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 winners will be in orange.
Thank goodness everyone is finally (kind of) over Kathleen Marshall. The director-choreographer’s conventional chorus numbers have become even less inspired than last year’s tired tapping in Anything Goes, for which she won her third Tony Award. In Nice Work If You Can Get It, Mashall’s moves are as much of a throwback as the show itself: crowd-pleasing and polished to be sure, there is nary a groundbreaking step, let alone an entire inventive sequence, amongst the dozens of Gershwin diddies. Marshall is the go-to for the Golden Age, but it’d be nice if, just once, she’d take a little bit of a risk.
Steven Hoggett (who also choreographed movement for Peter and the Starcatcher) takes his signature isolated stomping movement from American Idiot (for which he should have been nominated) and puts a idealized spin on it for the overly romantic Once. A kind of cross between an Irish jig and a dream, the chorus stomps and sways with such tenderness as to give their movements — whilst playing their various instruments — a floating, ethereal quality. Hoggett’s collaboration with director John Tiffany (Black Watch) allows the songs and story flow in one non-stop dreamy sequence.
Now, before I get all crazy worked-up, let it be known that I very much enjoyed Newsies.
But: while Christopher Gattelli’s choreography for Newsies is super-acrobatic and high-energy, it largely consists of the same few movements — leap, jump, pirouette, repeat! There is a fun number in which the boys slide and spin around on sheets of papes, and “King of New York” is a taptastic second-act opener, but originality is clearly wanting. Sure, Kenny Ortega (the 1992 film’s choreographer) also took inspiration from the balletic athleticism of Michael Kidd, but his numbers were more cleverly thought-out, while Gatelli’s become a bit tiresome by show’s end. Luckily for him, he’s got a stellar ensemble that belt, jump, leap and tap their way on and around Tobin Ost’s massive, rolling steel jigsaw of a set with a boundless enthusiasm that ultimately not only sells the choreography, but the show itself.
But none of that even compares to Rob Ashford. A director-choreographer, Ashford is not only our best choreographer working in musical theatre today (I don’t state that lightly), but he is also one of our best storytellers (who was robbed last year; thanks, Kathleen Marshall!). Though he only choreographed here for Evita, his contributions (and close collaboration with director Michael Grandage) cannot be overestimated. A complex combination of spicy-sexy tangos and sensuous waltzes intersperse with tactical military movements (see the crisp and cutting “The Art of the Possible”): the tension between the silky and arousing couplings and the stiff, sharp thrusts of the soldiers threatens, and then gradually builds upon, an oppression that Tim Rice never thoroughly explores in the libretto; and the result is electric. When a revival of a musical that has never been known for its choreography is suddenly admired solely for its movement (the one thing the critics can agree on: Rob Ashford’s choreography), attention must be paid.
But Rob Ashford will not win his second Tony on Sunday, and this fact utterly baffles me. The critics complained about Gattelli’s repetitiveness, and lauded Ashford’s inventiveness, and yet voters will tick their ballots for Gattelli come Sunday. Apparently the bigger the leap (literally), the better the reward.
So much for subtlety and storytelling.