ATB Reviews the Tonys

Collective Article, Put Together by Sabrina Wallace

James Corden As Host

By Amelia Brooker

 Still reeling in the success of hosting the 2016 Tonys, James Corden returned on Sunday evening to resume his hosting duties three years later. Many speculated if Corden was involved enough in the Broadway community to serve as host, especially with such a stacked year for both musicals and plays. Clearly, he had his work cut out for him. Would he be able to live up to his past performance? Would he struggle to follow last year’s team of hosts? Or would he flop like Kevin Spacey?

In the end, he prevailed. His opening number, while perhaps not among the greatest of all time, was inventive and exciting. Corden was smart to capitalize on his TV success, comparing live theatre to entertainment through screen in his number “We Do It Live”. Multitudes of cast members were featured, filling the entire stage and leaving Corden with a look of pure joy as it ended. Corden’s segments throughout the show were memorable as well, perhaps the most being his “James in the Bathroom” spoof from the nominated show Be More Chill. Having Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles return was a delight, with a special appearance by fan favorite, four-time host Neil Patrick Harris.

 

James Corden marks the nineteenth person to host the Tonys multiple times, and for good reason. He lived up to his previous experience, made everyone laugh with hilarious segments, and ultimately added his own personal flair to the show. I don’t doubt he’ll return for a third time in the future, having set a standard for years to follow.

 

 A Non-theatre Nerd Response to the 2019 Tony Awards

By Elizabeth Bergmann

 I watched the Tony Awards with my family, and since they haven’t followed the season as closely as a lot of us theatre fans have, here’s a quick look at some of the things that were said during the show, in no particular order:

 “It’s weird that he [James Corden] isn’t singing in a crosswalk.”

“That’s a lot of people raising their hands. Have there really been that many dead people on Law & Order?”

“Oh, Radio City must be happy they’re showing off their hydraulics so much tonight. They talk about that a lot in the tour.”

“That’s a lot of Temptations.”

“Since when is Scout Finch an adult?”

“Kristen Chenoweth’s face doesn’t match her neck. If I were her, I’d have it out for whoever did my makeup.”

“I’ve used that bathroom. It’s a nice bathroom.”

“That’s Neil from White Collar?”

“She’s Ado Annie? She’s got a voice on her.”

“Ooh, I’m glad Bob Mackie won!”

“Catherine O’Hara was in Beetlejuice?”

“Oh, Ado Annie won! That’s exciting!”

“I’m sorry, but he [Santino Fontana] is way too pretty as Dorothy Michaels.”

“Oh, you wanted this actress [Stephanie J. Block]  to win, right? It’s just like watching Cher instead of an actress playing Cher.”

“I thought you said Jeff Daniels was the winner.”

“What’s this play about?”

“What’s this musical about?”

“MRS. MAISEL IS BLONDE?”

“I thought you said this wouldn’t be like last year where one show was winning everything.”

“Wow is that King Kong segment impressive. And the cast of Moulin Rouge! Talking about it fits ‘Spectacular Spectacular’.”

“This is the show [Hadestown] you thought would win, right?”

 

A Night At The Tonys

By Sabrina Wallace 


Sabrina Wallace’s Tony ticket. Photo Credit: Sabrina Wallace

Sabrina Wallace’s Tony ticket. Photo Credit: Sabrina Wallace

 

I’m the jeans and t-shirt kind of gal so wearing a full-length gown and 6” heels was a monument event on its own. When I put on my shinny ball gown and 6” heels on Sunday evening, I walked into a dream. I say a dream, because there is no way, this was all real. Radio City Hall was buzzing with the excitement of everyone involved. We walked around and took pictures at the foot of the stage, peaked at the big celebrities of the hour. Adam Driver (Burn This) in a classic black tux, Lilli Cooper (Tootsie) in a gorgeous blue dress, our dearest Beth Leavel (The Prom) in a gorgeous sparkling gown, and Caitlin Kinnunen (The Prom) in a Kenneth Cole pant suit that was wicked sleek. André De Shields (Hadestown) was a rock star sporting Hermes-type golden shoes with wings! 

