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Why “Come From Away” should win this year’s Tony for Best Musical (and why “Dear Evan Hansen” should not) May 5, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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On June 11th, 2017, when this year’s Tony Awards are announced, I expect to see “Come From Away” the big winner in the musical category. What? You haven’t even heard of it? Well, you should. And I know there is that ground-swell support from younger folks for “Dear Even Hansen” but here is why that one shouldn’t win.

COME FROM AWAY will most likely win the Best Musical this year. I said so the moment I left the theater the first time I saw it in Toronto, and keep that same opinion after the third time I saw it in NYC. Quite simply, it has the strongest message of the bunch, and the strongest overall musical theater artistry of the bunch. Don’t label it a “9/11 Musical” — it is not. Its a show about a community coming together in the face of a crisis – and it is the only one of the four musicals nominated this year that has those stakes. More so, lets not forget the Tony Awards are also business oriented, it is the sole show of the four nominees that could use the ticket sale boost. That is always a consideration at award time. This is also the only show of the bunch that I left the theater humming any of the tunes.

DEAR EVEN HANSEN has a great score, no doubt about it, even if I never want to hear anyone sing “Waving Through a Window” unless it is in context of the show. It also has young-folks appeal because of the hot-selling cast album. And it also has the most mixed reviews of any of the current musicals nominated. What it got were raves for Ben Platt as Evan, and the score. Expect to see Tony awards for Ben Platt, and the score. But Best Musical? I don’t think so. Without giving away too much, the entire drama of this show is so millennial-centric that it makes no impact on older audiences — the central drama involves a millennial teenager APOLOGIZING for something he did that was dreadfully wrong. That is it. If our millennial audiences find making an apology the most horrifying thing they have to do, then we have done something very wrong in this everyone-gets-a-participation prize and there-are-n0-consequences-for-your-appalling-actions era.

NATASHA AND PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is a spectacular musical. I loved every minute of it. Telling the central love story of War and Peace in a Russian-cabaret type setting (even the theater interior has been changed to resemble an in-the-round Russian tent) it has made the rounds from off-off to off and now on Broadway. It is also without a doubt the most bizarre and polarizing of the current nominees — people either love it or they hate it, and you can find plenty of both online. The general reaction is, wow, the staging is remarkable, and indeed look for a Tony for best Direction here. But it also leaves a large number of the audience scratching their heads and asking themselves what exactly is going on here (and I don’t mean in that artsy fartsy “Nine” sort of way). That is never a good marker for awards.

GROUNDHOG DAY is terrific. Another show that I simply loved. Andy Karl will give Ben Platt a run for his money for Best Actor, but ultimately Platt will win the day. It has a fun score, though nothing here is as singable as DEH’s terrific score. It has fun scenic design and illusions. But ultimately, it is what it is — a stage version of the movie — albeit it BETTER than the movie. Still, Groundhog Day is slight at best, carries a message of tolerance, but just barely, and while it won the Olivier award last month for Best Musical, that isn’t going to happen here in NYC.

That brings me back to COME FROM AWAY. This is the little musical that thought it could, and it did, and it should win. There isn’t a better feel-good musical to be found in NYC right now, and that we share this with a vision created by our Canadian neighbors will go a long way to awards-land next month.

You can’t go wrong seeing any of these shows this season. But you will thank yourself for seeing Come From Away because you will feel something you haven’t at a musical in a long time — hope.



Fantastic “Groundhog Day the Musical” (Review) April 1, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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Seen at a preview, Groundhog Day is off and running and it is fantastic. It has already been honed in its rave-worthy West End run, so this is a pretty simple transfer from London – though there is nothing simple about this show.

A big kudos goes to star Andy Karl, who is going to give Ben Platt a run for his money at Tony time. The non-stop energy of this remarkable actor (Rocky, Drood, Legally Blonde) is on full display for the show’s 2:40 run time – and it is nowhere on display better than the frenetic Act two number “Hope” which combines remarkable staging, stagecraft, and illusions as he appears in bed over and over seemingly having disappeared at other places on the stage — a superstar turn and it is not to be missed for this role in which weatherman Phil Connors is forced to live and relive the same day continuously.

But then there is the excellent ensemble cast, led by (potential) love interest Rita (Barrett Doss) and an entire city populated with perky, peppy Punxsutawney residents that hit their marks time and again and again and again in an ever-swirling design of rubiks-cube like set pieces that assemble over and over and over in different configurations in different places.

The remarkable stagecraft is created by set designer Rob Howell and it can’t be separated from Matthew Warchus’s controlled and finely honed direction, and Peter Darling’s great choreography. Lighting design by Hugh Vanstone is exceptional. Your eye goes exactly where director Warchus wants it to go – and that is no understatement nor an easy job when at times the characters find themselves on tilt-a-whirls and parties, and parades, and celebrations. BRAVO.

Tim Minchin’s music is far better here than it was in Matilda. He has created a score that is at once repetitive and rift-filled as required by the show’s repeating motif, but also melodic and soaring when need be. Andy Karl gets a lot of rock tunes that lift his voice out and up and into the Pennsylvania snowscape. Barrett Doss gets the ballads. And the ensemble gets everything else (including a lovely song about being stuck in routines and expectations even if you are not stuck in time, “Playing Nancy” by the striking Rebecca Faulkenberry.)

In a season of Broadway hits and misses, Groundhog Day the Musical is one of the shining stars. Don’t miss it.

Very Highest Recommendation. Now playing at the August Wilson Theatre, New York.