Wednesday, October 16, 2019

'Hadestown' reels in the Tonys

  • >>Michael Paulson, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-06-10 10:52:38 BdST

“Hadestown,” a new musical based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, snagged eight prizes as the Tony Awards broadcast neared its conclusion Sunday night, a strong embrace for the folk- and jazz-inflected show.

The musical offers a contemporary take on mythology, alluding to climate change and industrialisation while intertwining two love stories: the doomed romance of Orpheus and Eurydice and the fraught marriage between the gods Hades and Persephone.

The show’s director, Rachel Chavkin, who previously brought “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” to Broadway, picked up the Tony for directing the musical. She was the only woman nominated as a director of any show this year, a fact that she noted ruefully during her acceptance speech. And she is only the fourth woman ever to win a Tony as director of a musical.

“I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season,” she said before calling for greater gender and racial diversity among theater artists and critics.

“This is not a pipeline issue,” she added. “It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be.”

“Hadestown” was conceived and written by Anaïs Mitchell, a singer-songwriter with no ties to Broadway (besides a childhood affection for “Les Misérables”), who won a Tony for her score. She began the musical as a DIY community theater project in 2006, touring small Vermont venues in a silver school bus packed with props.

Among the lessons Mitchell said she learned from working on the show for so long: “Nobody does it alone.”

André De Shields, a theater veteran who in 1975 broke out as the title character in “The Wiz,” won his first Tony as Hermes, a Greek god who serves as both narrator and travel guide in “Hadestown.”

“The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing,” the 73-year-old De Shields advised as he accepted his award for best featured actor in a musical.

In the pre-broadcast ceremony, the musical picked up awards for scenic design by Rachel Hauck; orchestrations by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose; lighting design by Bradley King; and sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz.

One of the night’s emotional highlights belonged to Ali Stroker, who became the first wheelchair user to win a Tony. Stroker, 31, lost the use of her legs in a car accident at age 2; now she is featured as Ado Annie, the lusty young woman who “cain’t say no” in a revival of “Oklahoma!”

“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” Stroker said. “You are.”

The 87-year-old comedian, writer and director Elaine May earned her first Tony, as leading actress in a play, for portraying a woman losing her memory in a revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.” May, who burst onto the scene in the 1950s performing comedy with Mike Nichols, won for her first Broadway role in more than 50 years.

Celia Keenan-Bolger was named best featured actress in a play for portraying Scout, the daughter of Atticus Finch. in Aaron Sorkin’s new stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Keenan-Bolger is 41 and playing Scout both as a young woman and as a child; in her acceptance speech, she praised novelist Harper Lee “for making the greatest literary heroine of all time.”

And Bertie Carvel won as best featured actor in a play for his portrayal of a young Rupert Murdoch in “Ink,” a British drama about an early chapter in the media titan’s tabloid career.

Hosting the Radio City Music Hall show was James Corden, a lifelong theater lover who won a Tony in 2012 (for “One Man, Two Guvnors”) and who hosted the ceremony in 2016.

As the telecast began, Corden exhorted viewers — who, ironically, were mostly watching on television — to think about getting off their couches and going to see a show. He cracked joke after joke about the challenges facing Broadway — high ticket prices, low artist salaries (at least when compared to television) — but celebrated the joys, and the spectacle, of “actual people in an actual space.”

At one point he showed his father taking a phone call in the audience and describing his whereabouts as “some theater thing James is doing.” Later he joined last year’s hosts, Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, for a spoof version of “Michael in the Bathroom” — a popular song from the cult Broadway musical “Be More Chill” — the trio joking in a Radio City restroom about their insecurity over the broadcast’s ratings.

And then, saying theater would be more popular if its stars feuded with one another as they do in pop music, he pretended to try to get stage stars to air their grievances with one another, but they mostly just expressed their mutual fandom.

There were few overt expressions of partisan politics, but social issues were very much on display. The performance by the cast of “The Prom” featured two women kissing; playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney referred to the importance of “black and queer bodies” in describing his play, “Choir Boy,”; playwright Taylor Mac (“Gary”) and presenter Billy Porter wore gowns rather than tuxedos.

And Tina Fey, presenting an award for best featured actress in a play, mused aloud that “I don’t know why an acting category should be separated by gender,” before joking that they should be separated instead by human and puppet (Broadway does have a big puppet this season in “King Kong.”)


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