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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 17, 2000. All rights
The 2000 Tony Award nominations are in. And get ready
to hear a flood of complaints (from this critic and others) about
this dubious list of nominations. They are, in the major categories:
`The Dead,’" "Swing!," and "Wild Party."
"Kiss Me, Kate," "The Music Man," "Tango
"The Ride Down Mount Morgan," and "True West."
for the Misbegotten," "The Price," and "The Real
Hall ceremonies, and broadcast on PBS and CBS with host and Broadway
booster Rosie O’Donnell.
From the day the nominating committee insisted that "Contact"
be considered a musical, this has been the most hotly debated Tony
2000 category. Although this critic gives Susan Stroman’s
an unqualified four stars, it is, in fact, a danced drama; it contains
no original music — not even any live music. The committee
refrained from nominating the authentically musical but numbingly
bad "Aida" (reviewed below). And why the inclusion of "The
Wild Party"? — a show so distressingly dour, dank, and
that, even though it is long, it is played without an intermission
lest patrons not return. And how is it possible that the stunning
breakthrough musical "Marie Christine" can be nominated for
its score and its book, and yet ignored in the Best Musical category?
Following you’ll find reviews of three musical contenders —
good, the bad, and the ugly" — each written before the Tony
announcements. But my rant, and those of my colleagues, will doubtless
In an era when the signature of a director or a
on a musical carries more weight than does the composer and lyricist,
seeing what Susan Stroman has done with Meredith Willson’s "The
Music Man" is unlikely to reverse the trend. Here is one worthy
Tony nominee; Stroman’s imprint has not merely refreshed a musical
that most of us have seen at least a dozen times, but it has literally
stamped upon it the unique dynamics of her dance-propelled vision.
Coming right on the heels of her spectacular dance-drama triumph,
"Contact," Stroman has staged three dance sequences for
Man" that would be worth the price of admission alone — if
our attention wasn’t otherwise drawn to the charmingly persuasive
performance of Craig Bierko.
Making his Broadway debut as Harold Hill, Tony nominee Bierko is
a bright new image to the role. This in light of the fact that the
part of the fast-talking con man who bedazzles the townsfolk in
Iowa had been virtually copyrighted by the late, intensely charismatic
actor, Robert Preston.
Slight as it is, the story of how a scoundrel, posing as a music
convinces the local yokels to purchase marching band equipment, and
similarly convinces the uptight librarian to buy his romantic pitch,
sparkles with renewed wholesomeness and open-hearted enthusiasm. All
the prerequisites are more than met in Stroman’s robust staging,
even the familiar and still delightful songs a lift. The musical could
not wish for a more radiant Marian than it has in Rebecca Luker, who
fills the score’s more melodic melodies — "My White
"Goodnight, My Someone" — with the most exquisite singing
we have heard all year on Broadway.
The supporting cast — Max Casella, as Hill’s sidekick, Paul
as the mayor, and Ruth Williamson, as the mayor’s wife — perform
their comedic assignments with aplomb. However, it the dancing that
will have you singing the praises of this "Music Man."
The show has no qualms about wrapping you in its corn and sweetness
from the minute the jostling railway coach choo-choos across the stage
with its traveling salesman singing (the innovative for its time)
rap-patter "Rock Island." As for those 76 trombones, Stroman
has devised a rousing and patriotic post-show finaletto that will
knock your socks off. Thomas Lynch’s pastel mobile settings and
Ivey Long’s glorious turn-of-the-century costumes (and those wow red
and gold band uniforms) are knockouts. Don’t miss this family show.
New York, 212-307-4100. $20 to $85.
The sheer spectacle of a debacle can sometimes be worth
paying for. But in the case of "Aida," it isn’t. Unless, that
is, you feel that you must see this musical that gained Tony
for actress Heather Headley and for its original score, and will
compete for the top turkey award well into this new millennium.
With 32 gold and 21 platinum albums, 29 consecutive top 40 hits to
his credit, Elton John certainly doesn’t care what anybody thinks
of his score, a regurgitation of his usual musical drivel. But there
is much more to make you barf in this flagrant waste of Disney money
than the music, which is mercifully not sung through as in pop opera.
While Tim Rice’s sophomoric lyrics and Linda Woolverton’s B-movie
commemorating book (made more so by director Robert Falls and
David Henry Hwang) are often able to hide behind the derisive laughter
that greets them, Bob Crowley’s glossy high-tech road-show-ready
design, and Wayne Cilento’s inverted palms school of choreography
(with a little whirling dervish thrown in), are more garishly smeared
across the stage.
