Coming home to Jingletown - our return to American Idiot

I'll admit that I can be self-conscious about my taste in musicals. Rent was one of the first shows I ever fell for. Then I discovered Spring Awakening. I also love Hair (to which Hillary and I paid a fond farewell to last weekend - expect a post on that soon). So it seemed natural that American Idiot would be right up my alley, seeing that it follows in the vein of every rock musical ever created.

Returning to American Idiot last Saturday evening, however, made me lose all reservations about enjoying the punk rock musical so much. Just because the cast recording sounds like it could be played on 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh's modern rock radio station) doesn't mean that American Idiot isn't a beautiful piece of theater. Although we had initially planned on seeing Next Fall that evening (they didn't have student rush tickets, unfortunately, and the play closes before we'll get up to the city again), going into American Idiot with only an hour and a half of anticipation probably enhanced the experience of the show.

Although the last time we blogged about American Idiot was back in March, after seeing the show's third preview, last Saturday was actually our third time returning to the St. James Theater (the second being May 1, a date that we didn't blog about for reasons that are quite evident to anyone who Googles "May 1st in Times Square"), and our second time sitting close to the stage. I'll take Hillary's word when I report that the partial view seats offered in the orchestra are fantastic, cutting off only the upper lefthand corner of the stage...and of course, lotto seats in the first two rows of the theater provide for an experience that is 180° different than the next-cheapest seats in the last rows of the balcony. To be honest, I'm glad that my first time seeing the show was from the back of the house, because I really did enjoy seeing the whole picture of the show. BUT, I'm not sure that I would go back to the nosebleed section of the St. James as anything but a last resort. For me, seeing facial expressions and emotions is too important for a show whose characters could easily come off as stereotypical. After leaving the theater in March admittedly a bit underwhelmed, sitting in the front row confirmed the show as a legitimate piece of theater for me.

American Idiot is also LOUD from the front row - as a show scored by Green Day should be. (Not that it's quiet from anywhere else in the theater...but you get the idea.) Prior to the curtain going up, we sat in our seats and counted the number of speakers stacked up in front of us. (A warning to the faint of heart - the volume level does cause your seat to vibrate if you are sitting that close.) However, the music, played fluidly by the onstage band and several members of the cast on guitar, is not loud for the sake of being loud. It's loud because the emotions conveyed in the songs' lyrics demand attention, and often rage. And the show's quieter songs become infinitely more poignant when the cast has spent 20 minutes rocking out, and suddenly a single cast member steps into the lone spotlight to strum a ballad on his guitar.

At the risk of portraying the show as merely a rock concert, I want to focus on the three leads all at once (mostly so I can avoid turning this solely into a giant love letter for John Gallagher Jr.). As I mentioned before, sitting close to the stage made all the difference in how I perceived the stories told in the show. One of the arguments frequently made against American Idiot is that it has no book, and that the characters are not developed past their stereotypical outlines. The truth in this argument lies in the fact that there is basically no spoken dialogue in the show - but who said the book of a musical has to be composed strictly of spoken word? There is a big difference between listening to a Green Day song on the radio - even if I know what the lyrics are - and hearing it in the context of a show as it's being used to expand the characterizations of Johnny, Will and Tunny, the three lead characters. Once I could take lyrics like "I'm the son of rage and love/The Jesus of Suburbia/From the bible of none of the above, on a steady diet of/Soda pop and Ritalin" and apply them in my mind to the character in front of me, rather than hearing them simply as words to a rock song, I found a LOT more depth in the show, and was able to connect with and feel sympathy towards the characters.

It was only at the curtain call, when John Gallagher Jr. broke into a huge smile, that I realized how flawless his performance was. The way in which he completely transforms himself for the role of Johnny is no small task, since he rarely leaves the stage during the ninety-minute marathon. My admiration for Mr. Gallagher goes well beyond his work in American Idiot, encompassing his solo songwriting career and his Tony Award-winning performance in Spring Awakening as well as his humble nature as a person, and it's a complete honor to watch him on stage. There are so many moments in the show that leave me breathless - "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," and "Whatsername," to name a few - and the vast majority of them begin with just Mr. Gallagher and his guitar. He takes a cliched suburban teen who sees drugs and rebellion as the only way out, and creates a character who is quite dynamic, despite the fact that Johnny remains in much the same place at the end of the show as where he began.

Michael Esper as Will and Stark Sands as Tunny also do a wonderful job with creating layers for their characters to struggle through. Mr. Esper spends most of the show plopped on a couch that sits downstage right, and while he could allow the character of Will to waste away, Esper's performance has inspired me to want to return to the show and sit directly in front of him so that I can spend the entire hour and a half watching just him. I really loved a recent interview I found, in which Mr. Esper discusses his role:

YRB: Your character spends much of his timing sitting on stage. How do you approach that when everyone else is able to channel such high energy with their roles?

Michael: It’s certainly hard in that I lay on the couch since, like, the second number and stay there through almost the entire show while everybody else is having this incredibly active experience. And while I have a different kind of activity on the couch, trying to sort through all the problems that arise from being stuck, it’s definitely hard to not participate. But that’s what Will is experiencing, that’s what my character is feeling and he doesn’t get to do those things, and that’s the same problem that he’s facing. Even though I’m stuck on the couch, I try and make those moments as active as I possibly can so that I’m not just sitting back depressed the entire time.