 

The event started at 7pm EST. During the non-televised first hour of the show, Aaron Tveit, Danny Burstein, and Karen Olivo presented the Creative Arts Awards that were later shown for TV audiences between takes. Attendees took turns to go get drinks and meet and greet with friends and fellow artists. I got to see Eva Noblezada and Reeve Carney walking down the stairs together. Carney helping Noblezada with her dress (such a cute moment between co-stars). His outfit was something for sure, top hat and all. Eva Noblezada looked lovely and fresh! 

At 8pm James Corden showed up and the live portion of the show started. I personally loved every little bit of it (except not winning of course). All in all, it was a great evening for the industry and the celebration was the reason why we do this thing called theatre! The commercial breaks were so much fun. I don’t think I can watch this from my home ever again and not be there in person enjoying the electricity and the warmth that emanates from each artist or supporter of the arts in that room. It is exhilarating! 

 

During commercial breaks, Ben Platt performed “Tomorrow" from Annie, Anthony Ramos and Chris Jackson sang “96,000” from In the Heights and Billy Porter brought down the house with a spectacular rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy. Who wouldn’t love him in that outfit and with that voice!  There was also a silly little stunt about how nice Broadway people are - which is actually true - until Laura Linney and Audra McDonald gave James what he wanted, a fake feud! Corden was on fire, joking with the audience at all levels of appropriateness. Everyone was in a good mood, so it was an entertaining evening. 

 

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James Corden and Ben Platt doing Karaoke. Photo Credit: Sabrina Wallace

My own little secret to share. My partner and I were sandwiched between the production team of Tootsie and Hadestown, but the electricity of the evening was contagious. We held hands during the Best Musical announcement and briefly embraced each other tight when our show wasn’t called. We still stood up and honored the winners. That is how this it’s done. We need to celebrate each other! Not knowing this, our daughters were doing the same up in the Mezzanine. They cried a little bit too. It wasn’t because we didn’t win but because they were so proud of our show and what it brings to this world that they couldn’t hold the emotions any longer.  

 

Empty handed but filled with pride for my cast and crew, we left the event to go to the Gala at the Plaza. We met some of the winners and the rest of the nominees there. The food was amazing, there were people performing at a cabaret style show hosted by Feinstein’s/54 Below, and happiness all around. I got to meet Aaron Tveit, André De Shields, Laura Donnelly and my all-time favorite star Ms. Kelli O’Hara, who is beyond gracious and sweet! 

 

THE PROM at the Gala  From left to right, co-producers James and Sabrina Wallace, composer Matthew Sklar and co-producer Laura Galt. Pc: Sabrina Wallac

THE PROM at the Gala

From left to right, co-producers James and Sabrina Wallace, composer Matthew Sklar and co-producer Laura Galt. Pc: Sabrina Wallac

After the Plaza, we made our way to our own party and celebrated with our lovely cast and co-producers before calling it for the night. The cast was in good spirits and we congratulate them all for having such a great performance. We think The Prom gave one of the best performances of the evening, and hope audiences got to appreciate what our show has to offer “love, understanding, equality, and a place where everyone is accepted no matter who they happen to love!” If you haven’t seen it click here: https://www.cbs.com/shows/tony_awards/video/dhEZWsB___ccJ3vJD6iW66OmHBjR6liY/the-cast-of-the-prom-performs-tonight-belongs-to-you-it-s-time-to-dance-at-the-2019-tony-awards/?fbclid=IwAR1F_79I8kXKsYRNiiiUX17Uj7R9trWFahWN1WIa-amDUkzSbR4v3bL27hE

 

I woke up from my dream Monday morning and went back to reality! Life moves on ….  For my husband and I, this is a business, but we do this because we love theatre, we love putting shows out there that can have an impact on people’s lives. Our cast talks to people at stage door after every show and the stories they hear are heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. They hear from kids whose parents don’t know they are gay, and the show gives them the courage to open that door. There are adults that never felt they belonged anywhere, but the show makes them feel embraced. Or parents that come to understand that their kids cannot choose who they love, and the show gives them a way to start having an open dialog about their own lives. Overall, this is a show that opens hearts, widens horizons, and embraces the uniqueness in each and every one of us. Even those that don’t like the show, come to appreciate it for what it tries to convey, a message of acceptance.  In the words of our genius lyricist Chad Beguelin, "Build it now, make people see how the world could one day be, it might come true if we take a chance” — (“It’s time to dance!”) Take a chance at The Prom, take a chance at each other. Make the world a better place for everyone!

