As I said before, this was not a great year for plays. There were very few that really excited me and that I found particularly groundbreaking. However, there was theme that connected almost every single play that opened on Broadway this year: Movie stars. It's possible that this happens every year, but this year specifically I found that almost every single show featured someone who is renowned for their movie or television career. Some (Like Sigourney Weaver and Tom Hanks) are making their Broadway debut, and some (like Allen Cumming and Al Pacino) are well-worn veterans who are as comfortable on the stage as they are on the screen. Don't don't believe me? I'll break it down by show:
- The Anarchist - Debra Winger [Terms of Engagement, An Officer and a Gentleman]
- Ann - Holland Taylor [The Truman Show, Two and a Half Men, Legally Blonde]
- The Assembled Parties - Jessica Hecht [Sideways, Dan in Real Life, J. Edgar]
- The Big Knife - Richard Kind [A Bug's Life, Argo, Spin City]
- Breakfast at Tiffany's - Emilia Clarke [Game of Thrones]
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Scarlet Johansson [Lost in Translation, The Avengers], Benjamin Walker [Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer]
- Dead Accounts - Katie Holmes [Batman Begins, Phone Booth], Judy Greer [13 Going on 30, The Descendants]
- An Enemy of the People - Boyd Gaines [Funny Games, Fame, One Day at a Time]
- Glengarry Glen Ross - Al Pacino [The Godfather, Scarface]
- Golden Boy - Tony Shalhoub [Monk, Galaxy Quest]
- Grace - Paul Rudd [I Love You Man, Role Models], Michael Shannon [Man of Steel, Take Shelter], Ed Asner [Up, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Elf]
- Harvey - Jim Parsons [The Big Bang Theory, The Muppets]
- The Heiress - Jessica Chastain [Zero Dark Thirty, The Help], Dan Stevens [Downton Abbey, Hilde], David Strathairn [The Bourne Ultimatum, Lincoln]
- I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers - Bette Midler [For the Boys, Hocus Pocus]
- Lucky Guy - Tom Hanks [Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Big]
- Macbeth - Allan Cumming [The Good Wife, Spy Kids, Tin Man]
- The Nance - Nathan Lane [The Birdcage, The Lion King, The Producers]
- Orphans - Alec Baldwin [30 Rock, Beetlejuice]
- The Other Place - Laurie Metcalf [Roseanne, Toy Story trilogy, The Big Bang Theory]
- Picnic - Sebastian Stan [Captain America: The First Avenger, Black Swan], Maggie Grace [Taken, Lost]
- The Trip to Bountiful - Cuba Gooding Jr. [Radio, Jerry McGuire, Ironman], Condola Rashad [Steel Magnolias, Smash], Cicely Tyson [The Help, Fried Green Tomatoes]
- Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - David Hyde Pierce [Frasier, A Bug's Life], Sigourney Weaver [Alien, Avatar, Galaxy Quest]
Crazy right? Out of 25 Plays premiering this season, 22 of them had big name movie/tv stars. Like I said, it's possible this has always been happening and I'm just now noticing it, but regardless it's pretty amazing. We just need to hope that shows don't feel like they "HAVE" to have Hollywood stars to make a successful show. I'm all for adding a little star power to a show, but it better be able to stand on it's own as well! And now, onto the 3 plays that I found the most interesting this year (not including those already mentioned in the previous post):
So, this show looked really interesting and I'm a bit saddened it wasn't recognized at all come award season (I expect that was largely because of how long it had been closed). However, I think if it had come out later, it might have had a good shot. It had some phenomenal actors, rich characters, interesting story telling, and an unusual premise. The show follows a young Christian couple who have just moved to Florida with dreams of building Christian themed hotels (Most plot synopsis just say "with plans to profit off of their faith", but I think that I read this was how they were going to do that). In their building they meet an irritable, disfigured neighbor who has hardened himself against God and the world, and a hilarious old exterminator (both who are non Christians). Naturally, the couple try to witness to these men, but as time goes on, it begins to become less clear who is influencing who. You see, by the end of the show, everybody is dead, struck down by a mass murder/suicide by the husband. And before you get all upset with me for letting loose spoilers, this is no secret, it's also how the play begins. The opening scene is this act of violence, and then the corpses rise from the ground and begin to re-enact the events leading up to this tragedy. Exciting right? With tension like that, a stellar cast (I can almost guarantee that Micheal Shannon would've been nominated for best Supporting Actor if the show had been running when the nominations came out), and clever writing, I really wish this show could've been more recognized.
