, when will I have a chance to see a high caliber production of that musical again? Maybe I should look into tickets. As for next season: I know I’m going to see Hamilton on Broadway in August; beyond that I know I am interested in American Psycho, School of Rock, and who knows what else. As ever, I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring. Bring it on!

Best Musical Tony Nominees, 2015

First, let me apologize for the unexpected intermission. If Previous Julia (that’s Julia 2014, or PJ as I call her), Future Julia (the me of 2016 — FJ) and me (Jules) had a discussion on why I’ve been so disinterested in blogging over the past few months, it might go something like this:

PJ: So wait, I started this blog in March of 2014 and you have already lost interest by April of 2015?
Me: Well, no, I– I’ve been really busy—
PJ: What on earth happened? Did you come up with another ridiculous, expensive and time-consuming hobby along the lines of boardgaming (2013)/homebrewing (2006)/sewing (2014)/knitting (2009)/whatever?
Me: Erm– Well, yes, but—
FJ: Oh you won’t believe her latest ridiculous hobby. She’s trying to swing dance!
PJ: Oh, hmmm, actually I’ve always wanted to learn to swing dance. Maybe I should take it up. Am I good at it?
FJ: Not remotely good at it. And Jules still hasn’t been doing anything for me either in terms of saving money.
Me: Wait, why are Past and Future Julias both so judgy? Can the three of us talk about something more pleasant? Like my desperate longing for Fun Home to win Best Musical on Sunday?
PJ: Wait, Fun Home MIGHT NOT WIN? It swept all those Drama Desk/Lortel-type awards in 2014!
Me: I know. I’m feeling blindsided too.
FJ: I know who won!
Me: You are always so cagey with your information, FJ.
FJ: Anyway, Jules, can you please buy a subscription to Playwrights Horizons? And start working out more?
Me: I could tell Past Julia the same thing.
PJ: I hate working out.
FJ: Me too.
Me: Me too.
PJ: Anyway, Jules, please start blogging again. You’re embarrassing me.

(Yes, I really do talk about Previous Julia and Future Julia all the time. Usually I’m complaining about PJ failing to do nice things for me. Or sometimes I announce that I’m leaving FJ to deal with my problems later.) Anyway, enough with that nonsense. Shall I get right into it, then? Here are my thoughts on the Best Musical Tony nominees of 2015.

2015-04-09 20.01.05Fun Home
“Now THAT’s a musical!!!” — My first thought when the lights came up after seeing this remarkable show on Broadway.

In fact one of the reasons I’ve felt so inclined to start writing again is that I’ve been unable to stop talking about Fun Home in the runup to the Tonys. It’s a little embarrassing. The #juliaspeeches have really revved up since the Tony nominations came out, because it’s recently come to my attention that this show may not win the Best Musical Tony. Apparently the favorite is actually An American in Paris. (WHAAAAAT? But more on that in a minute.)

What makes it so good? For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel about growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania with a closeted father and the dawning realization that she was gay, too. Fun home is the family’s nickname for their funeral home, the family business.

Has musical theater written all over it, doesn’t it?

Maybe not, but the authors — Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) — have done a phenomenal job of dramatizing the story. Alison is played by three terrific actresses: Beth Malone as our 43-year-old narrator, Emily Skeggs as a college-aged Alison, and Sydney Lucas as a child. The story jumps around quite a bit, but no matter: the storytelling is sharp, crystal-clear and compelling as hell. Despite the seriousness of the show’s themes — you find out early on that Alison’s father committed suicide just a few months after Alison came out in college — it’s not a heavy or preachy show like some I could name (cough cough, The Visit, cough cough); it’s a joy to sit through. That’s because Fun Home handles its coming-of-age themes with wit, creativity, and intelligence. Plus the songs are great! (Is Jeanine Tesori a gift from the Broadway gods, or what?)

And the production is outstanding too: in addition to Three Fantastic Alison Bechdels (or T-fab, as I like to call them), you have Michael Cerveris giving his customary textured, intense, affecting performance as Alison’s miserably closeted father Bruce. And you have the always wonderful Judy Kuhn as Alison’s long-suffering mother Helen. It’s performed in the round at Circle in the Square, and for the most part the staging (by Sam Gold) plays even better than it did at the Public in 2013. (There are a few moments I couldn’t see, but mostly it was fine.)

I told my roommate, who doesn’t care for musicals at all, that this is the type of show I’d take him to see if he’d let me. I don’t think it would sell him on musicals, but if he saw Fun Home, I feel like he’d have a better sense of just what a musical can do. A terrific musical can turn an ordinary moment in life into a magical, joyous, seemingly spontaneous expression of emotion, realization, or connection. It can take a philosophical, thoughtful, deeply personal graphic novel and make it into a coming-of-age story for all of us. And it can make us laugh and cry while doing so.

