Monday, June 07, 2004

Defying Expectations

Per my not-so-ironclad policy of not expressing too many opinions about theater (for my own professional protection), I won't write too much about the Tony Awards, but I do want to say how exciting it was to see an unpredictable show after years of blockbuster sweeps, regardless of how I may feel about some of the individual winners.

Now you can argue, and not incorrectly, that a show is made up of the sum of its parts, so it's natural that the best show would also take home honors for its acting, design, etc. But just because an actor is in a great show doesn't mean that the actor is doing the best work of the year, the material can easily help him shine. And sometimes a less stellar show can have a stellar performance in it that rises above the writing or direction, or a show with a weak book or an ugly set can have beautiful music. I think it's nice to see those things rewarded.

Many have said that this was a weak season on Broadway. And while it's true that there have been some high-profile disappointments, I'm excited by the artistic diversity of this season. I can't remember a year when there's been a more diverse batch of musical nominees: Wicked, Taboo, The Boy From Oz, Avenue Q, Caroline or Change, Assassins, Wonderful Town, Fiddler, Big River, Little Shop... You can hardly compare these shows to one another. They all tell vastly different stories with different musical and design styles. You have composers including old vets (Sondheim, Bernstein, Schwartz), pop stars (Peter Allen, Boy George), artsy favorites (Tesori), and risky newcomers (the guys who wrote Avenue Q). That's far more exciting to me that a single predictable juggernaut. Why not show national television audiences all the different shows out there and let them decide which ones are for them, instead of basically running a two hour commercial for a single "event," and thereby dictating that all the smaller stuff that can't compete will close a month later?

So I applaud the Tony voters for surprising the hell out of me this year. More importantly, I applaud the producers who are willing to take risks on smaller or quirkier shows, on things that don't look or sound like everything else. Even when they fail, I think these shows are good for shaking things up, and for challenging the perception of what musical theater "should" be. There will always be big British spectacles, and shows based on movies, and tried and true revivals, and a lot of them will be very good. So there has to be room alongside them for smaller shows, riskier shows, new styles, and new stories. A lot of them will be very good too.

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