Tony Awards Tournament Finals — The Best Musical 2010-2019

Hamilton vs. Come From Away

Winner: Come From Away

Am I committing an act of musical-theater sacrilege by not naming Hamilton the best musical of the decade?

To begin with some similarities, both Hamilton and Come From Away are sung-through musicals exploring key moments in American history. They both begin with toe-tapping expositional songs (“Alexander Hamilton” and “Welcome to the Rock”) that introduce not only the characters and settings but also unique narration styles. They both have show-stopping power-ballads (“Wait for It” and “Me and the Sky”) in which characters connect their passions to their fears. They both have songs that explore the pressures of time (“Nonstop” and “On the Edge”) and songs that divert from the style of the show to relieve tension (“What’d I Miss” and “Screech In”).

Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs performs “What’d I Miss.”

Hamilton is the more extensive musical – it’s an hour longer and covers a span of 28 years. It explores the political maneuverings needed to secure a strong federal government back in 1790, and by extension manages to communicate a great deal about the divided politics of today. For many, the casting of Hamilton emphasizes the degree to which America is and always has been a land of diversity.

Come From Away is much smaller in scale – it is under two hours with no intermission, features a cast of 12, and uses a limited set comprised mostly of chairs and creative lighting. Yet, while Hamilton persuades us to reexamine events that define America, Come From Away inspires us to find hope within the tragedy that defined an entire generation. I am sure everyone 30 years and older remembers the moment he/she first learned of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. I was 23 on that day, working as a graphic artist in New Jersey, when our art director’s phone rang. While listening to his wife, he told me, “Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”

Becky Gulsvig performs as Beverly in the touring company of Come From Away.

What makes Come From Away so exceptional is its exploration of how the shock and horror following the attacks engendered unified experiences. It turns out there is no better place to explore community than Newfoundland. As “Welcome to the Rock” tells us, Newfoundlanders have survived harsh weather, grueling waters, and loss of loved ones, and yet they maintain overwhelming optimism grounded in their pride for being Islanders. From the moment that Bonnie says to Oz, “Jesus H, Oz! Turn on your radio!” Come From Away moves through the moments following September 11 that exist in our shared memories. Here are just five scenes that invoke significant emotional reactions:

  • In “Bedding and Blankets”, Newfoundlanders feel stir crazy from the constant, repetitive news coverage: “Can I help? Is there something / I need to do something / To keep me from thinking of / All of those scenes on the tube.”
  • In “Phoning Home”, the stranded passengers forego exhaustion and hunger for the chance to assure their loved ones that they are okay.
  • In “On the Edge”, Ali endures unwarranted hostility from other passengers because he is Muslim.
  • In “Costume Party”, Beverly (an American Airlines pilot) announces to the passengers on her plane that the United States airspace is still closed, and no one knows how long it will be before it reopens.
  • At the end of “Something’s Missing”, a song about how quiet Gander seemed after the passengers departed, Hannah calls Buelah to announce that “It’s over,” meaning that there is no longer hope that her son, a NYC firefighter, survived.
The Broadway cast performs “28 Hours”, in which passengers contend with being stuck in their planes on the runway for as long as a full day.

Even with scenes that so effectively pay tribute to all that was lost because of the terrorist attacks, Come From Away is more about generosity than despair. The 7,000 plane people discovered that they had landed in a world of front doors that are never locked, casserole dishes too heavy to lift, and even an alcohol-induced initiation involving kissing a cod fish. Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music, and lyrics after conducting interviews at the 10-year anniversary in Gander. This anniversary event becomes the setting for one of the most rousing final numbers in musical theater history. For days I was actively bobbing my head and singing aloud the show’s anthem: “I am an Islander.”

The touring company of Come From Away performs “Screech In”, in which four come-from-aways are initiated as Newfoundlanders.

Hamilton is extraordinary, but Come From Away – a small-scale Canadian musical – holds its place as my favorite musical of the decade. Its inspirational storytelling and quality songs create the perfect depiction of how the modern world finds hope within the shadow of tragedy.

Tony Awards Tournament Finals — The Best Musical 2010-2019

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 4)

Before continuing the tournament, I would like to pay tribute to Broadway actor Nick Cordero, who passed away from COVID-19 on July 5. Cordero had scene-stealing talent—his imposing 6ft, 5in frame making him a perfect fit for menacing roles. I saw Cordero perform in five shows: The Toxic Avenger, Rock of Ages, Bullets Over Broadway, Waitress, and A Bronx Tale. In The Toxic Avenger, Cordero threw himself with full manic energy into the role of nerd turned environmental superhero turned political. In Bullets Over Broadway, Cordero earned a Tony nomination for his turn as a mafia bodyguard with a secret talent for fixing bad scripts. Cordero will be greatly missed by the Broadway community. He is survived by his wife Amanda Kloots and his 9-month-old son.

