What with “Ghost,” “Lysistrata Jones” and other wearying disappointments, the 2012-13 Broadway season hardly will go down as a banner year for new American musicals.
Indeed, should the best-musical Tony Award go, at Sunday night’s ceremony, to a show other than “Once” or “Newsies” – the only remotely viable candidates for this most important theatrical honor – the theater chatterati will be speechless and Tweetless. For a couple of seconds.
“Leap of Faith,” a missed opportunity for a more substantial look at the role of faith in Red State America, and “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” have about as much chance of winning a Tony on Sunday as the NBC comedy “Smash” has of achieving belated verisimilitude. But all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the state of the musical should not detract from the formidable and underappreciated achievement of “Once.”
Sure, “Once” is based on existing material – in this case, John Carney’s 2006 independent movie about a love-lorn busker and an already-married Czech immigrant who totter precariously on the edge of Eros in Dublin. But this is one of the best screen-to-stage adaptations that Broadway has ever seen, not the least because the bookwriter, Enda Walsh, the director, John Tiffany, and the choreographer, Steven Hoggett, are all worthy Tony winners who understand the crucial difference between film and theater.
“Newsies,” a rollicking melodrama of striking paperboys, can’t compete on an emotional or structural level and shouldn’t win. Still, it offers a few of its own lessons for next season’s musical wannabes, not the least of which is the palpable, hurricane-strength force of offering up a fleet of lovable protagonists.
There were plenty of decent plays on Broadway this year, including “Other Desert Cities,” “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Venus in Fur” and even the worthy “Chinglish,” which was not nominated for a Tony due, to my mind, to producing mistakes. Still, the best of them all is Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park.”
With the beautifully sung “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” less than a complete dramatic success, the Broadway revival of “Follies” looks set to dominate the slate of musical revivals, which is as it should be.
Given the distinguished career of Mike Nichols and his lead actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the revival of “Death of a Salesman” will probably prove similarly successful, even though this production offered up an overly neurotic and youthful Willy Loman who thus lacked the force of representative magnitude that Arthur Miller intended.
I’d give the best featured-actor award to Christian Borle, the “Smash” star who turned “Peter and the Starcatcher” into a compelling piece of storytelling and who has had an incredible year.