I’m sure that 99.7% of America doesn’t actually care about the Tony Awards, but, to be perfectly honest, this awards show is my Super Bowl. I follow the Broadway season, paying close attention to shows, performers, insider drama, and critics, plus trends from previous years, and can usually predict the winners with a disturbing accuracy. Sure, it’s a strange thing to be passionate about, but everyone has their obsession. At least that’s what I tell myself. Plus, the Tony Award has a spinny medallion thing on top. I mean, seriously, who would want an Oscar when you can have an award that can double as a distracting toy? I rest my case.
It’s a game, you see. Best Musical is never about the best musical— if it was, The Light in the PiazzÎ± would have easily beat out Spamalot three years ago (but I’m not bitter). It’s about money. It’s about what show has touring viability. This year is an interesting one. The nominees are the over-the-top, movie-mocking Xanadu, the hip-hop influenced feel-good musical In the Heights, the conceptual rock ‘n roll oddity Passing Strange, and Cry-Baby (yes, it is what you think it is) merely fills the fourth slot. That’s so the voters didn’t have to give a nod to The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein (yes, that’s the official title). Cry-Baby is too bad for the voters to ever give it an award and Passing Strange is far too conceptual for it to appeal to your average Joe on tour, plus, to be honest, the all-black cast probably narrows its demographic draw. So the race is between the off-Broadway show that could, In the Heights, and the surprisingly solid Xanadu, which actually improved its movie (thought that’s not a difficult task, to be sure).
In the Heights is a love letter to life in New York City; a story of three generations struggling to forge an identity in Washington Heights, the mostly Latino neighborhood at the top of the island of Manhattan on the brink of transition. With some loving allusions to West Side Story, the music is an exhilarating blend of Latino, hip-hop, and Broadway brass that defies the listener to stay still. Also, I hate— yea, despise— rap music, but I can’t get enough this one. The choreography is explosive and the performances are arguably the best on Broadway right now, especially star and composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda and supporting actress Olga Merediz (both nominated for their efforts), all backed by an enormous ensemble that hardly stops moving.
Xanadu, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. I mean, their first ad campaign read, “Xanadu. On Broadway. Seriously.” Knowing what this musical is about makes all things clear: a “beautiful Greek muse, Kira, who descends from the heavens of Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California in 1980 on a quest to inspire a struggling artist, Sonny, to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time: the first ROLLER DISCO ! But, when Kira falls into forbidden love with the mortal Sonny, her jealous sisters take advantage of the situation and chaos abounds.” Seriously. It’s one big send-up with the most solid book on Broadway and could very well sneak up and steal the Tony from the favorite In the Heights, especially since they have a crazy YouTube campaign going.
All the other awards are easier to predict, but I won’t bore my possibly musical-hating readers with an analysis of them all. Just know that the “Winner Best Musical!” signs dangling from various marquees in midtown from shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q, Spamalot, and Spring Awakening don’t mean all that much. While the actual best musicals are often nominated for slews of Tonys, they rarely win the big one. Instead, the voters compensate them with smaller awards like Best Score, Book, and Set Design, as well as some acting nods.
So be a smart tourist, and maybe The Phantom of the Opera will finally release its death grip on the Majestic Theatre. Broadway fans will thank you.
Brittany Petruzzi is Patrol’s theater critic. She attends New Saint Andrew College in Moscow, Idaho and is a creative director for Blue Milk Productions.
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