NEW YORK — What with
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 I'd argue that, formatively speaking, 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.
For those of us who have sat open-mouthed on Broadway as huge scenic pieces flew or rolled through a progression of tedious and superfluous short scenes in past movies-turned-musicals such as "Nine to Five" or "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "Once" stands out as a model of its form. It takes a multi-locale, cinematic story and distills it to its theatrical essence, avoiding artifice and understanding that crucial person-to-person communication on stage can only be foregrounded when there is a minimum of clutter.
"Once" is far better as a musical than as a movie (and it was a good movie) because it deepens the metaphoric weight and universality of the characters.
As beautifully performed by Cristin Milioti, who truly floats through the theater, the unnamed character of Girl feels like a guardian angel whom we'd all like to have setting us back on our feet. How come such a selfless, empowering person doesn't show up to take care of all we lost souls? We can, at least, go to the theater to see her.
"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 (making characters lovable on Broadway is harder than almost anyone thinks). But the appeal of "Newsies" is as simple as that. These singing, dancing dudes — Crutchy, Specs and all the flat-capped pals — are eminently, endlessly likable. Almost likable enough to win a Tony on the sheer force thereof. But not quite.
This past season of Broadway plays was far healthier. Some theater-goers have construed that as a cheering aesthetic development, for which there is an argument to be made. But I think it's mostly a matter of economics. These days, there is not money to be made off-Broadway and there are plenty of actors with familiar names ready and willing to burnish their high-end reputations by making themselves available for a limited run of something substantial. And there are several busy producers with very good taste.
As a result, there were plenty of decent plays on Broadway this year, including
With the beautifully sung "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" less than a complete dramatic success — Porgy was, to put it bluntly, too much of an obvious choice in that he did not demand enough of Bess — the Broadway revival of "Follies," a sepia-toned and intensely beautiful production, looks set to dominate the slate of musical revivals, which is as it should be. (However, it's worth noting that Gary Griffin's almost simultaneous revival for
Given the distinguished career of Mike Nichols and his lead actor,
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, whatever happens Sunday night, an incredible year.
The American Theatre Wing's 66th Annual Tony Awards will be broadcast live on
Chris Jones' Tony Award predictions:
Best play: "Clybourne Park."
Best musical: "Once"
Best book of a musical: Enda Walsh for "Once."
Best original score:
Best revivial of play: "Death of a Salesman."
Best revival of a musical: "Follies."
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play:
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play: Tracie Bennett, "End of the Rainbow."
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical: Steve Kazee, "Once."
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical: Cristin Milioti, "Once."
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play: Christian Borle, "Peter and the Starcatcher."
Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play: Celia Keenan-Bolger, "Peter and the Starcatcher."
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical:
Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical: Elizabeth A. Davis, "Once."
Best direction of a play:
Best direction of a musical: John Tiffany, "Once."
Best choreography: Steven Hoggett, "Once."
Best orchestrations: William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess."
Best scenic design of a play: Donyale Werle, "Peter and the Starcatcher."
Best scenic design of a musical: Bob Crowley, "Once."
Best costume design of a play: Mark Thompson, "One Man, Two Guvnors."
Best lighting design of a play: Jeff Croiter, "Peter and the Starcatcher."
Best lighting design of a musical: Natasha Katz, "Once."
Best sound design of a play: Paul Arditti, "One Man, Two Guvnors."