Tony Sunday in the Park Without George

As a relative youngin’, there are still so many classics that I have yet to see, and this season, I got to cross Sunday in the Park with George off that list. A beautiful production, directed by Sarna Lapine, the show was everything I wanted and more. The show is a masterpiece, so I won’t spend my time lauding Stephen Sondheim or James Lapine, because everyone else has already done that. Ms. Lapine manages to capture the beauty and pain that goes into creating art. The show itself was visually stunning, with a simple, yet effective scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, which was enhanced by Tal Yarden’s projections. Clint Ramos’ costume were absolutely gorgeous. Ken Billington’s lighting design, particularly the chromolumes, was excellent.

While it’s lovely to see a piece about the creation of art want to stand on its own, and bask in starry reviews, I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned at all during the Tony telecast last night. I know the producers decided to remove the show from contention for awards, but the show was an absolute highlight of the season for me, so it was a shame that the show wasn’t part of the telecast at all. While I understand that closing the show in April meant that award nominations wouldn’t factor in to their run at all, I guess I’m used to ranking art and the weird competitive nature we as a society feel we must place on art, one of the most subjective areas there are. The producers stood on the moral highground that seems crazy in this industry, and I have to respect them for wanting their piece to stand on its own. Despite that, I have to say that the show surely would have been nominated for for Best Revival. And I would imagine that Jake Gyllenhaal would finally get nominated for Best Actor (I’m still mad that he wasn’t nominated for Constellations), and I could have seen Annaleigh Ashford sneak in as a Best Actress nominee.

The whole cast is stellar, and it was so heartwarming to see Ruthie Anne Miles and Ashley Park back on stage together again. It’s always nice to see two amazing Asian American actors on stage, especially cast in roles that aren’t traditionally Asian. And to stay on brand, it was also lovely to see (and hear) Philip Boykin, a much darker man than the real boatman in the painting. It sounds so simple, but it truly is remarkable to cast talented actors of colors in roles that are traditional white. So thank you, Ms. Lapine, for recognizing the importance of casting decisions in 2017!

A compelling story on the passion and sacrifices it takes to make art, Sunday in the Park with George was a brilliant production that lived up to the heaps of praise given to this show. I am anxiously awaiting the release of the the cast album to relive the best moments, and inevitably cry in the comfort of my own home. Yay for casting Asians just because! Yay for creating beautiful, moving pieces of theater! And yay for everyone’s sacrifices to create this wonderfully complex thing called art!

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#StayWoke, Pierre

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is absolutely insane in the best way possible. Director Rachel Chavkin manages to take a Broadway show and make it something unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and yet, it’s so theatrical that of course it’s a Broadway show. Dave Malloy’s concept turns a sliver of War and Peace into a raucous party, complete with catchy songs and a great score.

One of Chavkin’s greatest gifts is her ability to cast diverse actors in a way that feels completely organic. There are certain show that appear to throw in a person of color for the sake of “adding diversity.” But Chavkin manages to put people of color front and center in the same way that they appear in the world, and while that shouldn’t be an earth-shattering thing, it somehow is. In an industry that is all about casting big names and turning a profit, it’s heartwarming that Chavkin demands a show to have a rainbow cast. DenĂ©e Benton is so sweet and wonderful as Natasha, and I don’t know if other directors would choose a black actress to portray a 19th century Russian aristocrat. I cannot wait until Okieriete Onaodowan joins the cast in July so the show has two black “Russian” leads. Dreams do come true!

I’ve often marveled at actor-musicians, and their ability to play while in character. But this show takes that to a whole new level! With violins and accordions, these actors play, sing, and run around the Imperial Theater like it’s playtime. Lucas Steele is great as Anatole, and then he whips out his violin and I was even more in awe of his performance. I was thrilled to see Amber Gray back on stage after discovering her in Hadestown, and she once again is brilliant! And of course, much focus is put on Josh Groban, making his Broadway debut as Pierre. For being in the title, Pierre doesn’t seem like a leading role to me, but Groban is great nonetheless.

The show is a spectacle and I doubt we’ll ever see something quite like it. All of the design elements are superb. Mimi Lien completely transforms a normal Broadway house into a space that is a weaving maze, bringing the actors up close and personal no matter where you’re sitting. The lighting design by Bradley King is great, particularly the titular comet, and I wanted to steal each and every chandelier for my house.

The show is definitely worth multiple viewings, and I’m sure I can see it a dozen times and still find something new every time. As a piece of theater, as a piece of art, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a singular sensation.

Shop Closed

I must say that I’ve been terrible at seeing plays this season. The latest casualty is Jitney at Manhattan Theatre Club, which has been selling out for weeks now. While I’m happy that so many people want to see August Wilson’s new piece on Broadway, I’m selfishly mad that I couldn’t get in and digital lottery tickets were snatched up the minute they went on sale. But kudos to you, New York theatergoers, for proving yet again that a show featuring actors of color can be a commercial success!

Best of 2016

Before 2016 is officially in the books, I wanted to recap my non-Hamilton favorites from 2016 because I never have enough time to write posts after seeing shows!

Best Musical, Broadway: Shuffle Along

Unfortunately placed in the same season as a juggernaut, Shuffle Along was great for many of the same reasons as Hamilton. With a beautiful cast of superstars, the story of how forgotten stories and legacies provides an emotional journey. It’s upsetting that its run ended so soon, and will be just another footnote in the musical history books, just hoping to be remembered.

Best Musical Revival: She Loves Me

A charming throwback to the days of yesteryear, She Loves Me left me utterly enthralled with its fantastic cast from top to bottom (despite the fact that each and every one of them was white!). I still think it’s a travesty that Gavin Creel wasn’t nominated for his devilishly charming performance as Kodaly. The lush orchestrations were everything I would want from an old-school musical, and the jewel-box set was a revelation.

