Monday, June 16, 2008

My Tony thoughts

Whew, the Tony awards are over! Lots of observations:

Whoppi Goldberg is funny! I'm so happy for Rondi Reed! I love In the Heights! Lin-Manuel Miranda is one classy, talented guy! Patti LuPone is one fierce Mama Rose! Tracy Letts should have been given more time to talk! Paulo Szot is tall! During the musical number for Sunday in the Park with George, I think I saw Daniel Evans' tonsils! Stew has a weird sense of humor!

And a few questions:

What was Boeing Boeing's Mark Rylance talking about in his acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Play? What does Anna Shapiro, who won for best director of a play for August: Osage County, have tattooed on her arm? Why didn't Stephen Sondheim show up to accept his lifetime achievement award? I understand why there's lots of love for musicals, and that was terrific, but couldn't there be a little more love for the plays?

In the Heights was my pick for Best Musical, so I'm ecstatic that it won, and I thought its musical number, "96,000,'' sounded great. I admired and respected Passing Strange but I loved In the Heights. It won my heart and made me want to dance, despite the sad fact that I was apparently born without a sense of rhythm. This is a musical that has a great message in its celebration of a Latino neighborhood at the top of Manhattan: we're a nation of immigrants, and we're better for it.

Plus, Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech in the form of a rap, when he won the Tony for Best Score for In the Heights, was terrific. And his reference to Stephen Sondheim was so sweet: “Look, Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat where there never was a hat and it’s a Latin hat at that.” Very nice. I hope Miranda stays in musical theatre. The funny thing is, I heard him during the red carpet interviews. He really doesn't talk like a rapper all the time.

Other highlights for me:

I'm thrilled that as expected, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of August: Osage County won for Best Play, Best Director, Best Actress in a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Play. And Todd Rosenthal, winning for Best Scenic Design of a Play, on the Tony preshow, started it all off. Seeing that big old three-story house was the first time I ever had an immediate, visceral reaction to a set on a stage. I was just fascinated by it, by the size and the clutter and the shabbiness, and I'm so happy Rosenthal won.

Rondi Reed winning for Best Featured Actress in a Play was the one I was really, really rooting for, because she's such a wonderful person as well as a great performer. Steve, Doug and I talked to her for at least half an hour after August: Osage County ended one night. She is a warm, funny, gracious, down-to-earth woman. And she is an absolute hoot in this play. (Unfortunately, Sunday was her last performance. She's headed back to Chicago).

The success of August: Osage County, a transplant from Chicago, is truly a testament to the great work being done on stages all over this country. Being on Broadway and winning a Tony must seem like a pipe dream to these actors who toil far from New York. August's Deanna Dunagan, who won for Best Actress in a Play, summed it up perfectly: "After 34 years in regional theater I never even thought about it. I watched it on tv like everyone else."

Hearing from the original cast from Rent was so moving, especially when they were talking about Jonathan Larson and how he came to write the musical at a time when so many people he knew were dying of AIDS, and then his own untimely death. It was cute to see Idina Menzel and her husband, Taye Diggs, who met while they were in Rent, right next to each other. And even though I saw The Lion King, with its incredible parade of animals, on Broadway a month ago, the giraffes are just as thrilling the second time around.

I loved Patti LuPone singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy. Her standing ovation was well deserved. She is fierce. Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines looked terrified! They also really deserved their Tonys for Best Featured Actress and Actor in a Musical. I've said before that Benanti gave one of the best performances I've ever seen as she transformed from a shy, awkward teenager into a glamorous, confident stripper.

And LuPone, the Best Actress in a Musical, did have a great acceptance speech: "It's been 29 years!" Let the woman talk! I also liked the way she thanked her husband and son right off the bat, instead of going through her list of agents, producers, etc. So many winners at these awards shows end up having to shout out the names of their loved ones just as the music starts up.

Also, I was glad to see The 39 Steps pick up a couple of Tonys: Mic Pool won for Best Sound Design of a Play, and Kevin Adams won for Best Lighting Design of a Play. It is such a fun, inspired 90 minutes of theatre, and I hope the awards give it a little bounce.

There were a few spots where I thought the Tony producers slipped up.

When Lincoln Center's Andre Bishop accepted the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical for South Pacific, the camera should have been ready to turn immediately to Rodgers & Hammerstein's daughters, who were sitting together in the audience, not 20 seconds after Bishop mentioned their names.

Playwright Tracy Letts should have been given a little more time to accept his Tony for writing August: Osage County. I mean, how often do we get a major new American play on the scale of this one? (Perhaps he should have gotten a little assertiveness training from Patti!)

And the segment where they had Daniel Breaker, James Snyder and Kerry Butler do the little spiel about all of the American Theater Wing's educational programs mentioned the Wing's radio shows but failed to mention that they're available as free downloads from its web site, or as podcasts from iTunes. In fact, why not flash the Web site on the screen? Duh! Missed opportunity!

And what's up with taking the Tony for best choreography out of the televised portion of the ceremony? How can the Tonys not recognize the winner of that category on national television? I mean, so much of Broadway is musicals and choreography is such an important part of why we love them. Anyway, I'm glad that Andy Blankenbuehler won for In the Heights.

Apparently, some of the nominees were surprised that their categories were in the preshow, too. Passing Strange's Stew, who won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical, said he was looking in his pocket for some M&Ms when his name was announced. His speech was lame, so maybe he's serious when he says he was unprepared. And Stew turned me off with the funny nose and glasses he wore when they showed the nominees for Best Actor in a Musical. Ugh.

Ok, I may have more to say later, but that's enough for now. Except that I'm glad some of my favorites: In the Heights, South Pacific, Gypsy and August: Osage County did so well and I'm thrilled I was able to see so many amazing Tony-winning performances. I hope I get to see as many next season.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

You may already know this by now, but that was a poem that Mark Rylance was reciting.

Esther said...

Yeah, I read that the next day, but I have to admit, when I first heard it, I was totally bewildered. First, I was confused because I thought Mark Rylance was British, and here's this guy with an American accent! (Then I looked him up on wikipedia and read that he was born in Britain but grew up in the U.S.) Then, I didn't know if the was reciting a scene from the play, or what!

Dale said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts, some of the same ones that passed through my mind. It would have been just a little sweeter had I seen a few more of the shows. Great job.

I'm also jealous of Steve! I won't out and out call him an S.O.B. even though I could. :-)

Esther said...

Thanks Dale! Yeah, I definitely agree that the more shows you've seen, the more fun it is to watch the Tony awards. I have to admit that I didn't watch them very often before I started going to Broadway.

I'm jealous of Steve, too, and of everyone who lives in New York. ;-) But I'm also really happy for Steve because this is something he's always wanted to do. Plus, because he embarked on this quest to see every show, I got to meet him (and so many other bloggers) during my four trips to New York this season. So I'm happy, too!

Of course there are some I wish I'd seen, like Sunday in the Park with George, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Boeing Boeing, The Seafarer. But unless you live in New York, or you're Steve on Broadway, you can't see everything!

Dale said...

I hear what you're saying and of course I'm happy for the SOB too :-)

I'm in Toronto so although it's a fairly quick flight, it's a pricey excursion even for the weekend. I'll do my best to see more next time I hit the Big Apple though.