May 6, 2017

Is There Life After the Tony Nominations for "Anastasia," Bandstand" and "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory"?

All Tony awards are coveted but the awards for Best Musical tend to be the most coveted of all. And because 13 new musicals debuted during the 2016-2017 season, the odds of getting one this year were slimmer than usual. They became even leaner on Tuesday when the nominators concentrated their affections on just four shows—Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Groundhog Day The Musical and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. The remaining nine shows got a total of just nine nominations combined, three less than the dozen The Great Comet got all by itself.

Amélie, the stage version of the whimsical 2001 movie about a French woman who can manage everyone's love life but her own, didn't score any nominations at all. The show, which stars Hamilton's Phillipa Soo in the title role, had already been flailing at the box office and in the wake of the nominations, its producers announced that it will close May 21.

But that doesn't mean all the non-nominated shows will be sending posters over to Joe Allen to be hung on the restaurant's infamous wall of Broadway's biggest flops. In fact, some of them are doing really well financially and have avid fans too. Here's a little rundown on three of those also-rans:

The Show: According to romantic legend, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II escaped the brutal execution of the royal family during the Russian Revolution and made her way to Paris where she tried to convince the grieving Dowager Empress that she was truly her granddaughter. Terrence McNally wrote the book for this stage version and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty did the score.

Tony Nominations: 2 Mary Beth Piel was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her elegant portrayal of the Dowager Empress and Linda Cho earned one for her sumptuous period costumes. And that seems about right to me. Some of the music was pretty but not one tune remained in my head after I left the theater. The other performances were pleasant enough but Darko Tresnjak's direction lacked the wit that made his A Gentlemen's Guide to Love & Murder such a delight—and the 2014 Tony winner for Best Musical. But I was most disappointed by the waste of the talented Ramin Karimloo in the small role of a Soviet apparatchik who tries to thwart the would-be princess.

Survival Prospects: Many of the little girls who grew up on the animated film are now in their late 20s and early 30s and, still devoted to it, are bringing their young daughters to see this new incarnation or just coming to relive their own youth. At least the latter seemed to be the case with the two women sitting in the row behind me who not only giggled and sighed their way through the entire show but rushed out to buy some merch during the intermission. There apparently are a lot of others like them because the show is not only selling out the Broadhurst Theatre but its producers have already announced that they are planning both U.S. and international tours.

The Show: Newcomers Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker have written an original musical about a group of World War II vets trying to put together a swing band so that they can enter a radio contest while, at the same time, struggling with the guilt of having survived the war when so many of their buddies died. Corey Cott plays the band leader and Laura Osnes is the widow of his best friend and the band's vocalist.

Tony Nominations: 2 Andy Blankenbuehler, who also directed the show, got a nod for his vigorous lindy-hopping choreography. And Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen were recognized for their orchestrations of the score, which revives the sounds of '40's big bands. I think the show might have done better if Taylor and Oberacker's book and Blankenbuehler's direction had more sharply underscored the parallels the show clearly wants to draw between its characters and soldiers who've recently returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a lovely scene in which the ghosts of their dead comrades haunt the band's members but too often the show pulls it punches, inching up to the pain returning vets experience and then retreating to the safety of yet another exuberant song and dance number. 

Survival Prospects: Like Amélie, this show has been struggling at the box office and it's hard to see who might fill its seats. Members of the Greatest Generation who are most likely to identify with this tale and its music are now in their 90s and the Vietnam-era Baby Boomers who make up the bulk of the ticket-buying audience tend to want their nostalgia set to a score of rock or soul instead of swing music. Meanwhile, the retro interests of Millennials don't seem to stretch that far back at all. I'll be surprised if this makes it through the summer.

The Story: Roald Dahl's classic children's book about an eccentric candy maker named Willie Wonka and a poor boy named Charlie who enters a contest to inherit Wonka's confectionary empire has been turned into two movies, a 1971 version with Gene Wilder and a 2005 one with Johnny Depp. This time out, Christian Borle dons Wonka's stovepipe hat and purple tailcoat. Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman supply the music and Jack O'Brien the direction.

Tony Nominations: Zero And the critics, including me, don't think much more of it. David Grieg's book is clunky and uninspired. Most of the plot involves introducing and then getting rid of Charlie's rivals for the candy factory, all of whom are more annoying than amusing. And the best songs in the show—"Pure Imagination" and "The Candy Man"—come from the 1971 film instead of Shaiman and Wittman's score. O'Brien has staged one delightfully inventive scene that features the factory's elf-like workers the Oompa Loompas but mindless reprises of it wore out even those charms for me.

Survival Prospects: Still, the title is well-known, the production is big, brassy and colorful and the show seems to be appealing to family audiences and to foreign tourists like the family that filled a full row behind my theatergoing buddy Bill and me. So the show has been selling out and this week its producers announced a national tour that will begin in September.

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