Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Was that a farce?

I've accepted that the Tony Awards broadcast is primarily an advertisement for Broadway -- it's not really about honoring excellence in theatre, although that may happen, if there's time. I don't like it, and I still complain about it, but I understand that's how it works. But can't it at least be a good advertisement for theatre?

When you're putting on a big, live show in a world-famous theatre and, right off the bat, you have major microphone issues, that's a turn-off. I can't remember a Tony broadcast that wasn't marred by sound issues, but this year was a particularly bad one, especially since they were coupled with obvious lip-synching. I can remember many painful instances of off-key singing in the past (I guess it's hard to hear the band?), but prerecorded vocals are not an ideal fix when you are trying to convince people that live theatre in New York City is worth their time and money.

I did like Sean Hayes at the piano. Fun, and much less obnoxious than the song-and-dance numbers Hugh Jackman used to do. But when the opening number turned into a full-on Green Day concert, I wanted to say, You know, you don't actually get to see Green Day when you buy a ticket for American Idiot. The show does not have Green Day the band in it. Ostensibly it is still worth paying lots of money for. I have my doubts, of course, but that's the idea. And yet here we are, hoping an appearance from Green Day will give Broadway some television cred. It's that old, familiar note of desperation: Please give theatre a chance! Some famous people like it! So the whole thing feels like fundraising time on PBS. Here is some guy from the football Jets, generously agreeing to say that he likes musicals! Won't you please give?

I just don't think the motto of the Tonys should be "Broadway: It's Not So Bad!"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More on Fences and August Wilson

I passed on my recommendation of the current Broadway revival of Fences a few weeks ago. A much longer review is in the June 4 issue of Commonweal, and subscribers can read it online here. (An online-only subscription is just $29, by the way.)

Before getting to the play under review, I devote a lot of space to explaining who August Wilson was and why he's important. Here's a sample of what I had to say about Kenny Leon's "splendid" production:
As Troy, film star Denzel Washington puts his considerable Hollywood charm to use in bringing out the character’s endearing qualities along with his flaws. He expertly locates the vulnerability beneath Troy’s bravado. Viola Davis (Oscar-nominated for the 2008 film Doubt, and a veteran of several cycle plays) is a restrained but powerful presence as Rose. The fence around the yard that Troy is building throughout the play is Rose’s idea—an expression of her desire to define and protect what she values. She is a reconciler, determined to hold her family together; she stays on the margins of the men’s conversation in the yard and changes the subject whenever she senses danger or discord. She looks out for the son from a previous marriage whom Troy neglects, and for Gabe, Troy’s brother, brain-damaged in the war. Rose knows Troy’s faults better than he does, and when she finally explodes in anger, the scene is heartrending: “You take,” she tells him, “and don’t even know nobody’s giving!”
Like so many of Wilson’s characters, Rose finds her strength in religion; she turns to the church when her marriage lets her down. But the prophet of Fences is Troy’s disabled brother, who “believes with every fiber of his being that he is the Archangel Gabriel.” Gabe predicts that Troy’s story will end in glory—“St. Peter got your name in the book,” he insists. “I seen it.” And Gabe’s advocacy bears fruit in the play’s final moments, when—according to the stage directions, beautifully interpreted here—“the gates of heaven stand open as wide as God’s closet.”
Even if you don't subscribe, you can visit dotCommonweal for more thoughts from me on August Wilson.