 

Finally ….

 

“Let Us Entertain You”- Reviewing the performances at the 2019 Tony Awards

By David Culliton

 

Opening - Probably the best way to describe the majority of James Corden’s opening number this year is “cute.” First off, it unfortunately didn’t measure up to his opening at the 2016 Tonys. “That Could Be Me” (as I’m going to slightly carelessly assume its title to be) was one of the best openings the Tonys has ever seen in my opinion. It was tight, it was funny, and it was a beautiful love letter to the theatre and all its participants. This year felt a little more atonal and given some pretty tired jokes and weird amount of shilling for network television and streaming services While “Live!” (see last parenthetical) didn’t pack the same punch how the show opened three years ago, that doesn’t make it a bad number. Corden, of course, gave it his all to some pretty great effect, showing off an acceptable singing voice filled with enthusiasm and some dancing/moving ability that always catches me off guard in how good it is. I appreciated the opening looking pre-recorded only to reveal itself as a set in Radio City, the magically appearing (and very talented) ensemble dancers, and even the little callback to Corden’s “Law and Order” bit from 2016. And, of course, ending the number with another heartfelt address to the world’s greatest art form from Corden while every single cast member from every nominated musical that night AS WELL AS the Tonys’ own hired performers danced and sung up on that Radio City stage was an ending unparalleled by any opening number that’s come before it. That was what really made this opening number- a showcase of ambition that continues to grow on Broadway year after year and of the artists who help that ambition come to life. “Live!” may not have been a perfect opening to the broadcast, but it was a damn good way one; a fun, heartfelt, cute way to start the show!

 

Ain’t Too Proud - Ain’t Too Proud’s medley, for reasons that are no fault of its own, is a performance that I simply don’t have much to say about, likely because I don’t really have any connection with The Temptations. But what I do have to say is good. The medley was tight, providing a brief history of the group and showcasing some of its hits with no unnecessary fluff. The (now Tony-winning) choreography was, of course, awesome, and helped to keep the energy of the number up even for someone who doesn’t know all that much about the group the show is based on. The singers were all phenomenal (special shout-out to that awesome bass who sang the “I can make it rain whenever I want it to” line). The big band playing at the end was the cherry on top. It was generally just a great showcase of the show overall that works for newcomers and Temptations fans alike. A MORE than worthy entry this year, even if I don’t have a whole lot to say about it.

 

Tootsie “Unstoppable”- Another number that I would classify as “cute.” Ultimately, despite a somewhat catchy refrain I find this song kind of unforgettable, which is a condition that you usually can’t fix, no matter how good those performing it are. And these performers are very good. While I do think that Santino Fontana looked a little out of it for a lot of the number, he was still giving as good as a performance as I imagine he possibly could after doing rehearsals, a matinee, and ceremony prep all in the same day after a full week of performances in such (a) demanding role(s) as Michael/Dorothy. He had a SOLID ensemble backing him up, decorating the stage with Tootsie’s relentlessly Broadway choreography. And, of course, the Michael-Dorothy quick change got showed off toward the end of the number, which never ceases to be an impressive feat of costume engineering and backstage wizardry. I had fun watching it once, but once was really all I needed. Good efforts all around, I just wish this performance had more to show for it.

 

Oklahoma! “I Cain’t Say No/Oklahoma”- First of all, Ali Stroker absolutely KILLED IT and showed us all why she deserves the ever-loving goodness out of her Tony. Her sultry belt and defiant attitude are a surprising fit for Ado Annie, but one that works EXCEEDINGLY well for Daniel Fish’s inventive revival. Speaking of defiance and reinvention, the cast’s rendition of the title song in the back half of the performance was a brilliant showcase of how this revival takes a well-known classic and spins it on its head without changing a word: a new attitude. We got to see the intimately staged fighting spirit of this genius revival in all its glory, and it was honestly really cool. Little touches like Ali Hakim spraying beer at the audience members seated onstage for the number, the camera circling around the cast, and the close ups of Rebecca Naomi Jones giving us a face that screams “Not Your Father’s Laurie” just added to what a great performance the cast of Oklahoma! put in on Sunday night. It lacks a certain je ne sais quoi for me to call it the best of the night, but it was up there for me. You’re doing more than fine, Oklahoma! (Okay I’ll see myself out)

