Post Tony Broadway Musical Catch-Up

Four days. Seven Broadway shows. When did I have time to sleep?

Just took a brief trip to Broadway to catch up on musicals prior to the Tony Awards and I saw a lot of magic on the stage in a season that had a record number of openings.

In these seven shows, there were two musicals that had rainfall right on the stage as well as two that featured what seemed like full sized cars drive across the stage. How many layers of storage are beneath these theatres?

Before booking my tickets, I wanted to wait until the Tony nominations came out as I needed to cut my list down from 14 options to seven. Some shows I wanted to see closed before I got there: Here Lies Love (which I LOVED Off-Broadway), Lempicka and Days of Wine & Roses (Last time I was in NYC it was sold out Off-Broadway). Then there were the shows I liked but saw them pre-Broadway: Back to the Future, The Wiz and Cabaret. Let’s not forget  Once Upon a One More Time which I didn’t think I’d like so much but wasn’t surprised when it didn’t last – but I do think the choreography of that show and Justin Guarini should have been up for Tony’s.

So what did I see – here’s my list in order of preference.

The Outsiders – going into the Tony’s with 12 nominations but wasn’t predicted to win any. Well, it won four – and deservedly so. Of the shows on Broadway, this is truly the best. The acting was on-point. The songs were magic – I was drawn into their world from the opening number Tulsa ’67 and I was captivated by the entire story, which endeared me more than the book or movie version. It is one of the shows with rain which might have been more unique if it hadn’t been done before (and not just this season). But that rain scene was also part of a well-choreographed fight scene which helped elevate this story.  Sure to be a classic.

Hell’s Kitchen went into the Tony’s with the most nominations but came away with only two. But two important ones. This semi-autobiographical telling of Alicia Keys’ story, set to her own songs, found the perfect person to play the character representing her: Maleah Joi Moon, who won the Tony for Best Actress. She’s fresh, amazing and real. Someone  we really want to root for. Kecia Lewis as her musical mentor also won the Tony for best featured actress and she was a surprise winner but I thought of all of the nominees (that I saw) she really deserved it. All principal actors shined including other Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon, who always impresses.

The Great Gatsby (see full review)  has the talent and production values to have been a Tony Award favorite but alas was mostly overlooked.

Merrily We Roll Along was predicted to win six Tony Awards – a lot more than its failed original production back in the 1980s. The great cast of Tony winners Jonathan Groff and Daniel Radcliff and nominee Lindsay Mendez elevated the material in one of Steven Sondheim’s lesser known shows. With a few standout numbers like Old Friends and Not a Day Goes ByMerrily does have merit but in my opinion didn’t wow me as much as the pre-hype prepared me for. Of note, one of the swing actors – Jacob Keith Watson –  is a bear worth admiring as he plays different parts – from gay sidekick to straight father. FYI closes July 7.

Water for Elephants went away empty-handed at the Tony Awards even though it was nominated for several awards including Best Musical. The songs are all pleasant – but none left me singing out of the theatre. Still, production wise, this had great sets and choreography. A scene towards the end, not to give away, was so well staged that I had wished  Shanna Carroll and Jesse Robb won the Best Choreographer Tony Award.

The Notebook, based upon the beloved Nicholas Sparks novel and the movie with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, really got me excited but that soon fizzled a bit. I went in knowing three actors play each of the two main roles and the left race out of it – so the character of Allie may be white and one age and black at another. Keeping that in mind but I must say this interesting twist did nothing for me. In fact, I don’t  know why we needed three actors to play the three stages of life – I think two would do with a little bit of make-up. This too is one of the musicals with rain on the stage – would have been more impressive if it didn’t happen in another show this season or, if I recall, the first time with the musical Leap of Faith, from years ago. The cast was all really good, though, but more an ensemble so don’t know why Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood were singled out for Tony’s and in the lead category no less…more fitting in the featured actor categories. All-in-all, it was good with some nice songs but expected more.

Illinoise was a last minute addition to the Broadway season and my trip, since it just sold out the theatre Off-Broadway to rave reviews. Sure many will comment on this but I didn’t like it at all. Not to blame the production, but after viewing I decided I need something more literal. This told a story – mostly an LGBTQ+ one at that – through dance with no dialog but with songs where the singers and the orchestra were not on stage, but mostly in the wings. It won the Tony Award for Best Choreography and was nominated for Best Musical. It does have an audience – but it is too esoteric for my tastes.

You should find a time to get to New York to see some great productions. Sure many will tour, but we will have to wait over a year and on tour many shows lose some of their production values as they only stay in a city for a limited time.

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, www.reelkev.com and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for Examiner.com and contributes to progressivepulse.com as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."