Best Off-Broadway Musical: Hadestown

Great original music with a beautiful diverse cast. An actual post lives here!

Best Off-Broadway Musical Revival: Sweet Charity

As Charity, Sutton Foster gets to do exactly everything you want Sutton Foster to be doing. She sings, she dances, she gets her leg extended way farther than should be humanly possible, all while in arms’ reach of the audience. It also lends a fantastic performance from Joel Perez, who gets to stretch all his acting muscles. Every dance sequence had me sitting there with a giant smile on my face. This show just made me smile, which is ironic, given the subject matter. I guess I’m just always rooting for Charity! Also dripping with diversity and an all-female band!

Best Broadway Play: Eclipsed

A total eclipse of the heart, this show and its history-making black creators and stars left an indelible impression. This show stayed with me for days afterwards and really made me think. I dismissed a comment from one of the actresses who thought all five actors could get nominated; then I saw the show and realized it was a distinct possibility. I jumped in my seat, I cried, I thought about the show the whole way home and then some. A brilliant Broadway debut from Lupita Nyong’o, who I have to commend for bringing huge star power (aka box office draw) to show that probably wouldn’t have made anywhere near as big of a splash without her.

Best Play Revival: A View from the Bridge

After finally seeing the show closing weekend, I was wondering what everyone was gushing about. And then it happened. A masterful use of a box set, the raves do it no justice. A brilliant concept from director Ivo van Hove, and great performances, lead by Mark Strong, this production completely invigorates the writings of Arthur Miller.

Best Off-Broadway Play: Aubergine

I literally started crying during the opening monologue of Aubergine and was practically weeping by the time the show ended. An extremely emotional play, Julia Cho’s play explored how our relationships with food are tied to the people and moments in our lives. Intensely emotional, intensely satisfying. One of the best nights in the theater for me this year (and also for Kleenex!).

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

No, this post isn’t about Hamilton, but instead Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. The number of parallels between Shuffle Along and Hamilton are crazy. It’s a shame that the two shows are in the same season, because while Shuffle Along did pretty well in terms of Tony Award nominations, the show’s message is so similar to Hamilton and really brings issues of representation and diversity at the forefront. Here is a story that focuses on a real-life team, the challenges they faced, and how they changed the country. While we complain about #OscarsSoWhite, we forget the work that F.E. Miller, Aubrey Lyles, Noble Sissle, and Eubie Blake created that allowed for black performers to make it on Broadway and beyond. It’s a story that needs to be remembered, and what better way to tell the story then a Broadway musical love letter to the creators and performers who were changing the world in 1921?

Despite all the brilliant names above the marquee, it’s the ensemble that’s the heart of the show. These tap dancing fools light up the stage and bring so much energy to the show. It is truly a stacked cast, but it’s the giant tap numbers (particularly the tap battle) that stand out to me. Savion Glover’s work is astounding and it’s so great to see so many talented black dancers take center stage. While Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry, and Audra McDonald make the most of what they’re given, they individually do not have much to do, and all five actors felt underutilized to me. Dixon, who had Blake’s own backstory in addition to a love triangle, had the most to do, and was rewarded with a Tony nomination. To have big Broadway stars sign up for a show for the sake of telling a bigger story, rather than time in the spotlight is truly a beautiful thing. Of course, they each have a number that reminds you why they’re stars, but it’s the ensemble that carries most of the heavy lifting.

Much praise must go to George C. Wolfe, who directed the show and wrote the updated book. Kudos to him for realizing the potential in a behind-the-scenes story that happened during the creation of a game-changing show and for bringing it out for today’s audiences. This is a story that should be remembered, and needs to be part of our narrative. As we continue to talk about diversity in Hollywood and Broadway, this is a show that should be seen. In a banner year for diversity on Broadway, it’s only fitting that this was the show to close out the season. I fear that diversity will take a big hit next season, but hopefully Shuffle Along will continue to play and sweep everyone’s hearts with it.

The end of the show was heartbreaking and as the lights go down, it’s a beautiful reminder of the sacrifices that people made in the name of art. It’s a shame that art often gets disrupted by money and that the team broke up after creating Shuffle Along. And it’s a bigger shame that the producers think the show cannot run without Audra McDonald and is closing prematurely. As one critic said, this show will probably never be revived, and it’s a real shame that the world will no longer have Shuffle Along around to remind them of where black Broadway started. A moving and exciting production, this story deserves to be seen and remembered. Shuffle down to the Music Box Theater while you can!

Diversity Wins!

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind? Take note, Hollywood!

Tonys
(c) David Gordon

Absolutely beautiful! Success and diversity do not have to be mutually exclusive. Talent doesn’t just exist in white people. May we continue celebrating the beauty of the rainbow on stage, and start giving real chances to people of color on screen. Will the Oscars ever produce a photo like this? One can only hope!

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(c) Andrew Kelly
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(c) Dimitrios Kambouris
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(c) Theo Wargo
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(c) Charles Sykes

It’s Tony Time!

In my attempt to see everything before the Tony Awards, I have severely lacked updating this blog for all those negative number of people who actually read this. Expect a deluge of posts soon, unless I continue my lazy streak, but it’s not like anyone will notice! But enough about me.

It’s been a banner year on Broadway, which right now, really can’t be called the Great White Way. And that’s amazing. The Tony Awards mark the end of this season, and what an incredible year it has been! And while yes, all award shows put the emphasis on the competition, let us take a moment to reflect on the fact that everyone involved in the 39 shows this year gets to create art for a living. So to all those who weren’t nominated and all the shows that closed too soon, congratulations on making it to Broadway to begin with. Your art touches people. Your art matters. Thank you!