This is what you call a terrific musical.

2015-04-15 19.51.17The Visit
My wordiness and exuberance come to a screeching halt when I think about The Visit. When people have asked me about it, I can’t get much beyond merely saying: “Well, it’s bleak.” I wasn’t familiar with the play beforehand, but it’s about a rich old lady (Chita Rivera!) who comes back to her hometown to exact revenge on the teenage boyfriend who jilted her.

Already bleak, but then there’s the John Doyle production, full of drab colors and sad faces. It’s heavy-handed too. (For example, there’s a coffin used as a prop throughout.) You do have the wondrous Ms. Rivera onstage, and that accounts for something indeed: at 82 she can still command a stage and win over an audience with just a few words. But no matter how much I liked her (and the rest of the cast, including Jason Danieley and Roger Rees), I couldn’t warm up to the show. I just wish it gave me a little something to hang onto. I constantly felt the Brechtian distancing techniques pushing me away, so much so that I couldn’t feel for any of the characters at all. Even when the show seemed to want me to.

All that said, this is probably the last new Kander and Ebb show on Broadway, and it feels wonderfully unapologetic and uncompromising. It’s far from their best, but it does remind you just why we are so lucky that they decided to write musicals together. Thanks, fellas.

Something Rotten!
This one is fun. I keep thinking of Spamalot as a kind of equivalent show: it was similarly funny, with a terrific cast, an audience-pleasing tone, and a shiny, happy sheen to it. In a weaker year Rotten! might well have won the Best Musical prize (I think it’s quite a lot better than Kinky Boots, for example), and even if it wins this year, it’s a decent choice.

I also think that the book (by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, whose An Utterly Impartial History of Britain is also hilarious) is continually clever, with a ton of great one-liners and an inventive original story. Two brothers in Renaissance England, Nick and Nigel Bottom, want to get out of Shakespeare’s shadow, and set out to write the world’s first musical comedy in order to steal the spotlight. High jinks ensue, as do lots of jokes, as do a truckload of musical theater and Shakespeare references. The songs (by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick) are winning, the cast is great, and it all just… works. Again, it’s a fun, happy, crowd-pleasing show and I hope it keeps all my friends at the St. James employed for several years to come.

On Tony Sunday, Something Rotten! will be performing the big Act One showstopper “A Musical.” The big problem with “A Musical” is that this number is so incredibly good that really nothing else in the show can come close to matching it. (“Oh No!” I thought when I heard that was what they’d be doing for the Tony broadcast. “They’re giving the whole show away!”) But it’s probably the right call, and I would imagine the song will sell a ton of tickets. It’s a big, splashy, clever production number: a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) tries to explain what a musical is to Nick Bottom (Brian D’Arcy James), who has obviously never heard of such a thing. “The crowd goes wild every time,” as they say in the song, and at the James it frequently earns a well-deserved standing ovation. To be honest, I think “A Musical” actually makes a pretty good argument for the musical as an entertainment — sure, it’s not deep, but this number embodies pure glee, technical expertise, dancing, winking humor, and a big ol’ cast. You’ll see what I mean when you see it Sunday.

But after that, the rest of the show was a bit of a letdown. Which is an odd thing to say, because I was giggling throughout. It’s still funny, the audience ate it up, and again, it has a wonderful cast (especially Brian D’Arcy James and John Cariani as the brothers Bottom, Christian Borle as Shakespeare, and Brad Oscar as the soothsayer). It’s a good show. I liked it a lot. It just doesn’t reach the heights I had hoped for in “A Musical”.

An American In Paris
Now I haven’t seen An American in Paris yet. Why not? Well, I don’t particularly care about ballet, or corny, idealized visions of postwar Europe, or another jukebox Gershwin show, or a movie musical from the 1950s, or gamine French girls. But the mere fact that “I haven’t seen it” hasn’t stopped me from unfairly bashing it to anyone who will listen. I hope to go see it soon, so I can either A) eat my words or B) start bashing it fairly. I think it’s just that I always hope the Best Musical Tony goes to a NEW MUSICAL. It’s really nothing against An American in Paris.

I agree with you if you are thinking that I am totally embarrassing myself with my disdain for a show I haven’t seen yet. What will be even more embarrassing is that it’s very possible I’ll end up completely changing my mind on this one. (For an example of this, check out my Rocky review. I totally bashed that one before seeing it too.)


