In 2015 I checked one significant item off my bucket list: I got to see all the shows nominated for best musical before the winner was announced at the Tony Awards ceremony. That was the year of “Fun Home” (my top pick), “Something Rotten!” (which I felt warmly about because it starred Fresno’s Heidi Blickenstaff), “An American in Paris” (amazing choreography) and “The Visit” (featuring a riveting Chita Rivera). The best part was watching the ceremony on TV and pretending I’d been a Tony voter. I’d seen all the shows, so I was ready with my opinion.
I can’t say the same thing, alas, about this Sunday’s Tony Awards broadcast. I’ve only seen two of the four best musical nominees: “Dear Evan Hansen”; and “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” I did not get to see “Come From Away” and “Groundhog Day the Musical.”
So I can’t be truly authoritative about the awards this year. But I still want to put a plug in for two of my favorites (including one for best musical revival) that you’ll see Sunday night.
Frontrunner ‘Evan Hansen’
The first is “Dear Evan Hansen.” What can I write about this beautifully crafted show that hasn’t already been expressed by a cavalcade of smitten critics? Ben Platt, the closest to a sure thing that you can get this year for best actor in a musical, offers an intensive, kinetic, raging, funny and deeply felt performance as the title character.
Evan is a troubled high school student suffering from social anxiety disorder. After the death of a classmate, he finds a way to bridge the gap between him and his classmates, thanks in large part to social media. (The production’s scenic and lighting design is stunning, offering an immersive video experience that captures the frantic and ever-shifting nature of the internet.)
The New York Times recently ran a fantastic behind-the-scenes piece on what it’s like for Platt to reach down within himself to such wrenching emotional depths night after night. It’s a challenge not only on a psychological level — there’s a lot of heavy stuff for his character to process — but also physically as well. (Just how does he manage to cry and belt out a song at the same time?)
It’s a beautiful show with gorgeously compelling music and lyrics (by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and a wonderful book (by Steven Levenson). If it doesn’t win best musical, I’ll be very surprised.
A sublime ‘Falsettos’
In the best musical revival category, I’ll be rooting heavily for “Falsettos,” one of my all-time favorite musical-theater scores from one of my favorite composers, William Finn. One of the big reasons I made a trip to New York last fall was to catch the revival of this show, which I’d never actually seen on stage. It helped that Visalia’s Betsy Wolfe, a favorite of this blog, snagged a supporting role in the limited-run production.
From my Fresno Bee story:
The production is actually two one-act plays titled “March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland” performed together. When Finn wrote the music for both plays (and Lapine one of the books), the subject matter of both was controversial. You just weren’t expected at that time to write musicals about unconventional families (man with son divorces his wife for another man, but they all remain close) and the AIDS crisis. But Finn, who would go on to write such beloved shows as “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” managed with his memorable score and beautifully drawn characters to add levity, warmth and a keen emotional resonance to his unlikely themes.
In terms of performances, “Falsettos” had one of the strongest ensembles I’ve seen on stage. Four of its actors received Tony nominations (Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Brandon Uranowitz and Stephanie J. Block), which is quite a haul considering that is was a smaller show that closed months ago. (I thought Wolfe was terrific, but her role was probably a little too small to garner a nomination.)
The best part of the Tony Awards, I’m already brazenly deciding even before I’ve seen them, will be the “Falsettos” reunion number. Here’s the photo Wolfe posted on Instagram/Facebook:
Everyone is saying that “Hello, Dolly!” is a lock for best revival, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for the magic of William Finn.
To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link: