Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Tonys: If I Could Vote...for Best Musical

The Tonys: If I Could Vote...for Best Musical

If you managed to trudge through my picks for the best of the past year's theatre season, you may have been surprised to see only one Broadway musical make my top ten list: Sweeney Todd. It's not that I didn't see any of the Tony-nominated works for "Best Musical" -- in fact, I saw three of the four (Jersey Boys, The Color Purple and The Wedding Singer) -- and it wouldn't be fair to say that I didn't enjoy them because I did, albeit in varying degrees.

But I have to confess that if I were voting on this year's Tony nominees, I would begin by using the process of elimination.

First to go would be Jersey Boys. Don't get me wrong, I've always loved the Four Seasons. But it's an easy choice given that this is a jukebox musical with no original score written for the stage. My view is that your show shouldn't be eligible for the big prize if it can't even be nominated for "Best Original Score." More importantly, I found this story to be less than satisfying. And it wasn't just because the much-ballyhooed John Lloyd Young was a dreaded no-show the Friday night I attended -- his understudy, Michael Longoria, was terrific and by far the best thing about the performance I saw. I'm no prude, but for a production set in the 50s and likely to mistakenly appeal to a wider family audience, the show was rather crass and unexpectedly vulgar. The best moments of the production were those devoted to the actual musical performances of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito.

Second to go would be The Color Purple. Sorry Oprah, I truly love the story. Yes, there was impeccably strong acting, singing and dancing -- in fact, LaChanze and her nominated castmates are completely deserving of their Tony nods. The details of the set, costume and lighting design were all wondrous. Yet, when it gets right down to it, cramming all of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into a three-hour musical not only sacrificed essential story-telling, it also severely diminished the emotional wallop of the brilliant score created by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. It was frustrating that nearly all of their songs were reduced to the musical equivalent of a sound bite. By trying to pack it all in, director Gary Griffin and book writer Marsha Norman left me longing for more than just a cliff notes retelling.

Since I haven't had the opportunity to see The Drowsy Chaperone yet, it would be difficult for me to make an informed vote between it and The Wedding Singer. But on the latter, I can say that it was the best of the three Tony-nominated musicals I had the opportunity to see. While it's yet another derivative of a film, this production has a wonderfully original musical score (thanks to Tony-nominated Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar), a perfectly delightful cast (including Tony-nominated Stephen Lynch), elaborate set and lighting design (by Scott Pask and Brian MacDevitt, respectively) and stunning choreography completely evocative of the 80s (compliments of Tony-nominated Rob Ashford).

My guess is that The Drowsy Chaperone will ultimately win, fueled primarily by the fact that it's a completely original work based on absolutely nothing but the imagination of Bob Martin. I'll be curious to know whether you and Tony voters agree.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for Jersey Boys tickets.
Click here for The Color Purple tickets.
Click here for The Drowsy Chaperone tickets.
Click here for The Wedding Singer tickets.
Click here for Tony Awards tickets.
Related Stories:
The Tonys: If I Could Vote....for Best Revival of a Play (June 5, 2006)
The Tonys: If I Could Vote....for Best Revival of a Musical (June 4, 2006)
The Tonys: If I Could Vote....for Best Play (June 3, 2006)
Tony Award Nominations Announced (May 16, 2006)
The Wedding Singer (The SOB Review) - Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York, NY (May 8, 2006)
Mixed Reviews Tire The Drowsy Chaperone (May 2, 2006)
Will The Drowsy Chaperone Wake Critics? (May 1, 2006)
Critics Not Completely Engaged by The Wedding Singer (April 28, 2006)
The Wedding Singer's Secret Weapon: Kevin Cahoon? (April 27, 2006)
The Wedding Singer Opens on Broadway Tonight (April 27, 2006)

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