I have seen this show once, and I didn't get it. I could only kind of follow most of the story, and most of the really classic lines, I didn't even catch until they had already happened. So when Alan Cumming announced that he was performing The Scottish Play in a way that was even more confusing and hard to follow, you'd think I'd want to run the other way. Not so! You see, Alan Cumming [Cabaret (1998 Revival), Annie (1999 Movie)] performs this Shakespearean classic completely by himself! How does he accomplish this? Well, his character is a man in an insane asylum without a clear understanding as to why he's there, with his only clue being some scratches along his chest. As a coping mechanism, his troubled character reenacts the Scottish play (in the original English I might add) by playing all the park and is only interrupted occasionally by two orderlies (who have no lines) who come in to restrain him when he gets to wild. As his decent in to madness progresses, the audience begins to see that the circumstances of this disturbed man are not that different from those experienced by the characters in his play. Now you begin to see why this show caught my attention? What's so amazing to me is that this script finds a way to tell both of these stories without having to edit the dialogue at all. True a few moments of Shakespeare's monster of a show have been cut, but absolutely no lines have been added! Through clever blocking, a security camera that provides a live feed to three onstage screens, a terrifying doll, and a bathtub (that apparently comes with chilling effect where it looks like Alan has drowned), the creators of this show have reached a new level of creative story telling! I'm honestly shocked that this play didn't get nominated for anything and I think that it is a darn shame! Especially for Alan, his lack of a nomination was, in my opinion, the worst snub of the season.
If Alan Cumming's lack of a Best Actor nomination was the biggest snub of the season, then The Nance's lack of a Best Play nomination is the second. This show looked so spectacular and I really can't fathom why it was passed over. The show is about a burlesque actor by the name of Chauncey who is the local "Nance" at the club where he works. Now, "the Nance" is an archetype (like "The stooge") of a very effeminate man, and was almost always played by a straight man (largely because it wasn't very safe to be openly homosexual at that time, so there weren't many gay actors). However, Chauncey is in fact homosexual, and this show gives insight into what the life of a closeted (and the eventually, outed) gay actor of that time would be like. From what I've seen of the show, it is a real masterpiece that is alternatively hilarious and very powerful. But what really makes this show something special is the performance by Nathan Lane. Now, Nathan Lane is a legend on Broadway already and already has several Tony Awards under his belt, but everything I read said that this was the best performance of his career! The character of Chauncey has such duality (which is no easy task for an actor) that Mr. Lane captures perfectly! We've all seen him play the funny man (like his Tony Award winning runs as Max Bialystok [The Producers] ad Pseudolus [A Funny Thing...Forum]), and while there were certainly elements of that in this show, he also pulled out his deeper side and had some heart-breakingly powerful moments. I'm glad that this show was recognized with 3 Tony Awards (all in the Costume, Scenic, and Sound Design), but the ones that it really should've won (Best Actor and Best Show) it couldn't hold on to, which is a crying shame. However, the show is still running strong (Take that testament of Mary!) and I hope that it will be remembered as the powerful, important piece of art that it is.
All in all, the plays were alright this year. True, the nominating committee missed a few gems and made some mistakes, but the plays themselves (for the most part) were pretty good. Hopefully everyone realizes that the reason these plays were so good had something to do with the Hollywood talent that performed them, but mostly it was the smart writing, the creative designers, and the magic of Broadway!