Mr. Sands' performance makes it hard for me to believe that this is just the first musical he's done on Broadway. (Thanks to an anonymous commenter for the correction!) As evidenced by a quote from an article that I (of course) can't locate at the moment, he is an actor first, and that's a huge benefit for his character, who arguably has the most material to work with. Tunny's journey takes him from feeling trapped in suburban Jingletown, to being seduced by the military's Favorite Son, to losing a part of himself, both literally and metaphorically. Watching his struggle to recovery is one of the more nuanced performances I've had the fortunate to see. And his voice is pure gold.

A review of American Idiot wouldn't be complete without a nod to Tony Vincent, who plays St. Jimmy. At the risk of making this review painfully long, I'll say this - I personally don't see Mr. Vincent's performance as more impressive than Mr. Starks' or Mr. Gallagher's, as far as the debate over who should have gotten a Tony nomination goes. However, I do think it would be easy to let St. Jimmy become a one-dimensional character, especially with the physical appearance that Mr. Vincent lends to the role, and his performance is definitely well-thought-out and complex.

I've already gone over the fierceness of both the choreography, orchestrations, and ensemble in my previous review, so I won't recap those again. I do want to end this post with a question for our readers, though.

There is no doubt that Joshua Henry is perfect as the Favorite Son. The more I think about someone other than Mr. Henry playing the Favorite Son, however, the more intrigued I am. When I saw the show the first time, I drew SUCH a strong connection to President Obama during "Favorite Son" - the (very relevant) image that a black man can lead our country and be loved by so many people, and be their "favorite son"...and then there's the interesting feel when he turns around at the end of the song in a military uniform. Interestingly, the understudies for the Favorite Son are Ben Thompson and Andrew Call, both of whom are white, while Mr. Henry is an African-American man.

Disregarding vocal and acting abilities, because all three men are talented and more than capable of tackling the role - do you think that the Favorite Son being played by an actor of a different race puts a different spin on the character and on Tunny's seduction into the military? Please leave your thoughts and comments below!

Follow-Up to "Playing It Straight"

After Hillary posted our thoughts on Ramin Seetodeh's controversial Newsweek article a week or so ago, I had the brilliant opportunity, thanks to my internship, to sit in on an interview with Malcolm Gets, who is currently starring in Pittsburgh CLO's production of Curtains along with Sally Struthers. When the reporter tactfully brought up the article and the reverberations it has had within the theater community, I was thrilled to hear what Mr. Gets had to say on the subject.

You can check out the interview here - after discussing the initial Newsweek article with Hillary so much, hearing his thoughts firsthand was a wonderful experience.

Tony Recap - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Tony night has come and gone, dishing out awards for this season's best performances. While viewership was unfortunately down a reported 8% this year, that doesn't mean that last night's awards were any less entertaining or enjoyable than in previous years. Below is a list of all winners, courtesy of MSN. After the jump are our final comments on the show.

Complete list of winners for 2010 Tony Awards
List of winners for the 2010 American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards, announced Sunday.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Scarlett Johansson, "A View From the Bridge."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Eddie Redmayne, "Red."

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY: Michael Grandage, "Red."
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL: Terry Johnson, "La Cage aux Folles."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Katie Finneran, "Promises, Promises."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Levi Kreis, "Million Dollar Quartet."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Viola Davis, "Fences."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY: Denzel Washington, "Fences."

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL: "La Cage aux Folles."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Catherine Zeta-Jones, "A Little Night Music."

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Douglas Hodge, "La Cage aux Folles."

BEST MUSICAL: "Memphis."

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY: Bill T. Jones, "Fela!"

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY: "Fences."

BEST PLAY: "Red."

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL: "Memphis."

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATER: "Memphis"

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS: Daryl Waters and David Bryan, "Memphis."

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY: Christopher Oram, "Red."

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Christine Jones, "American Idiot."

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY: Catherine Zuber, "The Royal Family."

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Marina Draghici, "Fela!"

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY: Neil Austin, "Red."

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Kevin Adams, "American Idiot."

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY: Adam Cork, "Red."

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Robert Kaplowitz, "Fela!"

SPECIAL TONY AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATER: Alan Ayckbourn and Marian Seldes.

REGIONAL THEATER TONY AWARD: The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Conn.

ISABELLE STEVENSON AWARD: David Hyde Pierce.

TONY HONORS FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE THEATER: B.H. Barry and Tim Viola.



Tony Awards Live Blog Extravaganza

It's finally that special time of year! That's right, it's Tony night! (I love making stupid rhymes). It's also the night of the first annual Tony Awards Live Blog Extravaganza! So, here's how it's going to work: Michelle and I will be chatting about the Tonys on AIM. At every commercial break, we'll update the blog with the transcript of our witty banter and observations. Join us, won't you? See you in a half hour!