The Winner

Today I found myself wishing Avenue Q had never won the Best Musical Tony over Wicked. Or Gentleman’s Guide over Aladdin and Beautiful, for that matter. Because those two shows winning gives me hope. If it were the case that the more commercial hit always won, it would be one thing. Just as an example, look at just a few recent years when the bigger hit beat what I would consider to be the more deserving show:

  • 2009: Billy Elliot beats Next to Normal
  • 2005: Spamalot beats both The Light in the Piazza and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  • 2002: Thoroughly Modern Millie beats Urinetown (This one still stings.)

I could go back a lot further, too. It happens a lot. The problem comes when the Tony voters sometimes get it right. And it has a real impact on the life of a show. Because of its win, Gentleman’s Guide has probably lasted a lot longer than it would have otherwise. So I’m crossing every finger and toe that the voters get this one right. But as I keep reminding myself, Fun Home’s artistic accomplishment is not dependent on what happens Sunday.

So I’m going to drink a heck of a lot of champagne and hope that the predictions are wrong. Let’s go Fun Home!

Show Me Charts

I had hardly started writing my latest review (Love Letters — I’ll get to it) but it was going well. Really well. “This is fascinating,” I thought! Of course, what I was writing about had nothing to do with the show. To make a long story short, an anecdote about TDF in my review got me wondering about how often I use TDF. So I created a Google Spreadsheet to tally where I’ve bought every theater ticket in 2014. This expanded into a bonanza of spreadsheet fun. So perhaps this discussion deserves its own post? And I’m giving you wonderful blog readers plenty of nerdy charts to go with it. Never think you deserve anything less!

Let’s start from the beginning, with how many shows I’ve seen in 2014 from month to month.

That’s a total of 52 shows as of 9/17/14, which is pretty impressive for a layperson (though I doubt any theater folks would have trouble beating that). It’s no surprise that the spring was the busiest time of year, though I’d have guessed April and May would beat out March.

Despite my affinity for musicals, I seem to see far more plays.

All right, now on to the good stuff. How much do I spend on theater? (Mom, don’t look at this chart.) The tally so far this year is $1,701.29. Sounds about right to me. Here’s how that financial outlay breaks down from month to month.

As you can see, the springtime (the end of the Broadway season) is lots more expensive than the summer (fringe and festival season). Of course, I’m also going to see more during the spring. My overall average ticket price as of now is $32.72 per show, which got me to wondering how much more shows in the spring cost me than shows in the summer. Here’s my average ticket price from month to month.

What interests me is that the average went way down in April, despite having seen so many Broadway shows that month. I think this can be attributed to two factors:

  • Jada must have taken me to see a few shows that month, and
  • I bought two Broadway tickets for $25 each, thanks to Roundabout’s Hiptix program.

In any case, my overall $32.72 per ticket average is a lot lower than normal box office prices. That’s because I rarely buy from directly from the box office, and almost never from any online vendors such as Telecharge and Ticketmaster. If I buy online, it’s usually directly from the theater (for example, bam.org or publictheater.org). Here’s where I get my tickets:

Note: the above chart says that I got one ticket through Broadway.com. True, but this was only because a friend had a gift certificate. NEVER, NEVER buy tickets through Broadway.com. They often charge $30 or more in service fees. PER TICKET.

Anyway, another factor keeping my average ticket price fairly low is that I don’t see everything on Broadway. Much as I’d like to! I just can’t afford it. The following chart lists the ratio of Broadway to Off-Broadway in the shows I see.

Caveat: I’m a bit lazy about this terminology, so I listed nearly everything that isn’t Broadway as Off-Broadway. I’m not actually comfortable with this kind of categorization (I don’t think of BAM as Off-Broadway, or the Armory, or Queen of the Night). Perhaps it’s better to think of this chart as Broadway/Or Not.

Now I started wondering how much I spend on Broadway, vs. Off-Broadway. Interestingly, my average Broadway ticket costs me $31.05, while my average Off-Broadway (aka Other) ticket costs average out a bit higher at $34.56. Probably what skews that one is that my most expensive show of the year — Here Lies Love, which set me back $106.00, was an Off-Broadway show.

The final (and perhaps most important) chart: was all this worth it? The chart below illustrates my conclusions. For the most part, the answer was yes. I saw 38 shows that were worth it, and 13 shows that weren’t. If 74.5% of my theater expenses were worth it, and 25.5% were not worth it, that means I wasted $433.83 on theater this year.

Now that I’ve put all this into a spreadsheet, I’ll try and keep up with it over the months to come. This is a topic that I really should have saved for the end of the year, but as you can see, I can’t really control myself when it comes to charts.