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.
Pippin‘s circus choreography is sensational, mixing aerial silk and astonishing acrobatics with all of the pelvic-thrusting, wrist twirls and isolated shoulder movements that made Fosse, well, Fosse. It’s a jaw-dropping flurry of trapeze acts and slinky, winking dance moves, but first-time Chet Walker, a protege of the master, so heavily relies on Fosse’s original choreography that I personally couldn’t justify voting for him, no matter how eligible the Tony Committee deems the work — not that I’m going to be mad when it inevitably wins.
If we’re giving an edge to stunt-heavy work, it’s only right that Bring It On: The Musical is nominated as well. Flips! Pikes! Basket tosses! — they’re all represented in the summer’s hit musical. Director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Tony winner for In the Heights) matched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s propulsive beats with ballsy backflips and bombastic high school swagger. His high-flying acrobatics, assisted by cheer consultant Jessica Colombo, made for staggering cheer routines that caused one to wonder — and worry — how those crazy-talented guys and gals (many of them award-winning cheerleaders and gymnasts) did it night after night sans safety net. (Spidey could take note.) Blankenbuehler has no shot, but it was kind — and right — for the committee to remember him here.
The biggest thrill of Kinky Boots comes from watching the men, with their slim bodies slipped and folded into the skimpiest of costumer Gregg Barnes’s bedazzled outfits and thigh-high stiletto boots, high-kick, flip and split. The best of director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s movement occurs when the drag queens cheekily slide and shimmy along a shoe conveyer belt in a dazzling display of coordination and eye-popping flexibility. Mitchell’s staging is snappy, if not innovative, which may explain whey he’s ubiquitous on Broadway, but only has one Tony so far (La Cage). Don’t expect him to win take home his second this year, though if someone does spoil Chet’s night (which is not going to happen), it’d be Jerry.
This is one awards that Matilda The Musical really has not shot at, though I obviously wish it did. The jaunty, catchiness of Tim Minchin’s music — and the bite of his lyrics — is matched only by Peter Darling’s spiky, staccato movement. If a child’s temper-tantrum was choreographed, this is what it would look like, all stomping feet and sharply-swinging arms. (Some claim it’s a riff on Bill T. Jones’s Spring Awakening, but it’s closer to the thrusting frustration of Steven Hoggett’s American Idiot.) It isn’t relegated solely to childish dissatisfaction, but also to the sincere and endearing dreams of youth. The sad-sweet lyrics of “When I Grow Up” are sung whilst flying high, low and twisting on actual swings, playfully physicalizing the carefree whimsy of childish dreaming while the music sadly intones a more adult reality. It’s a perfect blend of movement and music, demonstrating Darling’s uncanny understanding of the Matilda‘s small subjects, while also proving that the Tony-winning choreographer of Billy Elliot deserves another statue for his mantle.