It is around now that most theater journalists are spending their time either predicting the Tony winners or saying who they wish would win. I won't really be doing either. This might surprise some of you, but I don't care that much this year. There is nothing I feel passionate about. Sure, I could offer my predictions on who will win, but the writing of that might bore me to sleep. And that right there expresses my problem with the majority of the season's offerings -- even most of the good wasn't that exciting.
I remember being amazed by The Addams Family sets, but they weren't nominated. And, while I certainly have my favorites among the nominees, I wasn't truly emotionally invested in any of this season's offerings. I think the only shows I even stood for were revivals. (Though I want to make clear I did not see Fela!, so I cannot say whether the afrobeat would have caused me to jump out of my seat. I therefore stress that statements included in this post are about the shows I did see, everything but Fela!.)
Take Memphis, which is said to be the front-runner in the Best Musical race. Many people like it, even love it. However there are few regular theatergoers that would describe it as amazing or extraordinary. Yet here it is, ahead of the race for an award that supposedly celebrates excellence in the theater.
Longtime readers of mine will know, I like middle-of-the-road entertainment. I don't think everything should be deep or meaningful or daring. When I take my (often uncomfortable) padded seat at a Broadway house, my goal is simply to enjoy my time at the theater. At the end of the season though, I want to look back and remember things I loved. I want to say to people, "There is no place like Broadway," and mean it. I'm not sure why I can't do that this year.
Some blame the economy for the dearth of good Broadway theater, but I believe that is faulty reasoning. After all, there were risky ventures on the Great White Way this season. Memphis itself, with no stars, was not a safe bet. Enron, a gigantic play, was presented (albeit only for a short time). Fela! is about a man most Americans have never heard of. This was not a season where people didn't put money up. It's just generally what resulted from the spending wasn't spectacular.
The best productions of the season were limited engagements. After Lend Me a Tenor closes on August 15, only one 2009-2010 show I felt strongly about will still be open (La Cage). Coming from me, someone who loves the theater, that is sad.
Theater will hopefully rebound next season. I have my fingers crossed. I hope there are wonderful shows and that they stay around. Meanwhile, I am still going to watch the Tony Awards on Sunday night. I will smile brightly when things I approve of happen and grimace on other occasions. I will support the art form I love, thinking optimistically to next year's ceremony.