a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winner will be in orange.
Choreography is one of my favorite categories. Smart, sharp choreography can raise the quality of any musical — and I mean any. During Andy Blankenbuehler‘s opening sequence in The People in the Picture, I thought to myself, “This musical cannot possibly be as bad as everyone says it is…” and then of course, the book scenes began, and it all got very bad, very quickly (except for you, Donna).
The unique thing with musicals, of course, is that so often nowadays, the choreographer is also the director. This makes perfect since, as they have a more intimate sense of the rhythm and movement of a show, and they can translate that dynamic into the book scenes and vice versa. For the 2011 Tony Awards, the nominees for Best Choreography and Best Director are the same four folks (though you need to throw Trey Parker in for the other half of The Book of Mormon directing team).
But my lists rank differently for each category — so what gives?
All but one of these are dance (heavy) shows, with The Book of Mormon being the exception. Casey Nicholaw‘s terrific choreography cleverly lampoons classic musicals such as Oklahoma! and The King and I, tap dances the homosexuality right out of those peskily repressed Mormons and infiltrates dancing devils into a cracked-out nightmare sequence. While The Book of Mormon is the tightest production of all the nominees, one of the many reasons is because its directors, Nicholaw and Trey Parker, know how to manipulate and infuse the well-crafted choreography in the best possible way, and the overall effort is a nearly seamless series of laughs.
On the other hand, you can’t beat Rob Ashford‘s sexually-charged, tongue-in-cheek, modern choreography for How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Ashford interjects movement where before there was none — dancers burst out of nowhere during “Rosemary,” with exuberant leaps and lifts that perfectly capture the high of that first, life-altering kiss — keeping the energy high and the production moving with his super-stylish, comic choreography. There are so many simultaneous, intricate stage pictures in the show-stopper “Brotherhood of Man” that unless you have an aerial view, you’re bound to miss something. The quintessential dancer’s director, Ashford is more than capable of bolstering an actor’s strengths — he draws a very fine, energetic performance out of musical newbie Daniel Radcliffe — while maintaining the integrity of the artistic work and making it his own. But at times he overcrowds the stage with busy bodies and big, Broadway movement, and the production can seem a smidge too sleek and polished. Sadly, he’ll go away empty-handed from this year’s awards.
That leaves Best Choreography to the two big guns of the dancer-director hyphenate, Marshall and Stroman. Kathleen Marshall certainly isn’t going to win Best Director for her slowly-paced, funny-free (except for Adam Godley’s stiff Brit) production that pulled a rather painful performance out of a forgetful Joel Grey. She is, however, the obvious choice of winner for choreography. If we’re playing the numbers game, Anything Goes is the biggest show with the biggest cast and the most musical numbers to dance through — not to mention a crew of tapping sailors, a Broadway dancer-icon and dozens of the best showtunes to shake a tail feather to. She, more than any other nominee, has a distinct — one may even say unfair — edge, and so it’s inevitable she take home the Tony for her choreography that is neither groundbreaking nor all that thrilling.
Susan Stroman, on the other hand, demonstrated much more creativity in the choreography department. Her work in The Scottsboro Boys was a surprising amalgamation of styles — line dances, cake walks and even a thrillingly inspired electric-chair tap-dance — that managed to find humor in even the most tragic situations. When creating a singular moment, she shined, but as a whole, the show was uneven: Stroman never quite figured out how to balance the distancing, disturbing effects of the minstrelsy with the overly earnest, underdeveloped book scenes. She’ll walk away with zero awards come Sunday night.