Hillary 7:37 pm: It's about time you showed up. Did you know they give like all the awards away before the show actually starts?
Michelle 7:37 pm: Hahaha - sorry! Yeah, I saw AI got lighting and ER didn't get book...
Hillary 7:37 pm: American Idiot won for Lighting and Christine Jones just won.
Michelle 7:37 pm: WOOOOO!!!!
Hillary 7:38 pm: But Sherie Rene Scott got freaking robbed! So pissed. I just hope this doesn't turn into Memphis winning everything like Billy did last year.
Hillary 7:39 pm: Also, Karen Olivo looks uber-fierce on her crutches.
Michelle 7:40 pm: Definitely - she looks fab. But I don't think she's capable of looking un-fab, so...
Hillary 7:40 pm: Haha truth. But not many people can pull off crutches while wearing a dress.
Hillary 7:42 pm: Fela! love is awesome.
Michelle 7:42 pm: So, what awards are they actually giving during the televised ceremony?? Was it like this last year?
Hillary 7:42 pm: I think so. I'm pretty sure they only give away acting awards and the big ones (Best Musical, Play, Revivals, etc.) They leave a lot of time for performances
Michelle 7:45 pm: Which is exciting, but still...maybe they just grouped awards like orchestrations into the creative awards because the category wasn't that competitive this year? Tom Kitt definitely got his award on air last year.
Hillary 7:45 pm: That's true. Huh... I guess they just think they're "boring." Um... Olivo and Jbara are hysterical right now. I can't even.
Hillary 8:00 pm: Weeeee! Here we go!!!
Michelle 8:00 pm: Sean Hayes is going to be HILARIOUS.
Hillary 8:00 pm: Let's hope for good sound this year, shall we?
Michelle 8:00 pm: Wait wait wait. Playing the piano to open the broadcast for the second year in a row? (I'm totally fine with it, though.)
Hillary 8:01 pm: Ouch. I'll take "things that lack creativity" for a 100, Alec...The sound is still up way too high. Get on top of this, sound people!
Michelle 8:01 pm: Oh hey, Best Musical nominees!
Hillary 8:01 pm: I... still have no idea what Million Dollar Quartet is supposed to be about, exactly.
Michelle 8:02 pm: I've heard a few songs on XM radio...I think it's basically a jukebox musical for Elvis and the like.
Hillary 8:02 pm: Oh okay. I kind of hoped it was more than that...
Michelle 8:03 pm: Don't quote me on that, though...I'm sure there's more, I'm just not sure what it is. GO UP THE LADDER TO THE ROOF!!!
Hillary 8:03 pm: Wait where? I just see Cheno! In a freaking short white dress, let it be noted
Michelle 8:03 pm: Is this song from Promises, Promises? And I just said that because Chad Kimball mentioned Everyday Rapture.
Hillary 8:04 pm: Yes it is. I think it's a Burt Bacharach song that they added in to the show. But don't quote me on that, either. It could be part of the show.
Hillary 8:04 pm: Oh Frank... remember that time we spent hours in the Mariott tunnel listening to him?
Michelle 8:05 pm: Woohoo, a Pittsburgh CLO show! And no, I don't quite recall that, possibly because I was delirious...
Hillary 8:05 pm: Yesssss!
Michelle 8:05 pm: LINDSAY MENDEZ ON THE TONYS
Hillary 8:05 pm: Work it, Lindsay Mendez! They look so fabulous. I really hope Sherie Rene Scott wins for Best Actress.
Michelle 8:06 pm: I would cry/die/laugh at her surely hilarious acceptance speech.
Michelle 8:07 pm: I feel like this is an interesting choice for Fela! to perform.
Hillary 8:07 pm: I feel like it isn't convincing me it's "Best Musical" material. Kind of like when Billy Elliot did the angry dance for their performance.
Michelle 8:08 pm: Yeah, exactly...not really representative at all. Maybe they'll perform a more upbeat number later.
Hillary 8:08 pm: Oh my Johnny
Michelle 8:08 pm: JOHNNYYYYY.
Hillary 8:08 pm: He looks very dapper in his suit.
Michelle 8:09 pm: They all look fierce. As per usual. I'm psyched for their performance of the title song.
Hillary 8:09 pm: Ahhhhh
Michelle 8:09 pm: Ahh! There are probably some older theater-goers who are being rocked out of their seats right now. And the cast just gets to rock out on the sidelines.
Hillary 8:11 pm: Haha true. Also, not to sound mean or anything, but it kind of bums me that Idiot will never be separate from Green Day. Like, the show will never stand on its own merit or that of the cast... it's always going to be "Green Day's American Idiot." Does that make sense? I almost wish Green Day wasn't performing... let the cast do their thing because they’re the ones performing it eight times a week.
Michelle 8:12 pm: Yes, and agreed. I guess that's the whole marketing strategy - it will pull rock fans into the Broadway scene. I do love that the band is so supportive of the show and the cast, and the cast is obviously grateful and flattered. But I do know what you mean. Wow, they're getting a pretty large portion of the opening number!
Hillary 8:12 pm: Well absolutely, it's great that the band loves and supports the show, but I feel like it takes away from the show and its cast to have them always be there.
Michelle 8:14 pm: HA. Sean Hayes is wonderful.
Hillary 8:14 pm: Hahahaha making fun of Newsweek ftw!
Michelle 8:16 pm: Oh my GOD yes. YES Sean Hayes.
Hillary 8:16 pm: This monologue is made of win.
Hillary
 8:18 pm:  Daniel Radcliffe! So adorable, yet so short. He looks like a child next to Katie Holmes (who paired them up? She's Amazon... he's wee.)