 

Mid-show number - I know Be More Chill has been a divisive show this season. I myself don’t particularly care about it one way or the other, but I’m happy that a new generation is getting their own version of the Little Shop of Horrors myth that can speak to their niche experiences in a relatable way. While a performance from a show with only one nomination wasn’t necessary, given that said nomination was for the score, Corden’s mid-broadcast trio with Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban to the tune of “Michael in the Bathroom” was a pretty good compromise. This is another one I don’t have much to say about, other than: yeah, it was a lot of fun. The lyric re-writes were funny and didn’t ever feel forced, last year’s hosts popping up midway through was a fun surprise that gave the number just what it needed to finish out strong (with Neil Patrick Harris’s last second appearance one last little fun Easter egg to top it off), AND it was generally awesome to see the return of a mid-show host song, which hasn’t really happened since NPH’s medley with Andrew Rannels, Megan Hilty, and Laura Benanti several years ago. Everything about the number was a welcome, happy surprise. Not show stopping, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was just fun.

 

Beetlejuice “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)/The Whole Being Dead Thing”- Beetlejuice by FAR wins the award for the most fun performance of the night. It was cool to see the supporting cast get to jam along together to “Day-O” with the Radio City backstage area being littered with props and a couple costumes from the show, and any chance to hear Sophia Anne Caruso sing anything for even a millisecond is an absolute win in my book. And then, here he comes ladies and gentlemen!! Alex Brightman once again showed us what an utter powerhouse of a performer he is when he took over the performance to lead “Welcome to a Show About Death” while surrounded by SOLID ensemble to back him up. The whole number was executed really well, and Brightman’s dynamic take on the show’s title character kept the whole thing anchored in glorious controlled chaos. The lyric changes were even smoother than the earlier “Michael in the Bathroom” parody and made for some pretty laugh-out-loud moments (“Hey, Adam Driver…”). Also, they brought the head and tail of one of their sandworms and for a dork like me who LOVES some quality puppetry, that gets you brownie points! It was nothing but a joyous blast from start to finish, and I’m sure I’ll be finding myself watching the video of it time and time again. It was just so much FUN!!!

 

The Prom “Tonight Belongs to You/It’s Time to Dance”- Another couple individual shout-outs to start this one: Brooks Ashmanskas and Caitlin Kinnunen were awesome in the first part of The Prom’s performance. It’s so much fun seeing such an experienced stage vet and an absolutely elated newcomer play off of each other SO well (I can see why Sabrina loves her cast so much) which made their duet a lot of fun. When it came time for “It’s Time to Dance” the ensemble did a great job pulling off Nicholaw’s energetic choreo, and of COURSE getting a queer kiss on live network TV is A+++ representation so I call it an ABSOLUTE win for the performance. The mashup, while putting together two songs with matching musical themes, had me losing a sense of melody once or twice and, like with Oklahoma!, there’s a certain secret ingredient that keeps The Prom’s entry for the night from being one of my absolute favorites but that should not diminish any of good things I have to say about it. It was a tight, energetic, joyful number pulled off by a very talented cast and I’m very happy I got to see such a great sampling of such a fun show.

 

Choir Boy “Rockin’ Jerusalem”- Choir Boy’s performance was utterly powerful. It’s always cool to get to see a play perform to break up the musical routine, which is made even better when what the play is presenting is really strong material. “Rockin’ Jerusalem” delivered on that front, with an a cappella arrangement and well-done step choreography step choreography to illustrate the strength the young men of color have to find within themselves in this play. This was only bolstered by the little acting bits we got to see that showed off how well rounded and talented the cast of Choir Boy is. While it wasn’t quite the best of the night, it was poignant, and an image that I think will stick with me for a while.

