Welcome to the New Age of Broadway
Just as Rick McKay is working n a sequel to his very successful documentary Broadway the Golden Age (http://www.broadwaythemovie.com/next.html), a tribute to the beloved musicals of yesteryear, the 2007 Tony Awards have kissed tradition goodbye!
Christine Ebersole Best Actress in a musical, Grey Gardens
Seeking new ground and new audiences three productions traveled from the fertile ground of Off Broadway: Grey Gardens, the riches to rags musical tale of Jacqueline Kennedy's family Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter 'Little Edie", The Little Dog Laughed Douglas Carter Beane's rip roaring take off on press agents and the much rewarded Spring Awakening, a unique rock musical based on a 19th century tale of German teens struggling for sexual identity in a repressive society,
All of these have been rewarded with Tonys.
What is of particular significance is that in awarding Spring Awakening Best Musical and practically every other award (except the visual: sets and costumes), and despite iffy appeal on the road, the voters have indicated an acceptance of its unique rock score with the unusual use of hand held mikes in a period piece, its non traditional minimalist modern choreography, and its tragic themes (child abuse, incest, botched abortion, suicide and lots of masturbation). This caters to our youth (but what is the message here?)
More Breaks with Tradition
Awarding Julie White (The Little Dog Laughed) the Best Actress over veterans Vanessa Redgrave and sentimental favorite Angela Lansbury also indicates a willingness to recognize new talent even though the show has closed.
Best Revival of a Musical went to Company, which, in 1970, was Stephen Sondheim's ground breaking musical doing away with traditional sets, linear plot, (hardly a plot, hardly a set at all - just some steel beams in the original) contemporary edgy depiction of the failures of traditional relationships, and now, taken to yet another non traditional level by director John Doyle by dispensing with the orchestra and having actors lug around instruments (a trend the musicians union hope will end).
Even the selection of Fantasia as lead in Color Purple, chosen from TV's American Idol of all places (and don't forget next seasons Grease leads are also from a TV competition - what is going on here) indicates a willingness to explore new avenues and attract new audiences.
The upset of David Hyde Pierce for Best Actor in a Musical over the favorite "shoo-in" Company's Raul Esparza was attributed to the desire to honor Kander & Ebb's final musical together, Curtains but this actor was the non-awarded flavor of the month in Spamalot. (Julie White also a surprise, see above.)
Some Things Remain the Same
Coast 0f Utopia - Best Play
America continues it love affair/sometimes knee jerk respect for the Brits in awarding Tom Stoppard's marathon trilogy The Coast of Utopia Best Play, Best Direction, Sets, etc, though the production was all American and, from what I understand, better than the Brit version. Many Tony voters did not see all three plays and the general public has admitted to being somewhat bored by the sweeping nineteenth century ode to Russian free thinkers and anarchists. Nominating Frost/Nixon, another Brit import vis a vis two American plays August Wilson's Radio Golf and Little Dog Laughed evened the score.
The Financial Impact of the Tony's
Long considered the necessary ingredient for box office success, those not nominated, as expected, almost immediately closed: Coram Boy, The Pirate Queen.
However never has the Tony been more ineffectual in affecting a show's future. The much awarded Journey's End, an 80 year old Brit play with an anti-war message increasingly relevant now, closed the day of the Tony's even though it was long considered a shoo-in to win the award for Best Revival of a Play (and did). Company announced its imminent closing despite winning for Best Revival of a Musical, and the nominated Radio Golf will close shortly.
It was a marvelous, varied season with thirty-four new productions, some very dark, many quite innovative, with its most significant statement that artistic merit, regardless of financial success, will win over tradition and sentiment and the new voices will be heard ( look for the new Latin flavored musical In The Heights which will transfer to Broadway soon to be next season's Spring Awakening).
Jeanne Lieberman is the editor of Theaterscene.net