Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tony Awards 2011: Best Musical Moments

The 65th Annual Tony Awards marked a powerful season on Broadway.  Many of the issues of the characters in these plays and musicals resemble significant changes in today's society; theatre's way of 'holding up a mirror' to the world, allowing conversation to happen and people to connect.  Topics of AIDS, poverty, war, racism and religion were presented in satirical, hilarious, sincere, grotesque and heroic moments in theatre history.  I've rediscovered some powerful performances, found some new favourites and have a bit of a gay-man-crush on Neil Patrick Harris because he is so awesome.  I'll be featuring my favourite musical performances of the evening, with a special feature about the powerful pieces of theatre and drama that were featured and nominated from this year's Broadway season.

There were lots of favourite musical moments of the night, as well as some amazing music and talent to be discovered.  "Teen heartthrob" Neil Patrick Harris set the tone for the evening, celebrating the wide diversity that has come to Broadway in recent years, with a rousing musical number featuring appearances from the nominated productions of Catch Me If You Can, Sister Act, The Book of Mormon, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying! and Anything Goes.  Former Tony host Hugh Jackman even came onstage to offer NPH some helpful hints on the night's progress, only to turn into a battle of showmanship.  In the end, it's all about "acquiring better gift bags."  We were also treated to a performance mid-evening from the cast of Company, with NPH in the role of Bobby.  You'll also find some hidden talents from castmates Stephen Colbert, Christina Hendricks, Martha Plimpton and John Cryer.

Daniel Radcliffe made his professional debut in London's West End the psychological drama Equus with his Harry Potter costar, Richard Griffiths, in 2007.  (Richard played Vernon Dursley, Harry's abusive uncle, to save you the search.)  He was applauded, as well as receiving harsh criticism for his courageous yet disturbing performance as Alan Strang that was far beyond the comfort level many people were used to seeing him in.  The production was brought to Broadway for a limited run, establishing Daniel's 'star power' and talent on the stage.  There's no doubt his movie career has trained him in endurance for his performance as J. Pierrepont Finch in the 50th anniversary revival production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying!  (I'd like to see a dance-off between Harry and Voldemort!)  The production received a nomination for Best Revival, and John Larroquette took home the Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical!

The Scottsboro Boys recounts a moment of history in the American South in 1931, where nine black boys are accused of a terrible crime and sent to prison without fair trial.  The case is widely considered a modern miscarriage of justice and has been examined by many artists, scholars and historians as a prominent change in Alabama law.  Controversy surrounded the show in regards to its use of "minstrelsy and (apparent) blackface were racist".  Whoopi Goldberg had said on The View in response to the protests growing outside their theatre:  "The people who are protesting this show, 90% of the people have not seen it ... People are protesting saying that it shouldn't be in a minstrel show, this is too serious. What people don't understand is that you have to bring information to people in an most-invigorating way."  That's how theatre reaches you!  The production had received 12 nominations at this years' ceremonies, second only to The Book of Mormon: The Musical.  Sadly - really - it didn't receive any awards.  Before the boys suffer their tragic tale, they had high hopes of a free life riding a boxcar and seeing the wide open spaces in the number "Commencing to Chattanooga", featuring Joshua Henry. 

I was really wondering what song would be performed from The Book of Mormon: The Musical.  Considering myself part of a lucky club who has seen this wonderful, wonderful masterpiece of musical theatre (read about it here!), I also keep in mind the television-friendly content - if any.  The choice of "I Believe", performed by Tony-nominated Andrew Rannells for his role of Elder Price, was a great way to show the sweetness of the whole absurdity in this musical, that these Mormon folk will take a leap of faith for you, no matter who you are.  The song demonstrates the personal leaps of faith Mormons take when it comes to the doctrine of their religion; some of it is rather questionable, some of it controversial, but something that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have stated in their press interviews for the show is that they have "nothing bad to say about Mormons" because they're "such nice people!"  Looks like Broadway loves Mormons, too - earning nine awards out of the 14 nominations they received, including Best Musical!  I hear there's a waiting list, and even cast and crew are having a hard time getting tickets for their family and friends.  I only hope for the sake of the rest of you it becomes a touring show!

I love being surprised by someone's 'hidden talent'.  Take Sutton Foster, for instance.  I first saw Ms. Foster onstage in a fantastic performance as Janet van de Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone a few years ago in Toronto, a nostalgic spoof of 1920s musicals.  She's got a great 'fresh vintage' look, fantastic dance form and a beautiful belting voice that has earned her roles in many revivals, including the current - and Tony nominated - production of Anything Goes, a farce set below decks of a prestigious ocean liner sailing from London to New York.  I did not realize until after the ceremonies that Ms. Foster also plays Brett's sign-holding girlfriend Coco in Flight of the Conchords - y'know, the mousy, quiet one?  Yeah, I know, right!  Ms. Foster took home Best Performance of an Actress in a Musical and the production won Best Revival - see why as they perform the title song from the show at this year's Tonys.   

Norbert Leo Butz is just awesome altogether.  I got a first-hand account of his awesomeness when I saw him as Freddy "Buzz" Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: The Musical on Broadway in 2006.  (We had just missed John Lithgow as Lawrence Jameson, but were treated to Jonathan Pryce in the role - hilarity ensued!) His performance as Carl Hanratty in the new musical Catch Me If You Can, the detective chasing 16-year-old con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr., earned him Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical, and quite a role to remember.  Believe it or not, for you Wicked fans - this mustachioed grumbler had played Fiyero in one of the first Broadway casts!  Watch him and the cast perform "Don't Break The Rules" from the musical.

Stay tuned for the next 'Tony' post of some incredible dramatic plays included in this year's Broadway season!

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