While Melissa and I were in Manhattan this spring it occurred to us that for the first time ever we’d have a reason to watch the Tonies. I’m finishing this post while we watch the Tony Awards on TV.
The Color Purple
Winner of five Tonys including Best Musical, “Oprah Winfrey Presents the Color Purple” is a big name, big stage production at the gorgeous Broadway Theather (which has the most comfy seats of any theater we nestled our butts in). Disclaimer: I knew nothing about the story, but Melissa had read the book and seen the movie. She said it differed quite a bit from the movie and was closer to the book.
It’s a complex story that spans a lifetime, from adolescence to old age. The lead actress, LaChanze, does an amazing job of managing the role at all of the character’s ages, and is an energetic fireball. (Tragically, her husband, a bond trader, was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center while she was pregnant with their second child.) LaChanze won two Tonys, for Favorite Leading Actress in a Broadway Musical Favorite Diva Performance.
The cast featured big name draws John O’Hurley (best known for his role as J. Pederman on Seinfeld) and Robin Givens (best known for her role as Mike Tyson’s ex-wife). We loved the movie so much we bought the DVD when it came out, but this production was the one disappointment of our trip.
The cast wasn’t up the challenge. Amra-Faye Wright as Velma was the only lead with star power. O’Hurley and Givens were OK, but this was the Broadway debut for both of them and they haven’t magnifed their mannerisms for the stage. Speaking of scale, the Ambassador Theater’s stage seemed too cramped for this show. I was shocked to discover the show has had four thousand performances at the Ambassador. It can’t be that hard to find theater space in a decade’s time.
Even with a different theater and cast, the production had too many big musical numbers, each with a beginning, middle, and end. All the pause for applause kneecapped the momentum.
A young priest (Ron Eldard) shows too much interest in a young boy, and draws the attention of the hard-nosed nun (Eileen Atkins) who runs the school. She’s suspicious of him and nis new ways, but as a nun she doesn’t have standing to question a priest. This was a compact drama, with only four cast members, and with a stunning performance by Eileen Atkins.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Starring Jonathan Pryce and Norbert Leo Butz. This was our favorite play, and Melissa thought it had the best music of any of the shows we saw (with Color of Purple having the best singing). The show’s a knee slapper, and is even funnier than the movie.
The set was easily the best of the four, and I was disappointed it wasn’t nominated. There were big elements, but the small elements were especially impressive. In an early scene a croupier rides a bicycle with a roulette table for a front wheel. Combined with two smaller pieces it becomes the centerpiece for a casino scene. The scenery was expansive, but airy, as if two stagehands could pack the important parts of the set in a tractor trailer in a couple of hours and put the show on the road.