Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Annual Tony nomination post

I don't post here very often anymore, except on Tony nomination day (or in this case, the day after). As a Drama Desk nominator, I've become more sensitive to the complexities of nominations. (If you're interested, here is the complete list of Drama Desk nominees, a list I'm very proud of.) I've started to dislike the word "snub" because it implies that there is some sort of malicious intent. In the case of the Drama Desks and I assume all awards, people and shows are shortlisted that don't make the final list, sometimes just barely, so it's better to focus on what is on the list, then what's not. Not that any of this will stop me from having opinions about the nominations, but I at least won't use the word snub when talking about them.

Overall, I'm pretty excited about this year's Tony list. There are lots of first-time and history-making nominees. I'm going to do things a little differently this year. Usually I post the complete list of nominations followed by my reactions in each one, but everyone who cares has seen the nominations by now and honestly I'm tired, but I still wanted a place to collect my thoughts.

1) Taylor Mac is nominated for best play for Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus. I don't think it is the strongest play in this category, but it was daring by today's Broadway standards and I'd rather see a play that takes risks than a boring one. Plus, I believe judy (Taylor Mac's preferred pronoun) is the first gender nonconforming artist to be nominated for a Tony, certainly the first in this category. The rest of the best play category includes a woman (Heidi Schreck) and a POC (Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney), which shouldn't still be such a big deal in 2019, but until the majority of Broadway plays aren't written by white men, it is. All three made their Broadway debuts this season and were nominated. I think it's probably between Schreck's What The Constitution Means To Me and Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, which were my two favorite Broadway plays of the season, so I'd be ok with either scenario. And even though I said I'd focus about what is on the list than what's not, I'm happy not to see Lucas Hnath's Hillary and Clinton on the list. I would have nominated Straight White Men over Ink.

2) Ain't Too Proud got 12 nominations! I think it suffers the problem of all bio musicals, feeling like a list of what happened in a group's history, and because it's based on the memoir of Otis Williams, its perspective is skewed, but it was one of the most entertaining musicals of the season and the performers were outstanding. It's also only the third musical in Broadway history to have a book written by black woman, which is just insane. It's nice to see it recognized. The only musical to get more nominations is Hadestown, which deserved all its nominations.

3) In terms of new musicals, Be More Chill only got one nomination--best score by Joe Iconis, which is the one that it deserved the most. I would have nominated it for best musical over Beetlejuice.

4) Can we talk about the best featured actor nominations for Gideon Glick (To Kill A Mockingbird) and Benjamin Walker (All My Sons)? These are both very deserving for those particular performances, two of the highlights of their respective shows, but it's even more satisfying because they should have been nominated for other performances in other years (Glick for Significant Other and Walker for American Psycho). 

5) The featured categories this year are particularly stacked. Featured actress in a play is also notable because Julie White and Kristine Nielsen, the two actresses in Gary, only had a week of rehearsal. Nielsen took over Andrea Martin's role and White took took over Nielsen's old role (this is a fascinating article about how it all came together so quickly). Nathan Lane is the only actor in that play to not be nominated, which is a little sad, but I think he'll be fine. Ruth Wilson was a highlight of that production of King Lear, and its only nomination, and Fionnula Flanagan was so memorable in The Ferryman, but I hope Celia Keenan-Bolger wins, and I think it's likely that she will.

6) The featured actor in a musical is also great. I'm happy that some of the people that didn't make it to our final Drama Desk list are here, notably Ephraim Sykes (Ain't Too Proud), Andy Grotelueschen (Tootsie), and double nominee Jeremy Pope (Ain't Too Proud). Also, Patrick Page (Hadestown), since he wasn't eligible for the Drama Desks. I'm happy that we nominated Corbin Bleu, George Salazar, and Patrick Vaill, since they weren't nominated here. I know the Tony and Drama Desk Awards aren't equivalent, but I just want everyone to win awards. I would have also liked to see a nomination for John Behlmann, since I think playing dumb is a skill that doesn't get appreciated enough. See also James Davis, Will Parker in the Oklahoma! revival, who also didn't get enough love this awards season, but again, too much competition. I am available to comfort either one of them should they need it.
7) And the other featured category is, of course, featured actress in a musical. It's odd that Lilli Cooper from Tootsie is in this category, since she is the female lead of that show, but I'm happy to see her in any category. (So many nominations for Spring Awakening alumni, both Broadway productions!) This is probably between scene stealers Amber Gray, Sarah Stiles, and Ali Stroker, and I think it should be a three-way tie (a five-way tie would be fine too). If Stroker wins, she will be the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony.
8) I don't want to jinx it, but Santino Fontana is going to win a Tony Award. He is up against some deserving people, including one of my other favorites, Damon Daunno, but I think it's Fontana's year, and since I am a very vocal fan, that also makes it my year, right?
9) Rachel Chavkin is the only female director nominee in either category and she better win for the way she restaged Hadestown for Broadway. She should have won for The Great Comet as well.
If you read these rambling thoughts, thank you, and congratulations to all the nominees!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