 

Hadestown “Wait for Me”- Call me basic, but in my humble opinion Hadestown gave the best performance of the night, hands down. Their rendition of “Wait for Me” was simply breathtaking (that sounds like a cliché, but I was audibly gasping at several points throughout the song). Everything about the number was perfectly executed, from the blocking adapted to Radio City’s stage, to each performer on that stage giving wonderful samples of the essences of their characters, and with the help of some of the night’s best cinematography to boot. The way so many of those shots were framed, complimented by Hadestown’s stellar aesthetic, is a classic example of the famous phrase “every frame a painting.” All that being said, I still have my minor gripes. Reeve Carney’s yelling “Eurydice!!” sounded like a teenage boy in the throes of his first voice crack, and I wish we had gotten more of Patrick Page, Eva Noblezada, and Amber Gray to get a fuller scope of the show’s four acting nominees. However, they each portrayed so much in so little time onstage, André De Shield’s narration was awesome (always a bonus to see someone perform AFTER they accept their award), Carney gave it 200% (it was even cooler to get to see him really show off his best despite not getting a nom), and the ensemble utterly killed it. The entire performance was a testament to what a worthy winner Hadestown won on Sunday, and that’s the best kind of Tonys performance: the one that looks its viewers in the eyes and shows them exactly why they deserve that coveted trophy.

 

Kiss Me Kate “Too Darn Hot”- I know this isn’t exactly a hot take, but “Too Darn Hot” is kind of stock choice, and that’s kind of lame. It was this year’s “Blow High, Blow Low,” which is far from a bad thing! It’s always cool to have the song every year that serves to show off 5 minutes of pure, exhilarating dance. I just wish they hadn’t picked the one song that anyone could see coming from a mile away to do so with. But I can’t complain too much. Basic choice or no, the choreography, of course, was still impressive. Corbin Bleu and James T. Lane leading the number got to show off their chops (the latter in both dancing AND some pretty solid singing, brief as it was), and the rest of the cast kept up like utter champs. Elizabeth, who’s been in KMK, pointed out to me the impressiveness that the choreography managed to hit every single random beat toward the end of the music, which upon a re-watch or two (and perhaps an attempted recreation), I’ve determined that the song does deserve a fair bit of credit for that, as doing so is A Lot Harder Than It Looks™. Add to it that the cameras did an impressive job at keeping up with the frenetic, stage-wide movement and you have a serviceable song choice that brought a fun, somewhat impressive 4 minutes that showed that this revival has, in fact, taught an old dog some new tricks.

 

The Cher Show “Believe”- Full disclosure, Cher’s not totally my thing, so there may be a part of me going into TCS’ performance on Sunday that just didn’t quite get it. What I did get from Elizabeth is that she and many others concur that Stephanie J. Block’s Cher has transcended imitation and has reached total reincarnation, which I can certainly appreciate, and even as someone who knows next to nothing about this show’s titular “warrior goddess” I could tell just from her opening monologue that Block has utterly stepped outside of herself to recreate this icon of the music industry. As impressive as that is, I have to admit that the performance of “Believe” on the whole felt weirdly low-energy for most of its duration. I know “Believe” isn’t exactly the kind of song designed to get your heart racing, but the performance seemed to be parading itself as this big show-off moment for the neglected musical, but there was a vitality that I felt was missing. The song and movements were just a little too slow to make the performance fully work for me. But I know that ultimately that’s not what The Cher Show was there for on Sunday. Had things been more energetic, there’s a risk they would’ve upstaged the woman herself and the many mind-boggling (which I mean in the BEST possible way) costumes that surrounded her. At which, I must confess, it succeeded brilliantly. Block absolutely shone, and at the end when that low bass beat hits and she stood there, arms spread as if to tell the audience to commence their worship of her, flanked on both sides by the skinned hides of rejected Muppets (which, again, I somehow mean in nothing but a complementary way), I realized that no matter how underwhelmed I was by the number, it still unequivocally succeeded. “Believe” showed off this show’s two greatest, DESERVEDLY Tony-winning assets- Stephanie J. Block in the role of a lifetime, and the most glorious assembly of spandex, sequins, & sparkling accessories any costumer has EVER dreamed up- which is all that this number really needed. I may not have loved it, but damn me if I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

 

And for those of you wondering why I didn’t discuss Cynthia Erivo’s In Memoriam performance: she’s a goddess, I love talking about her, but I felt critiquing what’s effectively a musical eulogy would be in bad taste. My reviews, my rules.

 

Thank you for reading!!

 

 

Now you can watch the show online at https://www.cbs.com/shows/tony_awards/