Out of all the shows that opened this year, this was one of the few that I was following the entire way. As I said in a previous blog post, I've wanted to play Charlie Chaplin even before this musical existed, so I was thrilled when it came out and I loved every minute of the show!!! The music was catchy, the story moving, the effects stupefying, the style unique, the acting incredible, and every other aspect of the show you can think of was just awesome....except the script. Of course, I don't have access to the script, but most of the reviews that I read seemed to think that the show was good, but couldn't be great because the plot line of the show was too confusing and didn't rise and fall correctly. I'm afraid that it was this weak story telling that made the show close as tragically early as it did, which is a real shame. Because it closed so early, it didn't do very well when awards season rolled around. True, Rob McClure did land a nomination for Best Actor (which I'll talk about in a moment), but I had hoped that it would also snag nominations for best supporting actress (for Jenn Colella), Best Musical (I personally think it beat both Bring it On and A Christmas Story), and at least a few design awards. But the biggest injustice of this show is the fact that Rob McClure walked away from the ceremony without a trophy. I mean, yes he was nominated, and yes, I love Billy Porter, but Rob should've won! I even saw a few critics who said that if Chaplin was still running he probably would've won. So, shame on the producers for closing the show, and shame on the Tony committee for choosing the wrong winner for Best Actor in a Musical.
Hands on a Hard Body
I really like this show for several reasons (not the least of which being the faces people make when you tell them the title before you explain the plot). I love how character based the show is ('cause let's be honest, the plot-line doesn't really go anywhere), I love the cast they assembled (Hunter Foster [Urinetown, Little Shop of Horrors (2003 Revival)], Allison Case [Hair (2009 Revival)], Jay Armstrong Johnson [35MM (New York Premiere), Working: A Musical (Off-Broadway)]), And I like most of what I heard of the music. I see why the show didn't win anything, and I see why it had to close, because the show certainly did have it's problems. But nevertheless I think it's a cool show, I'm so glad it made it to Broadway, I think it's a very "American" show, and I honestly wish it would've gotten a nomination for best musical (in my book it beat Bring it On and A Christmas Story). They haven't released a full soundtrack yet (but I'm pretty sure one is coming) and the videos I saw weren't particularly helpful, so it's hard to know much about the show. That being said, I've watched plenty of behind the scenes stuff, and I've read all the reviews I can, and I really want to see more. I'd love to see this show live because I feel like there's a character for everyone in there and, while, I'm sure it can be a bit preachy at times, it's full of great comedy and touching moments. But most of all I love the bond that the cast seems to feel. If you remember, I gave these guys my "Best Ensemble" award because they all just seem so in sync with each other and the whole of them is definitely worth more than the sum of it's parts. I hope that it has a life after Broadway (although I find it kind of unlikely), but even if it doesn't I think it's a "nice little show".