You needn’t worry whether Verdi is doing flip-flops in his grave.
After all, the reconceived story, about Radames (Adam Pascal), the
hunky Egyptian warrior who falls in love with the nubile Aida (Heather
Headley), his captive Nubian princess, bears only the most superficial
— make that supercilious — resemblance (except for the
scene in which the lovers die in a tomb locked in each others arms)
to the opera of the same name.
At the performance I attended, barely stifled giggles were mingled
with the cheers of fans of faux pop culture, as the show’s dialogue
was answered not only by the actors, but also by audience members.
One scene, in which soldiers storm the prisoners’ lock-up to find
the missing Aida, prompted an unprecedented audience response.
"Which one of you is Aida?" Audience member (in the
"I am Spartacus." Instant response from another audience
(in the mezzanine)" "No, I am Spartacus." Laughter and
In a way it is sad to hear a show being both mocked and enjoyed by
factions who get it and factions who don’t and won’t. Oddly, the
plays as if it were planned to zigzag between its blatantly campy
pretensions and its pseudo-serious romantic triangle of a plot.
Headley is such an instinctively honest actress and singer that she
can’t help but inject some real emotion even into her most ludicrous
lines, as well as into the caterwauling requirements of the score.
Pascal, who appeared more comfortable in "Rent" and who sings
a bit better than he acts, is hard pressed to do anything with
But to his credit, he does look as self-consciously embarrassed as
does the rest of the cast in Bob Crowley’s ghastly Euro-trash
Amneris (Sherie Rene Scott), the Egyptian princess betrothed to
is characterized as a ditsy blonde clothes horse (With her
she presents an outrageous fashion show of Egyptian haute couture
that for its sheer lunacy is a hoot. Amneris’ best line regarding
Aida is that she is "a slave who knows her fabrics." Of the
other performers, only John Hickok, as Radames’ spiked blonde-haired
villainous father Zoser, is worth mentioning, if only for being the
only actor on the stage who seemed to know it was all a bad joke,
and play it that way.
The story is book-ended by scenes in the Egyptian wing of an art
In it, two young people, modern day reincarnations of the ancient
lovers, meet and inspire the mummies to come alive. Oh, if only what
happens in between could be buried alive. "Aida" may not be
the worst musical I have ever seen, but I’m not going to take the
time to figure out which one is. H
$20 to $80.
Just when you think you’ve hit the bottom, you realize
that there is one step farther down you can go. That step is the
into the hell of Australian director Gale Edwards’ neo-apocalyptic
staging of "Jesus Christ Superstar" — a vision so awash
in psychosexual, neo-Fascist, bloodthirsty imagery, as to make Jesus
puke (to borrow respectfully a phrase from "The Catcher in the
Rye"). And a Tony nomination in the Best Revival category only
adds offense to injury for Edwards’ reprehensible depiction of the
Jewish priests as ravenously sadistic thugs.
The apostles, disciples, and "soul girls" who most resemble
an urban street gang, spend a lot of time riding up and down the
of an Erector Set-like bridge set between decaying Roman pillars.
They appear to be preparing more for the siege of Troy or NYU than
for the persecution and death of Jesus. To say that this musical
according to Andrew Lloyd-Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) is
literally off-the-wall is not a stretch.
It seems as if spiked-hair blondes have become a trend for villains
on Broadway, and Tony Vincent, who plays Judas with a great deal of
greasy gusto, sports one even more spiked than John Hickok’s in
But I can see why his haircut might offend Jesus (Glenn Carter),
pretty boy with long, permanent-waved blonde hair, who walks around
in a stupor in open-toed sandals (as opposed the storm-trooper boots
worn by the rest of the cast) and sings that way.
The character of Mary Magdalene, the whore with the wholesome heart,
is always a trip, but why do we feel that Maya Days, her interpreter,
never left home. The tedium of the first act is replaced by tackiness
in the second. In it, Paul Kandel, as Herod, emcees, with the help
of a group that look like the old Supremes, a Las Vegas-styled beauty
pageant that oddly is the least offensive part of the show. The
de resistance, however, is the huge, blinding electric-lighted
cross that Jesus is nailed to, apparently geared to torture us as
much as him. Since you won’t be able to hear the lyrics, this is best
recommended for those who know the score from the recording, or from
a production they may have been in when they were in high school.
Arts, New York. 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100. $26 to $81.
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