Hillary 8:19 pm: Good for her.
Michelle 8:19 pm: Not having seen all the performances, by any means, but I wonder if all the Hollywood stars will take home the awards tonight.
Hillary 8:19 pm: The Hollywood types seem to do well when they tread the boards.
Michelle 8:20 pm: And we have our first crier of the night. I love when people are so sincere.
Hillary 8:20 pm: Right? My mom scoffs, but I love it. She's being humble and sincere. It's awesome.
Michelle 8:21 pm: She's fairly composed for being the first speech of the night.
Hillary 8:22 pm: Ricky Martin?!
Michelle 8:22 pm: I didn't know that the thing about him being in Evita was anything more than a joke/rumor.
Hillary 8:23 pm: Oh no, he's officially doing it.
Michelle 8:23 pm: Oy. I wish I knew more about Million Dollar Quartet, other than that it's stayed in the Nederlander longer than anything else since Rent closed.
Hillary 8:24 pm: Haha true. I'd have to see the show to form an opinion, but right now Hunter Foster seems like the best thing about it.
Michelle 8:24 pm: Yeah, that's why I'd want to see it. He was FANTASTIC in the CLO's Into the Woods last year. Although, it seems like the rest of the cast is pretty talented as well - this guy's killing it at the piano.
Hillary 8:33 pm:  I need to see more plays.
Michelle 8:33 pm: You and I both.
Michelle 8:36 pm: Douglas Hodge is definitely the front-runner for best actor in a musical, I believe. Oh boy, crowd interaction. *cries that Hair is closing*
Hillary 8:36 pm: Hey, anybody who plays a good drag queen is all right in my book. Hahaha love Matthew Morrison getting into it.
Michelle 8:39 pm: Robin! He looks cute and short.
Hillary 8:39 pm: Good performance
Michelle 8:39 pm: Agreed - that was solid.
Hillary 8:46 pm: Again... we need to see more plays. I've heard this is really good.
Michelle 8:47 pm: Let's make that a priority next year :-) 
Michelle 8:48 pm: This guy is so nervous!
Hillary 8:48 pm: I would be too if I just won a Tony.
Michelle 8:48 pm: Go Ragtime!
Hillary 8:48 pm: It still blows my mind that Mayer didn't get nominated. But go Bill T. Jones!
Michelle 8:48 pm: Agreed!
Hillary 8:49 pm: Wait... what? I thought for sure it would be Fela!
Michelle 8:49 pm: Huh.  I don't know enough about the category this year, but I think that's an upset? Maybe?
Hillary 8:50 pm: And I think it is an upset... probably. Is that Laura Benanti? She looks gorgeous!
Michelle 8:51 pm: I think so? Not 100% sure. In the Next Room... is closed, right?
Hillary 8:52 pm: God, these sound people are failing AGAIN this year.
Michelle 8:52 pm: For real. You think they would have learned from last year. We need to see Next Fall.
Hillary 8:52 pm: Yes. And yes, In the Next Room did close. All of these sound really good.
Hillary 8:54 pm: Brian D'Arcy James! Represent!
Michelle 8:54 pm: I know! Didn't hear much about Red until the awards season, I think it's playing downtown somewhere. Woo! Next to Normal represent! And we see him in two weeks!
Hillary 8:54 pm: Eeeeeeee!!!! That was awkward
Michelle 8:55 pm: FAIL. Wow, super awkward.
Hillary 8:55 pm: What the hell? It's not that hard to do sound, is it? Get it together, Tony people!
Hillary 9:01 pm: Freaking love Angela Lansbury.
Michelle 9:01 pm: Standing O for a legend...as it should be.
Hillary 9:01 pm: She's such an icon, for real. Can you imagine theater without her?
Hillary
 9:03 pm: Frasier alumni!
Michelle 9:03 pm: Frasier reunion! Hahahahaha - we're the same person. This is so touching. Love them.
Hillary 9:04 pm: Alright, musical awards that we can legitimately comment on. If it's not Angela, I'll be stunned.
Michelle 9:04 pm: The world will end if it's not her. OH MY GODDDD. WOWWWW. NO WAYYY.
Hillary 9:04 pm: Oh my goodness! I hear Katie Finneran is fabulous in Promises, Promises. Good for her! And she was in Noises Off. Win.
Michelle 9:04 pm: That's HUGE for her and for Promises, Promises.
Hillary 9:05 pm: Right? That'll fill some seats.
Michelle 9:05 pm: Annnd they flashed the wrong caption under her image. She's definitely not from Come Fly Away haha.
Hillary 9:05 pm: Meh... this is the Tonys. Did we expect more?
Michelle 9:05 pm: Of course not! That's why we love this time of year...so many epic mistakes on live television.
Hillary 9:06 pm: I'm really glad she won. Not to take anything away from Angela, but it's nice to see someone young win. She's giving such an awesome speech.
Michelle 9:06 pm: THERE'S A QUOTE IN THE KENNEDY CENTER THAT READS.....oh wait, that was last year. Never mind.
Hillary
 9:08 pm: What is this music in the background? It sounds like that song "and I just can't get it back." You know the one?
Michelle 9:08 pm: Montego Glover is also a CLO alumni! *shameless plug*
Hillary 9:08 pm: Oh look, Michelle, it's Montego Glover. She's a woman.
Michelle 9:08 pm: HAHAHAHAHA.
Hillary 9:09 pm: Apparently, she's a serious contender for Best Actress. She never calls out.
Michelle 9:10 pm: Unlike a certain other actress that we love. *cough cough Sutton Foster cough cough
 Hillary 9:10 pm: I swear, this sounds like that song "If You Could Read My Mind"
Michelle 9:10 pm: Not gonna lie, this show looks like a lot of fun...I'm just not sure that it's Best Musical material. (Never having seen the show, so my opinion is kind of invalid.)
