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Thoughts on Tony Awards 2017

Primarily focused on Musical Theater….

I’m sad that “Great Comet” didn’t get more, to be honest. Purely from a technical perspective, this show was a marvel. So I would have loved to see Best Orchestrations, Best Costumes, and Best Director. Rachel Chavkin took a story that seemed nearly impossible to make and made it relatable and fulfilling. It’s really weird, but in an soaring way- and I hope that more shows have the nerve that this show has. It was the only show I saw this season, and it was a ridiculously unique theatrical experience. It’s also a shame the telecast didn’t highlight Deneé Benton’s voice. What an amazing gift. And her performance of Natasha- at once naive and innocent but also dangerous and flirtatious- was a surprisingly fantastic female character full of “life and mischief.” We need more like them, and more shows that place them at the front.

Dear Evan Hansen. I get it; at times it highlights the worst tendencies of young adult novels. It’s frustrating. Poorly plotted moments, like “To Break In a Glove” (which basically screams, “It’s a metaphor!!!”), to Alana’s broad racial characterization (her blackness seems to inform her identity to the point of stereotype), dim the moments of pure joy and despair into cliché. But what a carefully understood story otherwise. The startling emotional intelligence of the show’s lyrics by Pasek and Paul shine through the most. Forget all the social commentary of social media and social anxiety and depression. This is a story about one person, and that one person was completely brought to life. That this show resonates with audiences is no surprise- it is deeply empathetic to the point of pushing you completely down, but always pushing forward.

I’ll admit to not having listened to / read the other musicals. I’m immediately skeptical of Come From Away; whole-hearted goodness in the face of tragedy is certainly a fine message, but its celebration of Canada and a specific group of people seem to be the message it really wants to send. There’s nothing really wrong about this- it just seems more like an advertisement than a show. “Me and the Sky” is a lovely song, but do I need a sustained, winking “American Airlines” in the middle of the song? The show’s broad commercialism, in the face of 9/11, seems to work as a message of hope. And then at moments like this, it feels trivial.

Edit: From some of the comments here, Come From Away is apparently a really special, communal experience that isn’t really quite captured in the recording or promos. Which I have to say, is probably true. As someone who hasn’t seen that show, I’m not judging the show, just the concept and what I’ve seen at the Tonys. Of course I would die to have a ticket- who wouldn’t? If you want to share your experience with this show, and prove my original skepticism wrong, please message me or comment. Let’s start a dialogue! 

I’m sure Groundhog Day was a fine musical, but like “Matilda,” I’m sure it did a great job of bringing the story and bringing out the strengths to the stage while also not being absolutely astonishing. Groundhog Day is one of the perfect mergings of concept and execution in film, so I’m happy they found a way for it to work on the stage. The choice for the telecast was a less energized than lovely. Probably a direction the whole show wants to follow- and this is one that understands its boundaries and I can respect.

Assorted notes on the rest:

  • It’s absolutely ludicrous that “Sweat” is Lynn Nottage’s debut on Broadway. A two-time Pulitzer-prize winner just now on Broadway? It shows the conservatism of producing works by black and female artists.
  • “Penny in my Pocket” from “Hello Dolly” was a fine song. But to have Bette Midler walk around stage all night taunting us of her lack of performance was really just upsetting. Mostly to the chorus members of that show; they deserve a time to shine.
  • Miss Saigon.” You lumbering beast of a musical. I am so happy to see Asians on the stage of the world. But there has to be more than this for us. There has to be more, and it’s up to Asian writers like me to make sure that not every Asian woman has to play a prostitute to be on Broadway.
  • The staging of “Waving Through a Window” I found at once fascinating but also a little… obvious? It seemed to say to the audience, “This is a show about social media!” instead of having them just listen to the lyrics and actually understand the acute longing of Evan. But overall I’m totally down for Michael Grief’s direction. He seems like someone very aware of the message of his shows, and that’s a wonderful thing to see.
  • I would absolutely love to see every single Best Play nominee. They all look like achievements in the art form.
  • Falsettos” was a nice reunion, although it was frustrating that the only lesbian kiss on national television was for “Great Comet” and not this or “Indecent.” Thank God Christian Borle wore a wig. Those 80s outfits were killing it. Thanks PBS for taking care of the community with the theatrical release.
  • War Paint? Meh. Clearly a star vehicle, but with the distinctly modern blend of music seen in the Best Musical nominees, this one seems to be harkening on a musical theater style that is dated. We’re living in the era of “Fun Home” and “Hamilton.” The entire genre is shifting.
  • Why was the one black character of Bandstand an announcer with one line? Aren’t we past this? And from a creative from Hamilton no less?
  • Kevin Spacey was fine as a host. The knowing meta thing wore off way too quickly, but I do appreciate the focus on all the nominees instead of the Something-Rotten-musical-mishmash of last year’s opening number.
  • I sincerely hope the Great Comet stays on Broadway for a few years. It’s truly an unparalleled show in terms of its fearlessness in just going to its concept. I think that even if you don’t like the music, or think it achieved something meaningful, you can at least admire its creative ambition.
  • Thanks to @zartharn for watching with me! “And the Tony goes to… Michael Arden’s revival of Spring Awakening!”
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