Monday, June 08, 2009

A Gay Ol' Time

My housemate Brian and I watched the Tony Awards on TV last night. To be honest, I don’t consider myself a Broadway-type-of-gay, but I must admit I found the broadcast of the 63rd annual Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards to be quite an enjoyable experience.

Some really big names were present – Elton John, Liza Minneli, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, etc, etc. Yet I found myself more interested in the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, who I thought did a stellar job at emceeing. Of course, the fact that he’s as cute as a button and very talented doesn’t hurt. Actually, I think he’s almost up there with Hugh Jackman in terms of his versatility. I mean, the guy can sing, act, dance – and be funny in a very natural and appealing way. And Variety agrees, noting that:

Host Neil Patrick Harris supplied plenty of relaxed charm, healthy irreverence and the obligatory sushi joke, piloting a ceremony that delivered on its promise to load up on musical numbers and performance excerpts.

Another face that piqued my interest was that of British actress Amanda Root, who, I was pleasantly surprised to discover, had been nominated for best performance by a featured actress in a play (for her role in The Norman Conquests). I first became aware of this beautiful and talented actress about twelve years ago when she starred in a wonderful film adaptation of Jane Austin’s Persuasion. Anyway, Amanda lost out to Broadway legend Angela Lansbury – who I’m sure most Broadway watchers were hoping would win.

Billy Elliot the Musical was the big winner of the night – winning ten awards! I must admit I was a bit disappointed by how many of the musicals nominated were refashioned remakes of non-musical films. I mean, a musical version of Shrek? Do we really need it? (Pop will eat itself, indeed!)

Yasmina Reza’s intriguing-sounding God of Carnage won for best new play, and one of its female leads, Marcia Gay Harden (whom I think would make a perfect Rachel Roberts if anyone ever decided to do a film or play about the late, great Welsh actress’ troubled life) won for best performance by a leading actress. In my humble opinion, Harden also was wearing the best dress (a beautiful green number) of the evening!

Hair won in the “revival of a musical” category, and I have to say that I was totally smitten by one of the two male leads – Will Swenson (pictured below at right). And wouldn’t you know it, of these two hot guys, I found myself attracted to the straight one! (Gavin Creel, pictured at left with Swenson, is, like host Neil Patrick Harris, “openly gay.”)

Anyway, I was quite intrigued by what I saw of Hair – and not just because of the beautiful Swenson. I’m hoping it will tour after its Broadway success and that I’ll get to see it here in the Twin Cities, Then again, I’m planning on going out east in July. Perhaps I’ll make it my first Broadway show!

Following are some interesting excerpts from the Wikipedia entry on Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.

Hair challenged many of the norms held by Western society in 1968. The name itself was a reaction to the restrictions of civilization and consumerism and a preference for naturalism. [Co-writer James] Rado remembers that long hair “was a visible form of awareness in the consciousness expansion. The longer the hair got, the more expansive the mind was. Long hair was shocking, and it was a revolutionary act to grow long hair. It was kind of a flag, really.”

The musical caused controversy when it was first staged, and the Act I finale which included male and female nudity drew considerable publicity, as it was the first time a Broadway show had seen totally naked actors and actresses. The show was also charged with the desecration of the American flag and the use of obscene language. These controversies, in addition to the anti–Vietnam War theme, attracted occasional threats and acts of violence during the show’s early years and became the basis for legal actions both when the show opened in other cities and on tour. Two cases eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

. . . The music in Hair runs the gamut of rock: from the rockabilly sensibilities of “Don’t Put it Down” to the folk rock rhythms of “Frank Mills” and “What a Piece of Work is Man.” “Easy to be Hard” is pure rhythm and blues, and protest rock anthems abound: “Ain’t Got No” and “The Flesh Failures.” The acid rock of “Walking in Space” and “Aquarius” are balanced by the mainstream pop of “Good Morning Starshine.” . . . Scott Miller ties the music of Hair to the hippies’ political themes: “The hippies . . . were determined to create art of the people and their chosen art form, rock/folk music was by its definition, populist. . . . the hippies’ music was often very angry, its anger directed at those who would prostitute the Constitution, who would sell America out, who would betray what America stood for; in other words, directed at their parents and the government.”

. . . Critical response to the [2009] revival has been almost uniformly positive.The New York Daily News headline proclaimed “Hair Revival’s High Fun.” Praising the daring direction, “colorfully kinetic” choreography and technical accomplishments of the show, especially the lighting, the paper commented that “as a smile-inducing celebration of life and freedom, [Hair is] highly communicable.” The review warned, however: “If you’re seated on the aisle, count on [the cast] to be in your face or your lap or . . . braiding your tresses.” The New York Post wrote that the production “has emerged triumphant. . . . These days, the nation is fixated less on war and more on the economy. As a result, the scenes that resonate most are the ones in which the kids exultantly reject the rat race.” Variety enthused, “Director Diane Paulus and her prodigiously talented cast connect with the material in ways that cut right to the 1967 rock musical’s heart, generating tremendous energy that radiates to the rafters. . . . What could have been mere nostalgia instead becomes a full-immersion happening. . . . If this explosive production doesn’t stir something in you, it may be time to check your pulse.”

Ben Brantley, writing for The New York Times . . . deliver[ed] a glowing review:

Having moved indoors to Broadway from the Delacorte Theater . . . the young cast members . . . show no signs of becoming domesticated. On the contrary, they’re tearing down the house. . . . This emotionally rich revival . . . delivers what Broadway otherwise hasn’t felt this season: the intense, unadulterated joy and anguish of that bi-polar state called youth. . . . Karole Armitage’s happy hippie choreography, with its group gropes and mass writhing, looks as if it’s being invented on the spot. But there’s intelligent form within the seeming formlessness.... [Paulus finds] depths of character and feeling in [the 1968 show about kids] frightened of how the future is going to change them and of not knowing what comes next. . . . Every single ensemble member emerges as an individual. . . . After the show I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to [the characters]. Mr. MacDermot’s music, which always had more pop than acid, holds up beautifully, given infectious life by the onstage band and the flavorfully blended voices of the cast.

Perhaps one reason why I find myself so drawn to what I’ve seen and heard of Hair is because some of my earliest memories are of the music and fashions of its era.

I can remember, for instance, when I was in first or second class (1971-72) at St. Xavier’s Primary School in Gunnedah, NSW, Australia, how the kids in the sixth class were all set to perform “Age of Aquarius” as part of our school’s end-of-year concert. However, someone must have complained and they ended up performing a rather torpid rendition of “Scarborough Fair”!

And I can recall my Mum taking my younger brother and I to what was no doubt Gunnedah’s one and only hippie store to buy us some colorful plastic bracelets that were all the rage! In retrospect, I swear the guy who served us looked as if he stepped right out of Hair! And if he had looked anything like Will Swenson . . . well, perhaps that may partly explain why I sat transfixed last night watching Swenson and the rest of the cast of Hair strut their stuff!

Recommended Off-site Links:
The 2009 Tony Awards - Liz Goodwin (The Daily Beast, June 8, 2009).
Billy Elliot Scores Big at Tony Awards - David Rooney (Variety, June 7, 2009).
Hair on Broadway
- Footnotes (April 6, 2009).

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