Hillary 9:11 pm: It seems very "traditional" in that it has big dance numbers, etc. That was entertaining.
Hillary 9:17 pm: Hahahaha Kristin is hysterical.
Hillary 9:18 pm: Kate Baldwin looks gorgeous.
Michelle 9:18 pm: ROBIN! No clue if he's likely to win...
Hillary 9:18 pm: I'm torn... Robin, Christopher, or Bobby? Go Bobby. Um... pretty sure Bobby Steggert was just robbed. But that guys seems like a good piano player.
Michelle 9:19 pm: Yeah, he was great. I do wish Bobby had won, but he's also nominated for best actor in Ragtime, so I'm not too sad (yet).
Hillary 9:20 pm: Wait... how can he be nominated in both categories?
Michelle 9:20 pm: Best featured and best actor...it's two separate categories, for two separate shows.
Hillary 9:20 pm: Here comes CZJ. Oh wait, what was he nominated in for this one - Yank?
Michelle 9:20 pm: Woot! I hope she's as good as everyone says she is...
Hillary 9:21 pm: I hear she lost her voice last week and has some kind of vocal infection and can barely talk.
Michelle 9:21 pm: Oh wait...just kidding about Bobby. That was his only Tony nom. I think it was drama desks that he was nominated for both Ragtime and Yank.
Hillary 9:21 pm: Yeah, well, he should have won for Ragtime. Let's hope they win Best Revival.
Hillary 9:22 pm: I wonder how hard it is to her to sing while wearing a corset. I also think her hoarseness is working for her. She's controlling it well and making it sound like an acting choice.
Michelle 9:24 pm: Yeah. I'm still not sure if A Little Night Music would be my cup of tea or not, but she sounded good.
Hillary 9:29 pm: Yeah girl. Work it! Idina looks stunning.
Michelle 9:30 pm: Ah, Ragtime!
Hillary 9:31 pm: I hear it's just Christiane Noll.
Michelle 9:31 pm: Yup, doing “Back to Before,” which I fell in love with after hearing Aaron Tveit perform it at Broadway Miscast.
Hillary 9:32 pm: They probably couldn't afford to get the whole cast back to perform. But she's kicking ass, so good for her. That was fantastic. What a voice.
Michelle 9:33 pm: Christian Noll - another CLO alum from the 1989-1990 seasons.
Hillary 9:33 pm: Oh Denzel. Aren't rush seats for this $45 or something equally ridiculous?
Michelle 9:34 pm: Yes, unfortunately :-( I'd love to see Denzel. He's incredibly talented.
Hillary 9:34 pm: And so handsome. A classy man. Confession: for the longest time, I thought Lend Me a Tenor was a musical.
Michelle 9:35 pm: Same. And it's hysterical how Justin Bartha is just standing there awkwardly while the two older men make old jokes.
Hillary 9:35 pm: It seems like it would be funny. Kind of like Noises Off, which I love. A good farce is always excellent.
Michelle 9:36 pm: Ahh fail. Again.
Hillary 9:36 pm: Well, she is elderly. She probs can't see very well anymore.
Michelle 9:36 pm: Ha, true. Also, I totally just realized where I recognized her from - the grandmother in The Notebook.
Hillary 9:37 pm: Nope. That was Gena Rowlands. She was Aunt May in Spider-man, however.
Michelle 9:37 pm: Ahaha that's right. I've gotten my movies confused.
Hillary 9:37 pm: That's okay. I forgive you.
Michelle 9:38 pm: This montage is an odd way to review the year's plays. I think it's that it's set to music.
Hillary 9:39 pm: Yeah... and that they're trying so hard to match the words with the music? Odd. These cops look just thrilled to be on TV.
Michelle 9:43 pm: So we're through most of the awards! The only ones that are left are the big ones - best musical/play/revivals and best leading actors/actresses - and choreography, which will surely be Fela!'s.
Hillary 9:44 pm: Sean Hayes is doing a wonderful job.
Michelle 9:44 pm: Gavin Creel is rumored to be playing Rooster in the Annie revival. And yes, he really is. HA. Bernadette Peters is the BP that ISN'T ruining the planet.
Hillary 9:45 pm: I love when people you wouldn't expect use slang like "shout out." It tickles me.
Michelle 9:46 pm: Helen Mirren is so classy that you wouldn't expect her to say something like that, haha.
Hillary 9:46 pm: I'm rooting for Laura Linney. But that's not at all surprising. Congratulations to Viola Davis.
Michelle 9:46 pm: It is surprising that she didn't win, though. I thought she was a shoo-in. But congrats to Viola! I've heard wonderful things about Fences.
Hillary 9:47 pm: Really? I think Viola and Denzel have their respective awards on lock. And holy shit, Viola Davis is jacked. Look at her arms!
Michelle 9:47 pm: Her dress is really flattering.
Hillary 9:48 pm: Yeah... to her guns!
Hillary 9:48 pm: Wow... this is a tough catergory. My money's on Denzel.
Michelle 9:49 pm: Same. Woot! Again, I'd love to see him - but tickets were expensive enough, and now with Tony-Winning Denzel Washington attached to the marquee, there goes that.
Hillary 9:50 pm: Yeah... I'd say that's out. Do you think Jada Pinkett-Smith's head hurts having her hair pulled back like that?
Michelle 9:51 pm: Looks like it to me...ouch. I completely forgot why Will Smith was there until right now haha. In other news, I've apparently been pronouncing "Fela" wrong.
Hillary 9:51 pm: That's alright... my sister was like "I didn't know Jay-Z was a theater fan" and I had to explain it to her.
Michelle 9:53 pm: None of the musicals this year rely on grandiose sets, which is kind of cool.