Nick Cordero in his various roles. He starred as Melvin Ferd and as the titular superhero in The Toxic Avenger (with Celina Carvajal); as Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway (with Zach Braff); and as Sonny in A Bronx Tale (with Hudson Loverro)

Tournament Recap — the Final Four

Now that we are down to the elusive Final Four, trying to find flaws in any of the competitors is just nit-picking. Therefore, in this semi-final round I am going to celebrate the two musicals not moving to the finals with a consolation prize focusing on a Tony that each musical did not win in its respective year.

Dear Evan Hansen vs. Hamilton

Winner: Hamilton
Dear Evan Hansen consolation prize: Best Scenic Design

I have discussed how Dear of Hansen captures the fears and anxieties of today’s teenagers. The scenic design by David Korns embodies the paradoxical relationships we have with social media. During critical moments characters are surrounded by digital messages—big, small, relevant, immaterial, supportive, antagonistic. For Evan Hansen, this overload of technology contributes to his anxiety and his perception that no would listen to anything he has to say. The marvel of Korns’s work is that the flashing lights and moving screens do not distract from the characters on stage. Instead, they highlight that all of the characters feel this same sense of isolation at various times. Oddly enough, Dear Evan Hansen’s 9 Tony nominations did not include a nod for scenic design. My only explanation is the nominating committee fell for the allure of lavish sets in shows like Hello Dolly! and failed to grasp the more complex accomplishments of Evan Hansen‘s design.

Hamilton moves to the finals, but Dear Evan Hansen is worthy of its multi-year distinction as the second hottest musical ticket on Broadway.

Fun Home vs. Come From Away

Winner: Come From Away
Fun Home consolation prize: Best Featured Actress, Sydney Lucas

Sydney Lucas (with Michael Cerveris) in the iconic opening scene.

Fun Home lasted about a year and a half on Broadway, which is an achievement for a small-cast musical based on a very literary, autobiographical graphic novel. Alison Bechdel is split into three characters. Here oldest characterization is searching to find a reason behind her father’s suicide. Medium Alison is navigating the awkward first year when she acknowledged that she was a lesbian. However, Small Alison is the backbone for the entire show, and the actress playing her must convey innocence even as the audience begins to piece together the mysteries of her father. Why does Bruce tell her that he is “a bad man” when he is on his way to court? Where does Bruce sneak out to in the middle of the night in New York, leaving his kids alone in an apartment? Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys” was the stand-out moment of the 2015 Tony Awards, and her brilliant performance lives on in Fun Home’s soundtrack.

Come From Away is a bigger, more universal musical making this particular bracket a mismatch, but Fun Home would be my choice in a tournament consisting just of the smaller musicals.

That leaves us with the final two shows: Hamilton and Come From Away. Check back soon to see which will be named the best Broadway musical of the 2010 decade.

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 4)

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 To 2019 (Part 3)

Today we are continuing to the semifinals of the tournament to decide the best Tony-nominated musical of the 2010-2019 decade. I explained the methodology for choosing these musicals in part 1 of this series. These are the pairings for the semifinals. If you would like to see me explain my choices, here is a video.

Continue reading “Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 To 2019 (Part 3)”
Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 To 2019 (Part 3)

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (part 1)

The Tony awards, originally scheduled for June 7, are delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 crisis. You can still check the potential nominees for Best Musical and Best Play (original and revival) at tonyawards.com.

YouTuber Katherine Steele created a March Madness-style Broadway musical tournament titled Which Broadway Show is the Best?, which I recommend watching. Fair warning that Katherine’s energy will make you feel lethargic by comparison. I decided to create my own tournament to determine my pick for the best musical of the 2010’s decade. I will be presenting this tournament over four posts, with each post featuring four pairings. For those who prefer a verbal run down of my choices, I created a video. Check out the video here.

The Methodology

I started by including the Best Musical winner from each year from 2010-2019. Unfortunately, a glowing omission exists because I have not yet seen Hadestown, so the 2019 Best Musial winner is not in the tournament. However, the other nine Tony winners from the decade are included along with seven wildcards–my seven favorite nominees that did not win Best Musical in their respective years.

