Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Tony Awards -- Best Musical

This Sunday, CBS will broadcast the 69th Tony Awards ceremony for Broadway plays and musicals.  

One award, Best Musical, increasingly has gone to a new type of show -- the fun, funny, often campy musical aimed at a broader audience than the traditional (and aging) bunch of serious theater buffs who had become the core group of Broadway ticket buyers.

The trend kicked off with a bang in 2001 when Mel Brooks released a musical version of his 1968 movie, "The Producers."  Then came "Hairspray" in 2003, "Monte Python's Spamalot" in 2005, "The Book of Mormon" in 2011 and "Kinky Boots" in 2013.

All these plays won their years' Best Musical awards.  

Something Rotten!

The whole juvenile musical genre may have reached its apogee this year with "Something Rotten!," which of course is up for the Best Musical prize.  

I saw this piece last weekend, and it was a laugh riot.  The story is set in 1595, when two brothers are competing to stage successful plays against the dominant force of the moment, William Shakespeare.

They decide to introduce a new type of play -- a musical.  

This sets up fun for everyone.  Shakespeare, a Renaissance rock star, twerks to "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" and blithely plagiarizes any good idea he can pilfer.  Musical numbers reference everything from "West Side Story" to "Rent" to the Rockettes to Bob Fosse to "Les Miserables", and familiar Shakespeare characters' names and lines pop up constantly.  For the immature there are well-stuffed codpieces and, of course, a sex-obsessed and closeted Puritan minister.  The audiences are congratulated for recognizing every inside joke.

By the end, the silliness had gone way, way over the top, but the audience seemed to love every minute.  What struck me most was the sheer, gleeful energy of the whole business; never seen anything like it.

If the award is given for the most broadly popular play, this will win.  Unless the CBS show organizers are asleep at the switch, their broadcast will include a lively number from "Something Rotten!"  Imagine two-plus hours of this, and you will have an idea of the zing and bounce of the play.

Other Nominations

Three other more well-received musicals are nominated.

"The Visit" is a darker piece about the world's richest woman who returns to her tattered hometown planning to use her wealth to exact revenge on a man who scorned her when she was young.

Grande dame Chita Rivera, now 82, has wanted to play this part for many years.

Variety says, "The show is more literary piece than conventional musical. But it has a dark, sinister  beauty — and who could resist a visit from Chita?"

This theater-in-the-round musical comes from an unusual 
source -- a graphic memoir book.  It is the story of a young
lesbian's growing up and her relationship with her father, a gay man who does not acknowledge his gayness and kills himself.  

Yes, it's a musical.  Critics love love love it.

"An American in Paris" is based on a 1951 movie that starred Gene Kelly and George Gershwin music.

The Broadway story has been altered a bit to be more serious and less upbeat than the film.  Its stars are trained ballet dancers.  

The New York Times said it "weds music and movement, song and story with such exhilarating brio that you may find your own feet fidgeting under your seat before it’s over, and your heart alight with a longing to be swept up in the dance."

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