Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, with some more notes on Sunday’s Tony Awards.
CHRIS HARPER, THE MAN WHO PAYS LuPONE’S SALARY
British theatre producer Chris Harper — a marketing specialist who earned his dues at the National Theatre before launching Elliott Harper Productions with director Marianne Elliott — became a running joke at the 2022 Tony Awards.
But in the city that brought premium pricing to uncontrolled heights, it wasn’t, in fact, for the kind of eye-watering ticket prices that he oversaw the introduction of to the West End when his production of COCK saw prices hit £400 for final performances (though press outcry saw them come down again); that isn’t a joke on Broadway anymore now but a well-established fact.
Instead, Harper has been elevated to meme status, thanks to Patti LuPone, the newly Tony-award winning star of Elliot Harper’s revival of COMPANY, who in a post-show talkback last month with an audience member on the subject of mask wearing, had replied to the charge ‘I pay your salary’, with the statement, “Bullshit! Chris Harper pays my salary.”
When Harper collected the Tony for COMPANY when it was named Best Revival of a Musical, he turned to LuPone, and said, “Patti, it’s an honour to be the person who pays your salary.”
THE GREAT WHITE WAY CHANGES ITS HUE
The biggest development of the last year, since Broadway returned after the longest closure in its history, is how diverse it has suddenly become. And not before time, of course; as Ariane DeBose, the Oscar-winning star of WEST SIDE STORY who hosted this year’s ceremony, commented, “I feel like the phrase ‘Great White Way’ is becoming more of a nickname, as opposed to a how-to guide.”
The awards ceremony duly saw some ground-breaking wins, with A STRANGE LOOP — which bills itself as “a big, Black, and queer-ass American Broadway show” — taking the top Tony honour for Best Musical, with writer Michael R Jackson also winning the Tony for best book of a musical, while Deirdre O’Connell, who reprised her off-Broadway solo performance in DANA H on Broadway to win the Tony for Leading Actress in a Play (pictured above), proclaimed the win to fellow creators: “Please let me standing here be a little sign to you from the universe to make the weird art.”
WIth the aforementioned COMPANY winning the Tony for Best Revival, and the Tony for best actor in a musical going to newcomer Myles Frost for playing the title role in MJ, it meant that THE MUSIC MAN and Hugh Jackman who plays the title role — the year’s biggest revival and star — were shut out entirely;
of course they’ll be just fine without Tony recognition. (Ultimately the Tony’s are an extended advertorial for Broadway; and in some cases, a win isn’t necessary, it’s enough to be on the show).
Also shut out was Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green’s musical MR SATURDAY NIGHT with Billy Crystal reprising his film role; but Crystal at least got a chance to sell some tickets as he performed a number from the show.
And as New York Times chief critic Jesse Green wrote, “The ‘Yiddish scat’ he performed — nonsense guttural syllables and spitty consonants sung in the manner of an Ella Fitzgerald improvisation — has been part of his act forever, with good cause: It’s so stupidly funny you can’t help but fall for it. And when he brought it out into the audience, and threw it up to the balcony, he showed how precision delivery and command of a room can make even the oldest, silliest material impossibly compelling.”
While I was disappointed that Sharon D Clarke did not add a Tony to the Olivier she already has for her performance in CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, I can’t argue with the Tony for Leading Actress in a Musical going to Jaoaquina Kalukango for her astonishing performance in PARADISE SQUARE, that you can see part of here. (Sharon D Clarke will have another shot at Tony glory next year, after she reprises her performance as Linda Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN when the Young Vic production transfers to Broadway).
As New York Times critic Maya Phillips wrote of Kalukango’s Tony performance, “Thanks to the camera close-ups (something we don’t often get in the world of theater) we got to see the particulars of Kalukango’s performance; her face seems to open up into a dauntless roar, and by the end of the song her whole visage darkens with tears. It’s no surprise that she later won the award for best actress in a musical; watching her perform is like watching the bursting of a Roman candle in a starless night — that kind of powerful, that kind of beautiful.”
SEE YOU ON FRIDAY
I’ll be back here on Friday. Meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends). And a little advance warning: next week I am heading to Spain for a week. So I will publish a newsletter on Tuesday morning before I depart, but will then next publish on Wednesday June 30.