This year’s Tony awards presentation started with a bang. Neil Patrick Harris, the presenter, sang a big production number called “We’re Getting Bigger.” Cast members from several shows were featured. It would have been hard under any circumstances to top this number, and it wasn’t surprising that the rest of program was anticlimactic.
This wasn’t the fault of Harris, or of the people who put together this presentation. It resulted from a rather lacklustre Broadway season. There was not much exciting happening in the way of “straight” plays, and the musicals were even slimmer in quality.
At two points in the show, Harris was joined onstage by the outstanding actress and singer Audra McDonald. Ms. McDonald has championed a number of newer composers, including Adam Guettel, Michael John Lachiusa and Jason Robert Brown. These composers are the true successors of Stephen Sondheim, and the future of the Broadway musical rightly belongs with them. Yet none of these composers had a show on Broadway this season, although Lachiusa and Brown had shows off-Broadway.
The Broadway musical producers rely on the already threadbare policies of (1) using pop music and (2) presenting film adaptations. While jazz heavily influenced early Broadway musicals, the theatre has not done so well with rock or other later pop music. It took the theatre decades to incorporate such music, and now, when rock and funk have finally arrived, it merely presents old pop hits. As good as the music of Berry Gordy (Motown) and Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots) is in many ways, it is not specifically addressing dramatic situations.
And with regard to film adaptations, the market is now overstuffed. Many Hollywood films lack the depth of the Bergman films that inspired Stephen Sondheim. Playwrights and composers would do well to look elsewhere for their inspiration.