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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.

 

 

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Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – Holiday Inn – A Bronx Tale – Come From Away December 1, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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I’ve been remiss and have so many shows to review I am just going to lump them all into one post…

Come From Away (seen pre-Broadway in Toronto, arrives in NYC in February). Okay, I’ll say it here (having not yet seen Dear Evan Hanson) I predict that Come From Away is going to be this year’s Tony winner in many categories, including best Musical — featuring a superb 12-member cast that play both airplane passengers and crew, as well as local Canadians, this musical tells the story of the days starting with 9/11 and the week following when air traffic control closed airspace. Passengers diverted to a Canadian town are treated to some Canadian kindness as they feed them, entertain them, and take them into their homes to house them for the days before airspace is reopened. The musical score is superb, and the cast is outstanding — but what really works here is how riveting this is as theatre — as the (mostly American but also some international) passengers and townspeople discover together what a global tragedy has occurred in the United States. Its undeniably powerful, but also highly entertaining, and its going to win the Tony.

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (seen at the Imperial theatre, NYC). I go on record as stating that I loved this show more than Hamilton, there I said it. Telling the main love story from “War & Peace”, based on only 70 pages or so of that novel, this atmospheric musical absolutely rocks the Imperial Theatre with a superb Josh Groban in the Pierre role (he sings, plays piano, accordion, and other instruments), and he is excellent. The entire ensemble cast is remarkable in this show without a “stage” — rather, the entire theatre has been transformed into a Russian “cabaret” style performance space, and actors (no matter where you sit) perform in front of you, behind you, around you, and everywhere. Its expertly designed and lit, and one of the best directed musicals I have seen in ages. You will either love it (or some hated it) but you will not be able to deny that there is genius theatre stagecraft and performance on display here.

Holiday Inn, the musical (Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, NYC). Lets call this one what it is, “White Christmas Lite” — there is beautiful scenic work, singing, dancing, and lots of tap in this family-friendly musical adaptation of the classic holiday movie musical. Some of the production numbers are outstanding. There isn’t anything earth shattering in this production, but you can’t go wrong if you are a lover of standard old-fashioned musical comedy — where the primary emphasis is on the song and dance. I loved it. It isn’t as streamlined as White Christmas was, but it is equally well performed, orchestrated, and executed. It was a welcome early holiday treat for me.

A Bronx Tale, the musical (Longacre Theatre, NYC). If there is a single recent musical that has disappointed me, its A Bronx Tale. With its sure-fire cast, score, direction, art-design and ready-made story (based on the movie) you would think that there would be the makings of a better overall musical than the one currently on display at the Longacre. Its all very well done, and the audience loved it – in fact, it had an instant standing ovation, which only Come From Away garnered more enthusiastic audience response) and yet I couldn’t help feeling that the entire show was paint-by-number. Granted I am not Italian, but the ending didn’t draw any type of emotional response from me (although the movie sure did) – but where the movie made getting to know these gangster families intimate and recognizable, everything here is broadly drawn and even sitting near to the stage didn’t feel all that intimate. Of course the (almost entirely NYC-resident) audience at my performance thought otherwise. Your mileage of course may vary.