The Tony Awards snuck up on me this year. If I had planned ahead, I would have done a whole week of pre-award analysis, but I’m late, so I’ll bang this stuff out now, then comment again Monday after everything is announced. The Times has their predictions up, so I’ll riff off that as I do my own.
Musical: I’ve got this sinking, stinking suspicion that Xanadu is going to steal this away from In The Heights and Passing Strange, which happen to be the two most exciting, most important Broadway shows of the last who knows how long. But both of those shows happen to be young and Brown, and while I don’t think that those are exactly problems for voters, I do think there’s a possibility–more than a possibility–of them canceling each other out, sending the vote to the silly, fun film adaptation that a lot of people really enjoyed. I haven’t seen Xanadu, but it’s clearly the safer show–and I hope it doesn’t win. Heights seems the likely juggernaut, but I think Strange was the best show I saw this year, and certainly could use the ticket boost that the Tony would bring. As long as we’re looking at one of the two, I’ll be happy.
Heights should win best score, if only for numbers like 96,000, which might be the coolest example of melding hip-hop and Broadway that you’re ever gonna get. My mom thinks they should perform that song on the Tony broadcast, and I agree–it’s something that starts out like nothing on Broadway, then becomes exactly what you expect from Broadway, but with a ton of musical sounds that are still like nothing you’d expect from Broadway. Strange has a great score too, and is probably more consistent all the way through, but Heights is unabashedly a Broadway show (for better or worse), and that’s what the Tonys should celebrate.
And I’ll say this much: If Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t win for Leading Actor, there is no justice in the world. He’s giving a truly groundbreaking performance in that show, one that people will be studying for the rest of Broadway history.
Plays: I haven’t seen any of the plays this year, but I kind of don’t need to–August: Osage County has everything locked up.
Revivials: I saw Gypsy and Sunday in the Park with George, didn’t love either one, and I’m not sure I’d have loved South Pacific if I had seen it either. Lupone is a lock for Lead Actress though, and I think South Pacific is almost a lock for the big prize.
And you know what–I’m stopping here, because I realize that I only care about the two musicals in this race, and I hope to hell that voters look at them as two completely different shows that share an energy that Broadway desperately needs right now: young people of color with understandings of popular music and a respect for Broadway traditions but a willingness to shatter them when needed.
Passing Strange spoke to me like few things speak to me on stage–the story of a young artist, confused, not sure where to fit in, not able to stand in a safe straightforward upbringing, and that’s a simple story that we’ve heard a million times, but this is complicated by race, and class, and religion, and a need to do things exactly your own way, to fail and fall hard in hopes of finding new ways to climb. It possesses an incredible beautiful cast of incredibly beautiful people of color, and it’s not about race at all, but race is infused in every second of it, and it’s race the way race really is–complicated, invisible, impossible to avoid. In another year, this would be the hands-down favorite thing I saw, and it’s close even this year.
In The Heights made me cry, and made me cry repeatedly (well, not cry, but tears in my eyes intermittently from the moment the music started), not because of the touching stories of love and acceptance and keeping life going in the face of all kinds of hardships (because honestly, the storylines are nothing we haven’t seen before), but because–and forgive the emotion here, but the emotion is really the point–GOD DAMN IT THOSE ARE PUERTO RICAN FLAGS UP THERE, and Dominican flags, and some Mexican and Cuban, and that’s Washington Heights, and it’s really Washington Heights, and that dude is starting the show by rapping, and it’s good rapping, really good rapping, really real rapping, and there’s a b-boy, and a real b-boy, and the Spanish fits, and no pare, sigue sigue is just, it’s just, god damn it, it’s perfect. And we’re not gang members or drug dealers or even Lothario Latin lovers–we’re people, hard-working people who struggle with gentrification and self-worth issues and questions of leaving home and putting our pasts behind us to succeed or clutching madly to keep them close and push us even higher.
And I was in the audience on Mother’s Day, and this, I can’t stress this enough, this is what I want Latinos to do on Mother’s Day, I want them to go see In The Heights, all dressed up, full families, and I want them cheering when the lights go down, and I want them cheering and “oooooh”-ing when Nina and Benny kiss on the fire escape, and I want little Puerto Rican and Dominican boys to feel like Usnavi is looking right at them when he’s rhyming the way I felt like John Leguizamo’s Miggy was looking right at me all through Spic-o-Rama. And you know what? I’ve got tears in my eyes (just barely, son, just barely) even right now–right now–as I’m writing this.
Damn. That wasn’t my plan for this at all.
Anyway. Tonys. Sunday night. To say there’s a little bit riding on this year’s awards is an understatement.