Hillary 9:53 pm: Agreed. I enjoy minimalist sets. Like Next to Normal. Obviously.
Michelle 9:54 pm: CLEARLY. I decided to wear my Next to Normal shirt today to commemorate the one-year anniversary of it winning Tonys.
Hillary 9:54 pm: Okay, so, if Fela! doesn't win Best Choreography, the Tony voters were clearly on crack when they voted.
Michelle 9:54 pm: For real. This is insane. Bill T. Jones knows what he's doing.
Michelle 9:55 pm: Hahaha - my friend's little sister just said, "I dance like this at parties.”
Hillary 9:55 pm: Hahahaha I want to go to the parties she goes to.
Hillary 10:00 pm: Holla! CT represent!
Michelle 10:01 pm: Woot, shoutout to your homeland! Is Waterford close to you?
Hillary 10:02 pm: Nah... like an hour away. In the tail of CT. That should be Tom Kitt.
Michelle 10:03 pm: Yeah, for real. I don't think I'm ever going to get over his snub.
Hillary 10:03 pm: And that should've been Sherie Rene Scott.
Michelle 10:03 pm: Or hers.
Hillary 10:03 pm: Why is Paula Abdul there? She's cray-cray!
Michelle 10:04 pm: Duh - she was rumored to join In The Heights for about 2 hours, which totally qualifies her to present at the Tonys!
Hillary 10:04 pm: Although, surprisingly, she seems to be neither drunk, high, or stoned at the moment.
Michelle 10:04 pm: Ugh - another American Idiot snub. Poor Steven Hoggett.
Michelle
 10:05 pm: Sorry for the continuous plugs, but CLO! Although I have zero interest in seeing Come Fly Away.
Hillary 10:05 pm: Oh this brings back hazy, sleep-deprived memories
Michelle 10:05 pm: Dying. Oh god. Good times. Is that dancer chewing gum as he spins his partner around?!
Hillary 10:07 pm: Okay, this better be Fela!
Michelle 10:07 pm: Yes, this is Fela! all the way.
Hillary 10:09 pm: Is it just me, or is it odd that there's no singing in this Promises, Promises number?
Michelle 10:09 pm: Ha, I was just typing that same thing. It still seems like there should be sound...
Hillary 10:09 pm: Fucking finally. Go Bill T. Jones!
Hillary 10:12 pm: Tucci! Love him. Remember that time we saw him on the street? Oh no, this is going to make me cry.
Michelle 10:12 pm: Oh heck yes. This is always so sad. :-( 
Hillary 10:12 pm: The poor Redgrave family. And Rue! I saw her as Madame Morrible once.
Michelle 10:13 pm: (She was also in Bye Bye Birdie at the CLO, like, 100 years ago.)
Michelle 10:18 pm: Ha. What a lovely entrance. I wonder if Fences will extend its limited run...if there's someone they could get to replace Denzel, or if his schedule would allow him to stay longer.
Hillary 10:20 pm: That's not a surprise at all. Congratulations to Fences. It would help if she was speaking into the microphone.
Michelle 10:21 pm: Wow, that was the shortest speech time allowed ever.
Hillary 10:21 pm: Probably because she stuttered through it, and they're running short on time if they want to get Lea and Matthew in there, plus Idiot still has to perform. Congrats to Red... we need to put that on our must-see list.
Michelle 10:22 pm: Wow, congrats to Red! I feel like they really came out of nowhere this season, opening later than most of the other nominees.
Hillary 10:22 pm: Okay that drumming needs to stop. These sound people are abysmal. I do sort of wish Next Fall had won, though.
Michelle 10:23 pm: A life in pursuit of art IS worthwhile. Word.
Hillary 10:23 pm: Preach it. Good speech.
Michelle 10:24 pm: Lots of classy words of wisdom this year. Love it.
Hillary 10:24 pm: Here we go. Glee!
Michelle 10:25 pm: Remember last year, when the abysmal touring cast of Mamma Mia! performed? Oy. Glee will be MUCH better than that.
Hillary 10:25 pm: That's right... Laura Bell Bundy and Matthew Morrison were in Hairspray together.
Michelle 10:25 pm: Oh dear god. Please stop being so attractive.
Hillary 10:25 pm: And so talented. I love his voice.
Michelle 10:26 pm: Having an incredible voice is part of the attractiveness equation - duh. What is this song?
Hillary 10:26 pm: I hear he's going back to South Pacific before it closes. Him and Kelli O'Hara. I don't know what song this is, but I dig it.
Michelle 10:26 pm: Oh wow - let's go.
Hillary 10:27 pm: Holy smokes - work it Matthew!
Michelle 10:27 pm: That was an AWKWARD jump spin. OH YES. My favorite.
Hillary 10:28 pm: Whatevs. She's way behind the band, but she'll catch up.
Michelle 10:28 pm: Except she's kind of behind on the timing.
Hillary 10:28 pm: We are the same person.
Michelle 10:28 pm: She's pulling an Alice Ripley!!!!! cutenessssssssssss
Hillary 10:28 pm: Love them!
Michelle 10:28 pm: Dyingggggggggggg
Hillary 10:28 pm: Where is Theo?
Michelle 10:29 pm: IDK?! Maybe getting ready to perform...they haven't shown any shots of the AI cast in the audience.
Hillary 10:29 pm: She's a little shouty, but her voice is still incredible.
Michelle 10:30 pm: Talk about an intense performance! I have no idea what the context of this song is in the show, but wow.
Michelle
 10:31 pm: So, do we think that American Idiot performing towards the end of the broadcast is a good sign for their best musical chances?
Hillary 10:36 pm: I hope this means their chances are good.
Hillary 10:36 pm: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Michelle 10:36 pm: HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
Hillary 10:36 pm: One of my favorite parts of the show thus far.
