Monday, June 13, 2016

Awesome. Wow.

I guess I should do a brief summary of my thoughts on last night's Tony Awards.

Hamilton won best musical. To quote King George III, "Awesome. Wow."

As I predicted from a couple blog posts ago, Hamilton did not break the record for most Tony award-winning show. It came close, but The Producers holds the title. The places where Hamilton lost were for scenic design (which went to, as I predicted, She Loves Me) and lead actress (which, as everyone else predicted, went to Cynthia Erivo). I thought American Psycho might have won lighting design, based on hype, but evidently hype was wrong.

Hamilton also lost two awards early in the evening, both for best featured actor in a musical. That also happened to be at the same moment it won one award for best featured actor in a musical. Later, Hamilton lost best lead actor in a musical, and lost it to Hamilton.

Clearly the Tonys last night resolved this question, but I think there could be some argument as to how an actor playing two separate roles in one show should be considered. Particularly if the roles are not dramatically connected to be played by the same actor, but in this instance just happen to have been played by the same person. Could Daveed Diggs have been nominated exclusively for playing Jefferson and not Lafayette, or vice versa? Could he have been nominated twice, once for each part? The nomination seemed to be for "Daveed Diggs" and not "Daveed Diggs in any particular role," but then, the award isn't for "best featured actor," but for "best actor in a featured role in a musical," indicating that possibly two separate roles for one actor could be considered.

Now what about two actors in one role?

The two awards that peeved me a little were Orchestrations (as my last post may have indicated), which I felt should have gone to Bright Star, and Best Lead Actor in a Musical, which I felt should have gone to Danny Burstein, who, since his Broadway debut in 1992, has been in sixteen shows on Broadway, and nominated six times for Tonys, none of which he has won. I figured Kelli O'Hara and Leonardo DiCaprio had set a precedent for sixth time's the charm.

The musical that got shorted the most, I think, was Waitress. Of the five Best Musical nominees, obviously Hamilton got the most coverage. But three of the others, Bright Star, School Of Rock, and Shuffle Along, had representation in the people connected with the show. In the case of the former two, composers Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and in the latter, from six-time Tony winning actress Audra McDonald. All four of those faces made various appearances throughout the broadcast, presenting awards, doing little skits with James Corden, and so on. But while Sarah Bareilles made a brief appearance, Waitress's coverage was almost entirely contained to its performance.

I was surprised that On Your Feet gave a performance, but I guess it was deemed marketable enough. Maybe it'll be the new Mamma Mia.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening to me was the brief snippet from The Visit which played as Chita Rivera took the stage. I still feel that The Visit was snubbed at last year's Tonys, and did not get enough love as it deserved. (It should have definitely taken home score and orchestrations -- for the latter of which it was not even nominated.)

It occurs to me that The Visit would likely have been a much better success if it had premiered this season rather than last. A lot of people have talked about what a shame it is that such terrific musicals as Bright Star and Waitress happened to premiere in a season where they were overshadowed by Hamilton, but even simply being juxtaposed to Hamilton could be enough for a significant bump. It's even possible that Hamilton got more people to watch the Tonys than who would have nomrally seen it, which could mean they saw and liked the performances from Bright Star and Watiress and so on, and that's great publicity.

And The Visit certainly could have benefited from such a bump. During the course of its short run, Lin-Manuel Miranda often tweeted and posted about how terrific The Visit was, praising it at every turn, especially the cast (including Chita Rivera) and especially the music by John Kander. Miranda even interviewed Kander after one performance of The Visit, which went to the internet shortly after. But while Lin-Manuel Miranda was certainly popular and famous at the time among the theater crowds, Hamilton had not yet blown up to the degree we see today. (And yes, this is my not-so-subtle way of claiming hipster cred on account of I knew about Hamilton before it blew up. Although it did still have a lot of hype at the time -- just not nearly as much as it has since accumulated. Now that the Tonys have happened, I think it's peaked, and the hype will gradually dry up over the next few months as the original cast leaves.)

Maybe I should just do a post all about how awesome The Visit was.

Speaking of Kander and Ebb, the 20th anniversary Chicago performance was a little short, but I guess when they're allotting time to various musicals, the twenty-year warhorse with no sign of slowing down is pretty low on the list of priorities. Still, Wicked got a full song at the Tonys for its 10th anniversary, and Phantom for its 25th.

I wonder if The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will get anything special for its 25th anniversary.

And speaking of legendary Broadway songwriting duos, is Sheldon Harnick really just wining a Lifetime Achievement award now? Did it take two large-scale revivals of popular musicals of his to remind people that he exists? (Although neither Kander nor Ebb have gotten  that award, so I guess they're just a little slow awarding it. Note that Robert Russell Bennett received a Speacial Tony Award posthumously in 2008, more than twenty-five years late.