Jekyll & Hyde
So, there was plenty of surprise when the nominees for Best Musical came out (A Christmas Story and Bring it On surprised everyone), but I expect literally nobody was surprised when the nominees for best Revival of a musical came out. There were only 5 revivals this year and four slots (explains how Annie got nominated, doesn't it?). So, in reality, the nominations weren't naming the four best shows, it was naming the worst, and everyone kind of knew that was Jekyll & Hyde. Now, don't mistake this for me hating on the show, if you read my Frank Wildhorn post, you'll know that I love Jekyll & Hyde, but that doesn't mean that I like everything they've done with it. The original show was good. It had good music, good characters, a thrilling story, all in all, good show. Then they put David Hasselhoff in the filmed version. I didn't like that, but at least the piece didn't change, so I let it slide. Then they came out with "Jekyll & Hyde Resurrection" which is all the same songs completely rearranged to make it more like a Rock album. I didn't like that either. It ruined beautiful moments and made the show more of a horror show than it should've been (and what I hate is they got some excellent Broadway stars to sing on it too! They wasted those beautiful voices!!!). Unfortunately, this show seemed to stray closer to that than the original incarnation, as I knew they were going to. As soon as I heard that Constantine Maroulis had been cast, I knew that they were going to take this song in the wrong direction. They problem is they focused too much on Hyde. All the commercials, all the press, heck, even the poster shows Hyde. Now, don't get my wrong, I LOVE Hyde, he is by far my favorite of the two, but the show isn't about Hyde, it's about Jekyll. It's about how a nice, respectable man who couldn't hurt a fly if he wanted to, becomes a monster. When you cast someone like Mr. Maroulis in the role, he fits in better as Hyde than as Jekyll, then the thrill of the transformation is gone. That's why this version didn't work, the darkness and grit of this musical is it's best part, but the awful irony is if you puff it up too much, the show crumbles. Like I said, this version didn't work, but that's not why it wasn't nominated for anything. The reason it wasn't nominated was because of the Curse of Frank Wildhorn (don't know what I'm talking about? Click the link). And you know what? I'm ok with that. I've decided that I don't even want there to be a successful Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway. I love the fact that it's a cult classic, that it's the show that Broadway rejected but America loved; part of me thinks we could use more shows like that.
A lot of people thought this show was one of the most snubbed of the season, but not me. Why? I didn't like it. I thought it was cheap. Granted, I've never been much a fan of this style of music, and I haven't even listened to the whole soundtrack, but the show just wasn't good to me. It felt like the writers were more concerned with cramming in as many iconic songs as possible (I think they hit around 50!) than they were with making a good story. The result? They compiled a very talented cast. They did some very good impressions. And I imagine if you were a fan of Motown music, it would make for a very entertaining and enjoyable evening, and that's why I'm not upset that it was on Broadway. I think it has a place on Broadway. But I wouldn't call it a work of art. I'm honestly glad that it isn't a "Tony Award Winning Musical," it's just another Jukebox Musical that went on Broadway, gave people some great memories and (hopefully), went on it's way (Of course, despite my protestations, Broadway still has yet to get rid of Mama Mia and Rock of Ages, so maybe this Jukebox musical will outlive my expectations as well).
This is the show that I knew the least about privy to reading this blog. So, once I decided I wanted to write about it, I listened to a few of the songs I had heard were the best. As it happens, I started right after listening to some Leap of Faith songs. You guys remember Leap of Faith? Last year's big budget musical about a "quirky" evangelist that built it's marketing around the fact that it had a big name star playing the lead (namely, my buddy Raul Esparza) and although people love that star they agreed that the show itself lacked a little bit in plot and while it had a few catchy tunes there really wasn't anything that made it memorable? Yeah....I remember it too, but apparently whoever decided to put Scandalous on Broadway didn't, because it fell into all the same traps. Sure, it has some good music, and Carolee Carmello [Parade, John & Jen (Off Broadway)] gave a stellar performance, but the show just isn't interesting enough. The story follows a woman who wanted to be a preacher and really defied a lot of the religious leaders of her time (I think it might be based off of a true story). But to be honest, aside from Ms. Carmello's voice, there's not much of an appeal to this show. Maybe her and my buddy Raul should do a show together! (for those of you wondering how I became "buddies" with THE Raul Esparza, check out this video where we chatted together).
This was a good year for Musicals. With the exception of Jekyll & Hyde and maybe Scandalous, all of these shows are pretty good. There weren't many musicals, but quality should come before quantity. I hope we can keep the standard this high in coming years!
BROADWAY IS AWESOME! That should be the conclusion of every blog I write. Regardless of the good or bad things I have to say, each and every one of theses shows are special and the fact that they are on Broadway is awesome! Even though the shows mentioned here maybe didn't get as many Tony nominations as I think they should've, they're awesome because they were on Broadway!
And thus concludes my review of the 2012-2013 season. I have one more Tony Award post about the aspects of the telecast that weren't show specific (acceptance speeches, opening numbers, Neil's best jokes, etc.) Stay tuned!