Michelle 10:36 pm: WINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN.
Hillary 10:36 pm: I love that everybody in this business knows this show is a hot damn mess.
Michelle 10:36 pm: Absolutely brilliant.
Hillary 10:37 pm: Oh my god, that was hysterical.
Hillary 10:38 pm: Shit. What the hell is with the lack of Ragtime love?!
Michelle 10:38 pm: A big congrats to La Cage! But poor Ragtime. They deserved so much more.
Hillary 10:38 pm:  I wanted them to win so bad. I am surprised it's not A Little Night Music, though.
Michelle 10:39 pm:  EEK. Here we go!
Hillary 10:39 pm: They seriously just played them off stage for Idiot. That's... awesome?
Michelle 10:40 pm: Even though I wish the band could be separate from the musical, it's so great that Billie Jo is so supportive of the theater scene. Is he high?
Michelle 10:40 pm: Is the pope Catholic?
Hillary 10:40 pm: Probably. And yes
Michelle 10:40 pm: Do bears poop in the woods?
Hillary 10:40 pm: I would assume so. They also use Charmin toilet paper while doing so.
Michelle 10:40 pm: Win.
Hillary 10:41 pm: One word: ELECTRIC.
Michelle 10:41 pm: I'm going to have to refrain from comment until this is over. Overwhelmed.
Hillary 10:42 pm: I'm sorry, but the terrible sound work is distracting me. Gahhhhh!
Michelle 10:44 pm: So fucking fierce.
Hillary 10:44 pm: That was intense. I'm exhausted just watching them perform.
Michelle 10:44 pm: I like that they split up the verses at the beginning, so each of the leads had a chance for a solo.
Michelle
 10:44 pm: They're gone something like two weeks without a day off leading up to the Tonys? Insane. 
Hillary 10:45 pm: True. I do think it would have been cool to do the staggered scaffold stuff, though.
Michelle 10:45 pm: Now I'm really pulling for them for best musical. How great would it be if they could sweep all three awards they were nominated for.
Hillary 10:46 pm: That would be epic. And a huge "fuck you" to the Tony voters for snubbing Kitt and Mayer.
Michelle 10:46 pm: Which I feel is an appropriate message for American Idiot to send. :P
Hillary 10:48 pm: Absolutely. And we still need to do Best Actor and Actress. They're running so short. And by short, I mean long.
Michelle 10:48 pm: Haha. Everyone's already performed, though, so maybe they'll just rush the acceptance speeches?
Hillary 10:49 pm: I love Bebe! She's so fierce. Hahaha zing! Point to Mr. Lane.
Michelle 10:49 pm: And point to his moustache. Hahaha. Ouch. Poor Addams Family.
Hillary 10:50 pm: I love that they can make fun of it, though. It makes me respect them even more than I do.
Hillary 10:50 pm: SherieSherieSherieSherieSherieSherie!
Michelle 10:50 pm: *what you said*
Hillary 10:51 pm: Damn. Saw it coming, but still... I feel Sherie deserves recognition.
Michelle 10:51 pm: *refraining from typing what I was typing because we're the same person* She's sweating a LOT.
Hillary 10:52 pm: Is she British? Or something else?
Michelle 10:52 pm: I honestly never knew she had an accent... ???
Hillary 10:52 pm: Congratulations to Catherine Zeta-Jones. I hear she's wonderful, and I'm sure this award is well deserved. Oh, so she's from Wales. That solves it.
Michelle 10:53 pm: Don't they usually present best actor before actress?
Hillary 10:53 pm: Usually. Switching it up, I suppose. I think it would be sweet if Sean won, but my money is on Douglas Hodge. And there we go.
Michelle 10:54 pm: Not a surprise, I've heard he's excellent.
Hillary 10:54 pm: Absolutely.
Michelle 10:54 pm: What's the origin of his accent?
Hillary
 10:54 pm: He's British too, I believe. Okay, here we go: Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.
Michelle 10:55 pm: PLEASE. I want them to win so badly. SO BADLY.
Hillary 10:55 pm: I know. So badly. And are we really going to commercial right now? They have negative time.
Michelle 10:56 pm: URG. Do they not know that I have to wake up in a very short amount of time? Not that I mind...
Michelle 10:58 pm: Oh my gosh. I'm actually nervous for Best Musical. I didn't think I cared all that much until right now.
Hillary 10:59 pm: I know, right? Eeeeek.Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.
Michelle 10:59 pm: Ahhhh. Pleaseeee. Justice. We need it.
Hillary 10:59 pm: Damn.
Michelle 10:59 pm: Aw. They're so excited.
Hillary 11:00 pm: I know we haven't seen it, and I'm sure it's a good show. But honestly? They're so fortunate they opened in such a weak season for original musicals. They would have gotten annihilated by Next to Normal last year.
Michelle 11:00 pm: I guess American Idiot was too much for the Tony voters. And exactly. Replace Billy Elliot with Memphis, and Next to Normal would have swept even more awards than they did last year.
Hillary 11:01 pm: I'm disappointed, but happy for them at the same time.
Michelle 11:02 pm: Same. That's awesome that the winner gets to close out with a performance - they look ecstatic.
Michelle 11:02 pm: Traditional musical theater will always win out, it seems. For better or worse.
Hillary 11:03 pm: Yeah. Well, look at it this way: Next to Normal didn't win last year. American Idiot didn't win this year. But they're both kickass shows that are having successful runs on Broadway.
Michelle 11:04 pm: Exactly. Which makes me feel not so bad. It wasn't a record-breaking year in any aspect of Broadway.


