Tuesday, June 7, 2011

10 FAVORITES (36) - They Don't Need No Stinking Tony!

It is Tony Awards time and the Great White Way is filled with excitement!  Broadway's current musical hits The Book of Mormon and Sister Act will be vying for the top prize at Sunday night's ceremony (which will be televised on CBS and hosted by the indomitable Neil Patrick Harris).  While most pundits predict that Mormon (the irreverent musical from the creators of South Park) should easily emerge as the victor on Sunday, the other nominees (which in addition to Sister Act include: the lively Catch Me If You Can and the now-closed The Scottsboro Boys) should not be discouraged and feel that a Tony loss will mean indefinite obscurity.  There have been a plethora of Broadway musicals that have achieved a certain notoriety despite the fact they found themselves with no Best Musical trophy on Tony night.  Some of these shows lost to musicals that are just as notable (or notable in their own way) and some of these shows lost in complete "what-were-they-thinking?!?" times.  So, for this week's 10 FAVORITES, I thought we could explore some of these shows that have proven to the world that they didn't need a Tony win to make their mark in the musical theatre culture.  Here are:


Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Tony Year: 1994
Lost to: Passion
Remember I was referring to "What-were-they-thinking?!?" moments earlier, this is one of them.  Now I know that Passion has the pedigree of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine behind it (you'll see in a bit how much I respect them), but when you pick the musical that audiences hated over a show that became adored by audiences, then you really have lost touch.  If you want to stick it to the film company that revolutionized interest in musicals, you could have waited until they were producing stage duds like Tarzan and The Little Mermaid (which they did, but they could have honored this groundbreaking gem in the process!).

Sunday in the Park With George
Tony Year: 1984
Lost to: La Cage Aux Folles
This is Sondheim and Lapine's finest and most poignant musical.  It features their best work and glorious performances by its two leads (the amazing Mandy Patinkin and the fantastic Bernadette Peters) and yet, it only walked away with two Tony Awards (for its set and lighting design).  La Cage was a massive hit in the '80s and it was pretty much a given that it would receive the Best Musical award no matter what it was up against. But Sunday did get a few "last laughs," so to speak.  One of them was that it became the sixth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985 (there have since been two others: Rent and Next to Normal).

Miss Saigon
Tony Year: 1991
Lost to: The Will Rogers Follies
Cameron Mackintosh was the producer behind 3 of the biggest Tony-winning hits in the 1980s (Cats, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera).  But by 1991, the Tony love was beginning to fade.  The Tommy Tune-directed nostalgic throwback musical The Will Rogers Follies was a modest hit (meaning it closed about a year and a half later!) but was still a critical dynamo.  So even though the massive London hit Miss Saigon ended up running 10 years (that's over 4,000 performances with that giant helicopter!), Tony voters went with the critics and only gave Saigon the acting honors (for stars Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga and Hinton Battle).

Tony Year: 1963
Lost to: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Before Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, the British were "invading" Broadway with their big hits.  Oliver! was one of them.  But Forum was a big comic hit and was not going to be denied Tony glory.  Oliver! did however become a phenomenal movie that would go on to win 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Below, original London star (and 1968 movie star) Ron Moody performs Fagin's "11 o'clock number" on a BBC special.

Tony Year: 1982
Lost to: Nine
In this Tony year, both musical front-runners were hits with critics (one more than the other!) and with audiences (again, one more than the other!).  Also, both musicals derived their source material from other mediums (Nine from the world of film, Dreamgirls from the world of pop music).  In the end, Tony voters went with the critics and Tommy Tune's Nine was the victor.  However, Michael Bennett's Dreamgirls ran for almost 5 more years, spawned three national tours and a revival later the same decade.  Both musicals have also become movies in recent years, with the Dreamgirls film triumphing with critics and audiences more than the Nine film did.

Tony Year: 1969
Lost to: 1776
This musical's presence on a list like this cannot be a surprise.  The show was a revolution of sorts and there was no possible way (given "the standards" of the time) that the Tony Awards could recognize it over more traditional hits like 1776 or Promises, Promises.  But the show is still one of the most recognizable Broadway titles from that season and the score is a massive hit (especially with college-age audiences!).

Tony Year: 1960
Lost to: The Sound of Music AND Fiorello! (tie)
This show is one of the most revived musicals in Broadway history (with four major revivals to its name and counting!) and yet it lost in one of the most understandable-yet-confusing races in Tony Awards history.  It is no surprise that when one hears the word "tie" the year Gypsy and The Sound of Music were nominated that the latter musical was one of the award winners.  What is a surprise is the little-known (yet Pulizer Prize-winning!) musical that joined Rodgers & Hammerstein's Sound of Music at the podium that year: Fiorello!, a musical (by George Abbott and Fiddler on the Roof's Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick) about the famed mayor of New York City Fiorello LaGuardia (you may have heard of his airport!).  As I said before, Gypsy has been revived 4 times in 50 years and Fiorello! hasn't been revived once, what does that tell you?

Tony Year: 2004
Lost to: Avenue Q
Something interesting has been happening to Tony voters in recent years and it is their strive to be make musicals remembered.  When Wicked notoriously lost to "the little musical that could" Avenue Q, many people blamed (or thanked) a massive-if-not-controversial Tony campaign the producers of Ave Q put on to be remembered come awards time.  While that might (in part) be true, I'm gonna espouse a theory that has made its round in some theatre-fan circles in the last few years.  Tony voters that year were looking at the nominees and trying to figure out which musical would "best" be served by a Tony victory.  By "best" I mean, "Will it make more money on Broadway and on tour if it has a Best Musical trophy behind it?"  In their esteemed opinion, Tony voters felt that the blockbuster musical Wicked (which has since made more money than God!) didn't need a Tony win to enjoy a fruitful Broadway run and Avenue Q did.  It is fascinating to try to figure out what goes into the mind of the Tony Committee when they pick the winners.

Tony Year: 1976
Lost to: A Chorus Line
Let's just get this out of the way right now, Chorus Line was a phenomenon and a benchmark in the history of the Broadway musical.  That being said, I and many of my family, friends and some theatre aficionados I have gotten to know like Chicago better.  Bob Fosse's dark musical-comedy has thrilling choreography, a witty script and a toe-tapping Kander and Ebb score you just can't stop humming.  It's loss to Chorus Line is understandable as its humor may have been too dark for some of the more traditional Tony voters.  But thanks to a dynamic Broadway revival and an exciting Oscar-winning movie, Chicago will always be remembered.

West Side Story
Tony Year: 1958
Lost to: The Music Man
The most famous of all Tony losers, I don't think I need to discuss the impact this musical has had.  It is a landmark in the history of Broadway musicals (much like A Chorus Line).  But in 1958, critics and Tony voters just couldn't figure out what it was.  Original co-producer Hal Prince has said that he has talked to people who walked out on West Side Story and have since denied doing so (apparently trying to sound like they had foresight about the musical's success).  I think this amazing and groundbreaking musical just didn't sit well with certain members of the audience (namely the influential ones!) and so The Music Man (a perfectly good musical in its own right) was named 1958's Best Musical.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Funny Girl
Into the Woods
Mamma Mia!
Smokey Joe's Cafe
Sweet Charity
The Who's Tommy

So to the three musicals that will not be the winner on Sunday night (or two, cause since 1960, you never know!), look at the company you would be in.  Whatever reason causes your loss this weekend (be it political, economical or Tony voters just "don't get" your musical), don't fret because a Tony loss does not mean a loss of notoriety (as all these shows have proven!).  Happy Tony watching and Good Luck to all the Nominees!  Next week, TV Dads invade 10 FAVORITES.

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