Thanks to Jonathan Groff, I feel like there should be a third level of actor categories. At the top is lead actor/actress, of course. Then I'd suggest that featured be rechristened supporting, and a new featured category be introduced for actors particularly small, but particularly memorable roles. And there are a lot of small but memorable roles. Jonathan Groff as King George in Hamilton would, of course, be moved to this category, and so would roles such as Arpad, Sipos, and Maraczek in She Loves Me, Lazar Wolf, Fruma Sara, and Yente in Fiddler On The Roof,  Daryl and Lucy in Bright Star, Ilsa in Spring Awakening, Tulsa in Gypsy, Piragua Guy in In The Heights, the guy who sings "Why, who are you who ask this question?" in The Mikado, and more. These are all characters popular with the fans, but perhaps too small for consideration as a "feautred" role.

James Corden did a good job hosting, although I felt the carpool karaoke dragged on a little long.

There were a lot of shots against Donald Trump. I liked the political musical parodies, but I feel like James Corden could have come up with a better pun than A Clinton Line. But I guess Clinton is a hard name to make a pun out of. My First Lady was the first one I could think of, and that doesn't really apply anymore.

I didn't really like that Hamilton did the closing number. I know everyone knew it was going to win, but for the sake of an awards show, they could have at least pretended that the other nominees had a shot. It's more sportsmanlike that way.

The best performance of the evening was obviously Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber on the tambourine.

So now the Tonys are over. Over the next few months the original cast will gradually leave Hamilton, and then things will slow down, and by this time next year, we'll all be talking about whatever the new musical is that looks like it can't possibly lose to the Tonys. Possibly Dear Even Hansen or Anastasia or The One With The Really Long Title That Josh Groban Is In.

Now I can get back to writing about opera!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Dramaturgy vs. Dialogue

With the Tony Awards coming up on Sunday, I thought I'd clear up a question that seems to be confusing a lot of people. Specifically the matter of why Hamilton is eligible for the award for best book of a musical. The confusion stems from the fact that people read "book," are told it means "script," and immediately think "dialogue." Hamilton, being almost entirely sung, has minimal spoken dialogue, and so logic dictates that its "book" should really be considered as "lyrics," which are covered under the award for best score. (Which is also flawed -- it should really be two separate awards for music and lyrics, as the Drama Desk awards do. I assume the reason it isn't done is because the one year they tried it, Stephen Sondheim won both awards for Company.)

But the book of a musical is not just the dialogue. It also concerns the pacing, the dramatic structure, and the plot itself if original, and the adaptation from the source if not. In this sense, Hamilton should be considered for its book, as should Les Miserables and Evita and other sung-through musicals -- or even operas. Verdi himself adapted the libretto for his opera Simon Boccanegra, adapting it from a previously existing play. But while Verdi's is the drama, the actual words Piave's to whom Verdi gave the prose drama he had adapted to be turned into poetry for setting as an opera. In this case, I would argue that Verdi and Piave may both be considered the librettists for Simon Boccanegra. Verdi plotted out the scenes, the structure, and the pacing, and Piave wrote the words.

It is easy to conceive of a playwright who can come up with marvelous plots and execute them fantastically, but fails in writing natural dialogue. At the same time, it is not hard to imagine a playwright who excels in writing witty and entertaining dialogue, but fails in pacing and structure. Obviously the best playwrights are good at both, I think it makes sense to distinguish between the two skill sets, and it wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea for playwrights to pull a Verdi/Piave and collaborate with one on structure, and one on script. It therefore might be prudent to eliminate the Tony Award for best book of a musical, and replace it with two awards, one for best dramaturgy of a musical -- for which Hamilton would be eligible -- and one for best dialogue of a musical -- for which Hamilton would not be eligible.

You'll notice I left the Tony Awards for plays alone, even though this is something that is significantly more relevant to theater sans singing. The reason for this is that there is no Tony Award for best script of a play. It is assumed that the award for best play goes to the play with the best script, and therefore the best playwright. But best musical doesn't go by default to whatever show wins two out of three from best book, best score, and best direction. Best musical (theoretically) goes to the musical in the season with the best cross-section of all production elements. This includes dialogue, dramaturgy, music, lyrics, sets, costumes, choreography, lighting, and so on and so forth. Very often the musical that wins best musical is not the same musical that wins best book or score. And that should be the case as well for plays. Best play goes to the play with the best cross-section of all production elements, and there is introduced a new award for best script of a play -- or two, for best dramaturgy and best dialogue.

My last scruple with the Tony Awards (which I have to hastily insert here as it didn't insert naturally earlier) deals with orchestrations. I am of the opinion that for a new musical, with an original score, the award for best score should include orchestrations by default. Therefore, Lin-Manuel Miranda should not be the sole nominee for best score, but him and Alexander Lacamoire. A separate award for orchestrations should be considered for revivals and other musicals which use previously existing music, and other such cases where the songs had already been written, but the orchestrations of those songs differ from the original. But then, based on the fact that The Visit was not even nominated for orchestrations has me suspicious as to whether or not the Tony judges know what orchestrations are.

But at least dramaturgy and dialogue should be easier to distinguish.