And that concludes our first ever Tony Awards Live Blog Extravaganza! Thanks for stopping by, and check back tomorrow for a recap of all of tonight's winners.

Playing It Straight - A Reaction to Newsweek

A little over a month ago, an article was published in Newsweek magazine that caused quite an uproar in the theater community. The article (which can be found here), written by Ramin Seetodeh, was entitled "Straight Jacket." In it, Mr. Seetodeh made the contention that actors who are homosexual are incapable of convincingly portraying heterosexual characters. He pointed to the current examples of Sean Hayes' performance in the Broadway musical Promises, Promises and Jonathan Groff's turn as Jesse St. James in the hit television show Glee as evidence that homosexual actors cannot, for lack of a better term, play it straight. Mr. Seetodeh claimed that Mr. Hayes "came off wooden and insincere, as if he's trying to hide something, which of course he is" and that Mr. Groff "seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than Rachel." While Mr. Seetodeh does cite Neil Patrick Harris and Portia de Rossi as examples of homosexual actors who can play straight characters well, he disparages their talents in the same sentence by claiming that their characters are too broad to really count (as an aside, Mr. Seetodeh actually wrote "...they also inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters like the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal." Now, I'm no movie critic, but seriously? The characters in The Proposal were about as realistic as me being in a Broadway show - that is, not realistic at all.) And while Mr. Seetodeh also acknowledges that an actor's personal life does have some impact on the way in which an audience views their performance, he ultimately seems to be making the assertion that homosexual men just are not convincing when it comes to playing straight characters because of a deficiency in their acting skill.

When the article was published, it immediately sparked anger and indignation from the Broadway community. Kristin Chenoweth, Mr. Hayes' co-star in Promises, Promises, wrote a blistering reply defending her colleague's performance and decrying Mr. Seetodeh, an openly gay man himself, as being homophobic. I must admit, it was Ms. Chenoweth's response that prompted me to read the original piece. After doing so, I felt compelled to write a response, because while I think the Mr. Seetodeh had a kernel of a valid point, his presentation and defense of that point was dreadful and offensive on many levels, and therefore it merits a rebuttal, which I hope to clearly articulate.

While I found the majority of Mr. Seetodeh's arguments and evidence to be weak and at times downright stupid, I will admit that he had a valid point when he wrote that American culture and society is overly preoccupied with a person's sexual orientation. However, rather than acknowledging that it is a societal deficiency that prevents the audience from separating an actor from the character he is portraying merely on the basis of sexual orientation, Mr. Seetodeh argues that the reason that homosexual actors cannot credibly act straight is due to their own failings as actors, not due to the failings of the audience. It is in trying to defend this claim that his entire argument, in my eyes, falls apart, particularly when he uses Mr. Groff to illustrate his point. Mr. Seetodeh writes that "in Spring Awakening, he [Groff] showed us that he's a knockout singer and a heartthrob. But on TV... there's something about his performance feels off." He goes on to wonder if Mr. Groff's character on Glee is supposed to be gay because of Mr. Groff's "distracting" performance. Reading this, I was confused: Mr. Seetodeh was clearly insinuating that something changed between Spring Awakening and Glee, but what Mr. Seetodeh failed to acknowledge was that the change did not stem from Mr. Groff's acting abilities or lack thereof. No, the only thing that changed was that Mr. Groff came out as an openly gay actor. His acting skills or ability to play a straight character did not change; it was the audience's perception of him that changed. The difference between Spring Awakening and Glee is not the character or his acting, it's that he wasn't out when he was in Spring Awakening, but since then he's come out, and so now when he is on Glee the majority of people can't separate his personal life from his acting; they can't distinguish between the man who is homosexual, and the man who is an actor and happens to be gay.

But that failed distinction is not the fault of Mr. Groff, or any other homosexual actor for that matter. The bottom line is this: it is not the actor's who are to blame for an audience's inability to believe them as heterosexual characters, but the audience itself. The onus is not on the actor, but rather on the viewer, to not let a person's sexuality preclude the viewer from enjoying a performance or appreciating someone's talent. What I think pissed a lot of people off about this article, and rightly so, was that Mr. Seetodeh made it seem like it was the actor's fault that he couldn't find him convincing as a straight character, rather than a fault of his (and society's) own making. His argument wasn't so much homophobic as it was just plain stupid and illogical.

The unfortunate reality of our society is that a person's sexual orientation is inextricably linked with how that person is perceived by society. What we as an audience know about an actor and his personal life can color how we view his work, but that shouldn't always be the case, especially in theater, where escapism and enjoyment are the aims. Do we come to the theater to get realism? For the most part, the answer is no; we come for escapism. No one really thinks witches exist in a mythical land of Oz, or that ogres are real, or that a girl can really get three men who might be her father to show up for her wedding on a small Greek island. And yet, we love the theater and we experience it anyways, accepting certain fallacies or improbabilities as necessary byproducts of an incredible experience. If we can accept the discrepancies, inconsistencies, and outrageous moments of theater, then we can, should, and in fact must accept a homosexual playing straight without qualms. Sexual orientation has no bearing on acting ability - if we can look past other things, we should not let a facet of someone's personal life prevent us from appreciating or accepting their value as an actor or their skill in portraying a role. As an audience, we should be willing and able to look past our preconceived notions about an actor and appreciate a performance on its artistic merits and the skill of the actor, not on his sexual orientation. Failure to do so is our fault and responsibility, not that of the actor, and in that respect, Mr. Seetodeh was misguided in his thinking and writing.