PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 11-17: The Tonys, Spider-Man and Linda Lavin

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 11-17: The Tonys, Spider-Man and Linda Lavin
 
In any other year, the lead story for this week's column would have been a no-brainer: the Tony Awards. But this year, the hubbub surrounding the awards was quickly drowned by the official opening—finally!—of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. It's a toss-up which story got more ink this week. But we'll go the traditionalist route here at "Week in Review" and start with the trophies.

Mark Rylance
Mark Rylance Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The Tonys went according to plan, with nearly everybody who was expected to win going home triumphant. This meant that The Book of Mormon, the profane, comic, and heartfelt musical about earnest Mormon missionaries, won a chestful of trinkets, including the ones for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. War Horse, the puppet-driven tale of an English boy following his beloved horse into World War I, which is proving a massive commercial success at Lincoln Center, was named Best Play.

The Normal Heart won for Best Revival of a Play, 26 years after the play was written, giving playwright Larry Kramer his first Tony Award. And, Anything Goes won for Best Revival of a Musical. That musical's star Sutton Foster won her second Tony as Best Actress in a Musical (after Thoroughly Modern Millie), and Norbert Leo Butz, star of Catch Me If You Can, won his second Tony as Best Actor in a Musical (after Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

The one Tony Award for David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People, an acclaimed play about an out-of-work single mother in Boston, went to star Frances McDormand. Mark Rylance, already a Tony Award winner for Boeing-Boeing, gave his by-now-trademark bizarro, poetry-reciting acceptance speech when named Best Actor in a Play for his sweaty, brash performance in Jerusalem.

Desmond Heeley
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Costume designer Desmond Heeley, who is 79, must lay claim to of the biggest gap between wins. He won for his work on The Importance of Being Earnest. He last triumphed 43 years ago (!), in 1968 for his costumes and sets for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This year's ceremony was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and presented not at Radio City Music Hall, but at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Most people agree the shift to the more-intimate venue was an improvement, allowing the musical numbers to come off better.

Perhaps viewers thought so, too. The Tony broadcast was up against some incredibly important basketball game of some sort—as it always it—but it nonetheless fared better in viewership among adults ages 18-49. The show had a 1.2 preliminary rating among those adults. That rating is up a tenth (nine percent) from last year's broadcast. The Tonys accomplished other good works. The three Tony wins for The Normal Heart ignited the show's box-office take. The daily box-office wrap has more than tripled from the average daily sales before the June 12 Tony ceremony.

And, the original Broadway cast album of The Book of Mormon is now #3 on the Billboard Top 200. A Broadway cast album in the Billboard Top 10 is a thing that hasn't happened since the cast album of the iconic musical Hair was released in 1969. The Book of Mormon also over-sold the musical cast albums of Dreamgirls and Rent, which ranked in the top 20.

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Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano on opening night.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Now, on to Spider-Man. But first, a quick recap on the continuing story of this ever-aborning musical.

Began performances last fall; cost $65 million; lots of cast members got hurt performing director Julie Taymor's stunts; press had a field day; took forever to open; opening night pushed back a gazillion times; Michael Riedel wrote 343 negative columns about the show; disgusted critics reviewed it anyway; disgusted critics disliked it; Glenn Beck liked it; Julie Taymor shown the door; new creative team brought in; show shut down for a month to reboot; opening finally came on June 14, more than half a year after the first preview.

So what did the critical corps think of the handiwork of playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (a Marvel comics writer and dramatist), director Philip Wm. McKinley (a theatre and circus director) and choreographer Chase Brock? On the whole, they thought the show was greatly improved. They still weren't crazy about it, but they agreed it now made sense as a story.

"It’s a hell of a lot better," wrote Time Out New York. "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is now a coherent and mostly enjoyable entertainment for children and adults, albeit one still saddled with Taymor’s vestigial nuttiness and freshly dug plot holes all its own. On balance, playwright and comic-book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and director Philip Wm. McKinley deserve kudos for sifting through the turgid welter of arty pretension and narrative confusion that Taymor left behind in the spring, and finding a genuine story."

"What you ultimately get is what Taymor seemed determined not to do: a simplistic story of geeky boy falls for pretty girl, gets bitten by weird spider, becomes Spider-Man and then must choose between wooing the girl or saving the world," summarized the AP. The Post, less charitable, wrote "In the last year, [the show] has gone from artistic oddity to conventional family entertainment. Between that and the strength of its brand name, it's ready to join Madame Tussauds and Shake Shack on a tourist's Times Square itinerary." And the Times, least charitable of all, but still showing a bit of mercy, said, "Now, if I knew a less-than-precocious child of 10 or so, and had several hundred dollars to throw away, I would consider taking him or her to the new and improved Spider-Man." Put that on a billboard.

Now, as the press finally retreats and (presumedly) leaves the show alone, it's time for the wait-and-see section of this drama. Will the public come to the newly (somewhat) improved musical? Check back in September.

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Now we come to the section of the column where we talk about the Broadway shows actress Linda Lavin will not be doing this coming season.

Other Desert Cities, Jon Robin Baitz's drama about a wealthy Republican family attempting to wrestle with its past, will arrive on Broadway at the Booth Theatre this fall. However, one of the play's most well-reviewed assets, Lavin, who originated the role of acidic alcoholic aunt Silda Grauman in the Off-Broadway production, will not be part of the Broadway cast.

Lavin is currently appearing in the Kennedy Center revival of Follies, which is transferring to Broadway this summer, it was announced. But Lavin will also not be starring in that show!

Instead, Lavin has been inextricably drawn to the world premiere of Nicky Silver's The Lyons at the Vineyard Theatre Off-Broadway this fall. Silver should be feeling pretty good about himself this week.

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