‘Fun Home,’ ‘Cu­ri­ous’ make big state­ments

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - CHARLES McNULTY THEATER CRITIC

Broad­way went big this year. Big box of­fice, big at­ten­dance, big f lops and big state­ments.

The big­gest state­ment by far was “Fun Home” win­ning five Tonys, in­clud­ing the best mu­si­cal award, the grand­est and most lu­cra­tive prize of all. The show, based on the graphic mem­oir by les­bian car­toon­ist Alison Bechdel about her search for clues about her clos­eted gay fa­ther’s ap­par­ent sui­cide, is hardly your typ­i­cal Broad­way tourist bait.

“Fun Home” had an ac­claimed run at the Public Theater, and in pre­vi­ous eras that is where it would have re­mained — an off-Broad­way suc­cès d’es­time, taught in col­lege fem­i­nist theater cour­ses but largely ab­sent from the reper­toire. In the move up­town, the show, rather than be­ing pas­teur­ized for main­stream con­sump­tion, grew more con­fi­dently into it­self.

Sam Gold won for his di­rec­tion, Lisa Kron for her book and Jea­nine Te­sori and Kron for their score in the first all-fe­male win in this cat­e­gory. Michael Cerveris, por­tray­ing Alison’s fa­ther with un­com­mon psy­cho­log­i­cal dex­ter­ity, won for lead ac­tor in a mu­si­cal — a com­pet­i­tive race but one in which he de­served to fin­ish on top.

Ar­tis­ti­cally, there re­ally was no other choice. “An Amer­i­can in Paris,” re­cy­cling the Ge­orge and Ira Gersh­win song­book, was a breath­tak­ingly staged exer-

cise in baby boomer nos­tal­gia. But Tony vot­ers, rec­og­niz­ing that box of­fice re­ceipts aren’t a sub­sti­tute for dar­ing orig­i­nal­ity, al­lowed hearts and minds to pre­vail over wal­lets.

In a year of record Broad­way grosses ($1.36 bil­lion), it’s heart­en­ing to see com­mer­cial im­per­a­tives take a back seat. But then per­haps Broad­way is be­gin­ning to rec­og­nize how re­liant it is on non­profit theater in the U.S. and na­tion­ally sub­si­dized theater in Bri­tain. Th­ese are the lab­o­ra­to­ries that pro­duce not only a good chunk of the Great White Way’s hoard of gold but, more im­por­tant for the art form’s longevity, its cul­tural ca­chet.

A spe­cial Bri­tish Air­ways f light will need to be re­served for all the tro­phies head­ing back to the other side of the pond. David Hare’s “Sky­light” took home the Tony for best play re­vival. He­len Mir­ren, widely ex­pected to win for her por­trayal of Queen El­iz­a­beth II in Peter Mor­gan’s “The Au­di­ence,” was given the lead actress in a play award un­usu­ally early in the tele­cast—no rea­son to with­hold what ev­ery­one knew was in­evitable.

“The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the Bri­tish im­port based on Mark Had­don’s novel about a teen who ap­pears to be autis­tic solv­ing a crime in which his fa­ther be­comes a prin­ci­pal sus­pect, was the other ma­jor win­ner of the night, tak­ing home five Tonys, in­clud­ing best play for Simon Stephens’ adap­ta­tion and lead ac­tor for Alex Sharp, a Broad­way newbie fresh out of Juil­liard.

Mar­i­anne El­liott, upon ac­cept­ing the award for best di­rec­tion, spoke of how gob­s­macked ev­ery­one as­so­ci­ated with “Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent” has been about the tremen­dous in­ter­na­tional suc­cess of a show orig­i­nally in­tended for a small theater. Pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of the drama, the way it at­tempts to the­atri­cal­ize the autis­tic way of pro­cess­ing the world, was the pri­or­ity, and El­liott and her team were richly re- warded for not com­pro­mis­ing their plan.

The Lin­coln Cen­ter Theatre pro­duc­tion of “The King and I,” gor­geously staged by Bartlett Sher, won for best mu­si­cal re­vival. And in an­other mark of ex­cel­lent judg­ment by Tony vot­ers, the prize for best actress in a mu­si­cal went to the show’s star Kelli O’Hara, win­ning fi­nally on her sixth nom­i­na­tion for a per­for­mance dis­tin­guished by vo­cal beauty and soul­ful del­i­cacy.

Kristin Chenoweth was widely con­sid­ered to be the front run­ner for this award for her per­for­mance in “On the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury.” But she can’t go home too dis­ap­pointed, hav­ing earned more fans as the frisky co­host of the CBS tele­cast with Alan Cum­ming. The show didn’t have the propul­sive mad­cap force that comes when Neil Pa­trick Har­ris or Hugh Jackman is the mas­ter of cer­e­monies, but it had a wel­com­ing en­tre nous en­ergy—theater peo­ple ex­tend­ing a wide communal em­brace to ev­ery­one who loves the stage and its in­clu­sive val­ues.

One num­ber bravely ex­em­pli­fied this spirit — “Ring of Keys” from “Fun Home,” per­formed by Syd­ney Lu­cas, the youngest of the three ac­tresses who play Alison. In the song, as Kron de­scribed the mo­ment on Face­book be­fore the tele­cast, “a lit­tle tomboy sees a kin­dred spirit in a butch de­liv­ery woman,” adding that it’s “go­ing to be un­like any­thing that’s ever been on na­tional TV be­fore.”

The won­drous thing is that she wasn’t over­stat­ing mat­ters — and yet noth­ing at all seemed con­tro­ver­sial or out of place.

Imag­ine a night when the two big win­ners are a les­bian mu­si­cal and a play with a pro­tag­o­nist who is on the spec­trum. Broad­way is a big­ger busi­ness than ever, and the artis­tic chal­lenges that go along with this are for­mi­da­ble.

But th­ese Tony Awards speak to a new ma­tu­rity in our theater.

Charles Sykes Invision / AP

HE­LEN MIR­REN ju­bi­lantly ac­cepts the award for actress in a lead­ing role for “The Au­di­ence.”

Theo Wargo

MICHAEL CERVERIS, here per­form­ing a scene from “Fun Home,” won for lead ac­tor in a mu­si­cal.

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