In local news…
Some of you deep readers of News and Notes may recall last year when I went out to St. Joseph, MN to attend the very first Minnesota Theater Alliance State Theater Conference. It was a pretty great weekend, and more of you should have been there. For all of you metro-area people who complained that St. Joseph was too far away, you should know that this year's State Theater Conference will be held in St. Paul this October at Hamline University. Now, you Twin Cities people have no excuses. The good people at the Theater Alliance are searching for folks who would like to give a presentation/workshop/lecture/roundtable discussion/avant-garde baking session at the conference. All you have to do is fill out an this Google survey and be able to bend your particular area of expertise to connect to one of the four major topics for the conference: (1) Health and/or Safety; (2) Connecting Theaters and Theater Artists across the state; (3) Organizational Sustainability: and/or (4) Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. If you're thinking, "jeez, I couldn't possibly present anything", I will remind you that they let me handle a session last year. If I can hack it, you definitely can.
A few weeks ago on News and Notes we talked about the trouble Chameleon Theatre Circle was having down in Burnsville because of that naughty little word "mulatto". It seemed like Chameleon, after leaving their longtime home, was doomed to disappear into the background like some sort of animal whose skin color can change to mimic its surroundings… Like, um… what creature am I thinking of? Like an octopus maybe? At any rate, Chameleon has forged on ahead despite this setback with a new season that will happen across multiple venues in the Twin Cities. This location-shifted season will also include that play with the infamous "M" word in its title.
I have a tough time keeping up with the bewildering array of small theater companies that pop into existence in the Twin Cities. The hipper, younger version of me used to be able to keep up with who's creating what exciting new mission statement this week, but the older, slower, more cynical and probably drunker person sitting here today just assumes that every possible demographic niche has been claimed by a small theater company. But, no, I was wrong. Say hello to the newest small theater company, dedicated to promoting women over 50.
This! Is! Tony!
Ah, the Tony nomination season! That magical time of year when I get to say to myself, "Oh, I guess those are things that are playing on Broadway. Good for them."
In the past, I have said mean things about the Tony awards, and I regret nothing! However, last year my attitude toward the Tony awards softened a bit. After Fun Home became the unexpected hit of 2015 and Hamilton bulldozed its way through the entire American pop culture landscape of 2016, the Tony awards and Broadway in general seem to be coming around to the notion that being different, original and innovative can pay good dividends, and it's frankly a step in the right direction. In 2014, Lynn Nottage was writing about how the Tonys and Broadway in general shut out female voices, and now she's a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner with a couple of Tony noms of her own. What a difference three years can make.
(Speaking of time passing, here's a Washington Post article on how Hamilton is actually better now that it no longer exists in the context of the first black Presidency.)
To that end, here they are folks: the 2017 Tony nominations!
And, now here's everyone analyzing the hell out of those nominations!
Writing at the LA Times, Steven Zeitchik gave a pretty good rundown of who's in and who's out, noting that, with Hamilton out of the way, "the Tony Awards on Tuesday nominated a highly eclectic range of shows, showing the theater business can carry on past its mega-hit and hinting at a bold future for Broadway."
Also at the LA Times, Charles McNulty went into further detail about the depth and breadth of experimentation and originality being rewarded this year:
"The 'Hamilton' effect hasn’t transformed Broadway into a multicultural model kingdom, but there does seem to be more of a sense after Lin-Manuel Miranda’s improbable hip-hop juggernaut about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton that long shots with creative ingenuity and passionate conviction are worth the investment. Popular movies will continue to be converted into easily marketable musicals, but as this season bears out with 'Dear Evan Hansen,' 'The Great Comet' and 'Come From Away,' the most memorable work springs from unpredictable places and fresh imaginations."
The New York Times critics held their annual discussion of the nominations, in which they all agreed with the above and added in their appreciation for how great and original the nominated plays, noting, as Ben Brantley said, "What a great (American) roster of new plays, for a change."
Over at the Producer's Perspective blog, Ken Davenport (who produced the Olivier-winning, Tony-nominated musical adaptation of Groundhog Day was, of course, pleased as punch at having his show take home seven nominations (which ought to improve his bottom line nicely), but then went on to express his puzzlement at why artistically middling but financially successful musicals based on other movie properties (Anastasia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Amelie) weren't nominated for anything, despite their selling lots of tickets. If you've read Davenport's blog long enough (or known any Broadway producers), you've no doubt become familiar with this inability to distinguish between box office receipts and artistic achievement; but I'll give him a pass this time, since his blog's relentless obsession with Who's making the most money?! produced the best joke out of all of the articles I read today: "I wouldn’t have been surprised if Hamilton had sneaked one in this year, somehow – Best Ridiculous Amount of Gross Box Off Receipts perhaps?"
To add nothing to this pile of analysis, our own Star Tribune noted that several nominated shows have some vague connections to Minnesota, which is every bit as enlightening as finding out the same thing can be said of Seattle.
So, there you go: Broadway is actually making some progress in eliminating Bitter Gertrude's list of Eleven Tropes I No Longer Have Time For by diversifying and experimenting, and the Tonys are rewarding them for it. It seems like a win/win situation, so you're probably expecting me to pull the rug out from under this happy fun time, so, let's just get on with it: Jonathan Mandell writing at HowlRound (because if you want good rug-pulling, you gotta go with HowlRound) about how escapist entertainment still occupies more Broadway space than thought-provoking, original material that speaks to its moment. Not that he entirely minds that; but, as he says when discussing something Anastasia: "Escapist fare is most irksome not when it focuses on something other than the world’s concerns, but when it demonstrates an active indifference to those concerns."
Oh, and, hey, look: Miss Saigon was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical. Boy, isn't that nice?
And, don't forget what Ken Davenport said about box office receipts. Hamilton aside, he's right: it's still family-friendly, middle-of-the-road musicals that bring in the big bucks, because kids' tastes drive those ticket sales, and I think I have a line from Brian Doyle-Murray in Wayne's World that explains this phenomenon.
So, there you go. The Tony Awards: still not perfect, but better than they used to be. In the meantime, there are so many other theater awards that you could be paying attention to, but totally aren't going to.
Kill 'em all
It's all the rage to wring your hands over the sorry state of theater criticism. All the kids are into it. For all you know, your teenager is probably out at some wild hand-wringing party right now. Some parent you are. Don't you know that hand-wringing is the gateway drug? Do you have any idea what kind of harder worrying they may move up to next? It's a slippery slope from there to full-on pearl clutching.
Perhaps the answer to all this critical worrying might be found in this recent opinion piece from the The Stage UK, advocating for critics to bring back the long-lost art of the hatchet job. That's right, guys. No more happy happy fun times handing out participation trophies or searching for nuance. What the people really want is for you to mercilessly tear apart a show like a starving pack of hyenas.
Let the blood-letting begin.