RENT Not-So-Live from the Perspective of a Studio Audience Member

By now, if you're the type of person who cares about theater and/or television (and if you're reading this, I assume you are), you're aware of what happened with what was supposed to be Rent: Live on Fox. Brennin Hunt, the actor playing Roger, injured his ankle during a quick change before the last scene of the dress rehearsal. Because he was too injured to perform the way it was blocked and because TV musicals don't have understudies, the show couldn't go on as planned, so Fox aired the dress rehearsal, save for the last 15 minutes, which were live. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for both and my experience was such a positive one that I wanted to offer another perspective, since the reviews I've seen have been overwhelming negative.

Of course, we had no idea at the time that the dress rehearsal was going to be what was shown on TV (had I known, I probably would have fixed up my hair a little more). They ran the show almost the whole way through, commercial breaks and all, with almost no issues until the last scene. The commercial countdown clock went to zero, but the show didn't start. We waited and still nothing happened until eventually we were told of Brennin's Hunt injury and that they would finish the show with him sitting on a table. They said he rolled his ankle, but we had no idea the severity of the injury and whether he'd be able to perform the next night. They closed the show as planned, with the original cast members coming out for "Seasons of Love." 

From my perspective, that dress rehearsal was a success. I didn't feel like the performers were holding back, although some of the numbers came across weaker than others and I'm sure the actors would have loved the chance to redo them. But for the most part, I liked this cast, particularly Jordan Fisher and of course, Brandon Victor Dixon. I was seated in the section where "La Vie Boheme" was staged (you can even see me on TV during that scene) and that was a particular highlight due to Fisher's dancing ability and the fact that they were able to keep so many of the lines I thought they would cut. 

The energy from the crowd was infectious that whole night. From what I've read, on TV, the audience came across as too loud, so maybe the sound could have been better handled, but when live musicals don't have an audience, there are awkward silences. I also like the way this one incorporated the audience--giving us candles to hold during "Will I?," which was a beautiful moment, and having Mark and Roger in a mosh pit for "What You Own" (shockingly, not where the injury happened). Sure, I could complain about some of the lyric changes (how dare they replace, "Think twice before you poo-poo it"?), but mostly they stayed true to the original. When I heard they were doing this musical on live television, I thought they would have to censor so much more than they did, so I'm thrilled that they kept so many of the lyrics (I learned a lot about what you can and can't say on TV).

On Sunday night, I was seated in a completely different section (directly in front of the apartment, the set that sees the most action), and I was excited to have a different view. Ten minutes before 5 pm, Marc Platt, the producer, gave a speech just like he did the night before about how Rent is about community, but this time he explained that due to Hunt's injury, the dress rehearsal would be shown on TV and it would be playing on screens for us in the studio, but the cast still wanted to perform for us, so they would also be singing for us during many numbers. Then for the last scene, we would actually go live. We were also told that we could take photos and videos and post as much as possible on social media except during the live portion. So we did. And that's when those watching on TV got wind of what was happening in the studio. As others have noted, this concert version felt reminiscent of the first preview of Rent at NYTW, the night after Jonathan Larson's death and I understand why that would have been way more exciting to watch, but I also recognize why it would have been logistically impossible to show what we were seeing on TV. They worked on this production for an entire year. I don't think they could have re-blocked everything in less than 24 hours, especially with all those cameras. Here's a great Twitter thread explaining this better than I could.

Jordan Fisher and Kiersey Clemons performing
"Tango: Maureen" on Sunday night. 😍 
Those of us in the audience were happy to share our experiences on social media, not to brag, but because to share what the cast was able to accomplish, since they weren't showing it on TV. I tried to post some videos on Twitter, but my phone is pretty crappy. There are some better quality ones on the official @RENTonFOX Twitter page, and I highly recommend watching those if you haven't. I'm guessing if they release a DVD, it will include a lot more footage from the studio.

The numbers were not always performed on the same sets as the night before, probably to make sure everyone around the studio got to see an equal amount of the numbers. The cast members sounded even better than they did the night before (maybe because the pressure was off) and they had fun, playing with Hunt's wheelchair. They improvised, Fisher performed the "La Vie Boheme" choreography on the floor rather than a table. Audience members sang along. It felt like a celebration of this musical I've loved for over 20 years. 

I feel terrible for those involved that the show was so poorly received and they didn't really get to do what they spent a year preparing for, but I'm grateful that they still put on a show. It's an experience I'll never forget.