It is that time of year when the Broadway community in New York City shines their bright lights on the 'best of the best' with the annual Tony Awards ceremony. The show being broadcast live on Sunday, June 9th on CBS got me thinking about what I thought was the best from what I've seen this year.
Last summer, Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons stepped into some big shoes when he did the revival of "Harvey" (made famous by Jimmy Stewart). A completely different take on the show, I found it very charming. I guess Tony voters had forgotten about his summer run.
The fall, I caught a new musical of an old story. The life of "Chaplin" was brought to the stage by a new composer/lyricist Christopher Curtis who had worked on it for years. Producers brought in Broadway veteran Thomas Meehan to work on the script, but the show still did not stay open long enough for people to catch an amazing and moving performance by Rob McClure in the title role - but Tony voters took notice and he's up for lead actor in a musical.
An absolutely charming musical based on a favorite movie is "A Christmas Story" that only closed because it was a limited holiday run, otherwise - it would still be going. Awesome cast, a score by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul that feels fresh and yet nostalgic; this show will continue to have life each year as many fell deeply in love and it is up for several Tony awards. If a tour comes to your town this coming Christmas - RUN to see it!
One of my favorite performances this year was at the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of "The Other Place" with Laurie Metcalf in the lead. Her unraveling in a brilliant performance in this powerfully beautiful moving drama did not go unnoticed by Tony voters. Author Sharr White deserves to have his piece seen and produced over and over. MTC offers unique shows for their audiences and I really appreciate their ability to choose controversial pieces that make people talk. Their other highly nominated show is Richard Greenberg's "The Assembled Parties". A show that is so rooted in the study of relationships, I actually found myself waiting for more to occur while still enjoying the wonderful performances by Judith Light, Jessica Hecht and Jeremy Shamos.
One of the big shows nominated this season is a heavy hitter with the wonderful Tom Hanks making his Broadway debut. Nora Ephron gave a nod to a business she loved when she wrote "Lucky Guy" about the life of Mike McAlary and the journalistic world in which he lived. While I did not love the show or the way in which it was narrated by the characters, I can appreciate a great ensemble and I think Courtney B. Vance should definitely walk away with a Tony award for this one.
Revivals are always a big ticket on Broadway and this season had several from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" to "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". I saw the three person play "Orphans" and while I'm certain it was produced as a vehicle for Alec Baldwin, the off-stage story seemed to get more attention than the actual show and the limited run closed early. But an exceptional performance grew from this show and he has been remembered at Tony time. In a performance that reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Tom Sturridge gives an intense and heartwarming performance that captivated me the entire evening.
Another favorite of the season for me happens to also be a revival of "The Trip to Bountiful". There are certain moments you sit in a theater and you realize you are in the presence of greatness. That was how I felt watching Cicely Tyson return to the Broadway stage for the first time in 30 years. One can't help but recall all her amazing films and how she gives her all to her roles. That was what she does every night on stage playing Carrie Watts in Horton Foote's fifty year old play. This is a must see to witness this wonderful cast including Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. The show has extended this summer, so put it on your list!
My favorite play this season has to be the multi nominated "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike". A laugh-out-loud riot retelling of Chekhov in a way only Christopher Durang could do. The entire ensemble is amazing, but kudos must go to Kristine Nielsen as Sonia who KNOWS how to do Durang, keeping me mesmerized by her pacing and delivery. Not only her comic chops, but a few moments where truth and realness shine through as well. When I see that occur in the middle of a comedy, I consider it a gift from a talented performer. Working opposite David Hyde Pierce (also nominated for a Tony) as her brother Vanya - the two are comic genius. Tickets will fly for this show after it wins Tony awards, so get them now!
This past week, I took in two of the family-fun shows up for Tonys this year: "Annie" and "Matilda". Written decades apart, they both follow a young girl on a personal journey to rise above her tough life. One full of optimism and the other is dark and brooding. Each offer a wonderful diversion from the outside world for families visiting the city, but I must admit that this older guy is pulled towards the sun coming out tomorrow instead of the darkness of Matilda's world. That said - Matilda is up for many awards and will be running long past the time Sandy makes his final run across the Palace stage.
I've missed out on several shows this year, but do hope to get to them soon. The other big musical touted as competition for "Matilda" is "Kinky Boots" with a score by Cyndi Lauper and a fun filled evening based on the movie. "Pippin" is back on Broadway and everyone I've talked to has said it is the show to see this season. And it is always wonderful to welcome back to Broadway amazing actors such as Nathan Lane in "The Nance", Bette Midler in "I'll Eat You Last", Alan Cumming in "Macbeth", and Holland Taylor in "Ann".
Whatever your preferences may be, Broadway has much to offer in plays and musicals. Take a look at what is running. Try out the half price ticket booth in Times Square. Just go see a show when you visit New York! You'll be glad you did.
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