The Bracket

Consider playing at home before reading my pics. The first-round pairings are based on a commonality between the two shows. If you have not seen one of the musicals, you can give its competitor a bye for the round. Also, I included links to each show’s performance at its respective Tony Awards ceremony, so you can see a small piece of each for yourself.

Continue reading “Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (part 1)”
Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (part 1)

Song of Spider-man by Glen Berger (a book review)

In the book Which Lie Did I Tell, famed screenwriter William Goldman explains a concept with applications beyond the movie business. To paraphrase, Goldman stated in reference to two films released in 1997: Of course everyone in America wanted to see a four-hour love story about the sinking of the Titanic, and no one wanted to see Kevin Costner play a singing post-apocalyptic mailman… in hindsight. The truth is, until they open, no one knows which movies people will want to see.

Spider-man_2
Continue reading “Song of Spider-man by Glen Berger (a book review)”
Song of Spider-man by Glen Berger (a book review)

An American in Paris—Drury Lane (3/12/20)

Before Thursday, March 12, I had not comprehended the extent to which COVID-19 is an unprecedented event in our lifetimes.  The reality, not surprisingly, hit me while I sat in a theater—specifically the Drury Lane Oakbrook. Prior to the show, two Drury Lane executives addressed the audience and tearfully announced that we were witnessing the last production of An American in Paris. This large-scale musical would be closing early in accordance with Governor Prizker’s executive order.

American in Paris_2
Will Skrip (as Henri) at the end of “(I’ll Build a) Stairway to Paradise”

Continue reading “An American in Paris—Drury Lane (3/12/20)”

An American in Paris—Drury Lane (3/12/20)

Year in Review—2019’s Best Musicals

#1. Six (Chicago Shakespeare)

Six_Chicago Shakes
Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack & Anna Uzele (each will be reprising her role on Broadway starting February 13)

I was skeptical about a rock musical starring the wives of Henry VIII until I learned that my friend’s teenage daughters were already devoted fans. Six (like Hamilton before it) is a testament to the power of using reimagined history to tell a story that reflects our contemporary world. Every song is a winner—particularly “Don’t Lose Ur Head” and “All You Wanna Do”—in this fun, inventive musical with a powerful feminist conclusion.

Continue reading “Year in Review—2019’s Best Musicals”

Year in Review—2019’s Best Musicals

NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19

Greater Clements

Haley Sakamoto (Kel) and Edmund Donovan (Joe)

Samuel Hunter sits among my favorite playwrights based on the strength of The Whale and Pocatello. One can make a sure bet that a Hunter play will build to a mesmerizing, semi-tragic climax as characters push themselves beyond their own limitations.

Continue reading “NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19”

NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19

Year in Review – 2018’s Best Musicals

This list focuses on local Chicago productions as opposed to the traveling companies, which also provided some exceptional offerings in 2018 (most notably Miss Saigon at the Cadillac).

#1. Haymarket (Underscore Theater)

Haymarket

Thank goodness Chicago audiences embraced this musical about the city’s infamous Haymarket Affair of 1886. The folk music score by Alex Higgin-Houser and David Kornfeld is a fitting tribute to labor leaders like Albert Parsons (Erik Pearson), Lucy Parsons (Bridget Adams-King) and August Spies (T.J. Anderson), who were in the process of unifying working people around the cause of an eight-hour workday when a bomb destroyed their peaceful protests. I was able to see Haymarket on its second extension at its second theater; hopefully we’ll see another remounting in the near future.

Continue reading “Year in Review – 2018’s Best Musicals”

Year in Review – 2018’s Best Musicals

Broadway Shows — 12/22/18 & 12/23/18

Network

Network 2

To start with the greatest asset of this adaption of a 1976 movie: Bryan Cranston. Not just his acting, but the effects that propel a close-up of Cranston’s face across the entire back of the stage during Howard Beale’s iconic breakdown. From my seat in the front row, I saw Cranston run up the aisle in a state of dementia and then shed tears as he decries a country where corporate money dominates the needs of everyday citizens. And, yes, I felt angry as Cranston stood in dead silence, and then exploded in Beale’s mantra: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (if you want, you can purchase a $20 coffee cup with the slogan in the lobby)

Continue reading “Broadway Shows — 12/22/18 & 12/23/18”

Broadway Shows — 12/22/18 & 12/23/18