2022 Tony Awards: ‘A Strange Loop’ is the top nominee

May 9, 2022

The following is a press release from the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing:

Nominations in 26 competitive categories for the American Theatre Wing’s 75th Annual Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards® were announced today by Tony Award-winner Adrienne Warren and three-time Tony Nominee Joshua Henry. The nominees were selected by an independent committee of 29 theatre professionals appointed by the Tony Awards Administration Committee. The 2022 Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. (The list of nominations follows.)

Marking 75 years of excellence on Broadway, The Tony Awards, hosted by Ariana DeBose, will take place LIVE from the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Sunday, June 12, 2022 (8:00 – 11:00 PM, LIVE ET/5:00 – 8:00 PM, LIVE PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+. The celebration will commence at 7:00-8:00 PM, ET/4:00-5:00 PM, PT with exclusive content streaming only on Paramount+.

Legitimate theatrical productions opening in any of the 41 eligible Broadway theatres during the current season may be considered for Tony nominations. The 2021/2022 eligibility season began August 1, 2021 and ended Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The Tony Awards will be voted in 26 competitive categories by 650 designated Tony voters within the theatre community.

As previously announced, the 2022 Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre will be presented to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC); Broadway For All; music copyist, Emily Grishman; Feinstein’s/54 Below and United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE. The Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award will be presented to Robert E. Wankel.

A Special Tony Award will be awarded to James C. Nicola, the Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop since 1988. Under his guidance, NYTW has remained steadfast to its founding commitment of nurturing emerging, mid-career and established theatre artists and promoting collaboration and bold experimentation with theatrical forms. Mr. Nicola initiated an extensive series of workshop opportunities that have continued for 25 years, including summer residencies and fellowships for artists representing a broad spectrum of cultures and backgrounds. He forged a unique community of theatre artists, the Usual Suspects, which now boasts over 600 members and whose work has shaped our very idea of what theatre can be. As Artistic Director, Mr. Nicola has been instrumental in the development of many NYTW productions, including Jonathan Larson’s Rent; Tony Kushner’s Slavs! and Homebody/Kabul; Doug Wright’s Quills; Claudia Shear’s Blown Sideways Through Life and Dirty Blonde; Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Valhalla; Martha Clarke’s Vienna: Lusthaus; Will Power’s The Seven and Fetch Clay, Make Man; Caryl Churchill’s Mad ForestFar AwayA Number and Love and Information; Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s Aftermath; Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher; Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová and Enda Walsh’s Once; David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus; Dael Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick and Forever; Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown; Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me; Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play; Sam Gold’s production of Othello; and eight productions directed by Ivo van Hove.

The 2021-2022 Tony Award Nominating Committee consists of: Warren Adams, Bob Alwine, Becky Ann Baker, Pun Bandhu, Milly Barranger, Christopher Burney, Kathleen Chalfant, Eisa Davis, Jerry Dixon, Peter Jay Fernandez, Kamilah Forbes, Scott Frankel, Maija Garcia, M L Geiger, Ann Harada, Michael Kantor, Martyna Majok, John Mauceri, Jonathan McCrory, Sheila Nevins, James C. Nicola, Peter Parnell, Rosalba Rolón, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Don Scardino, Kimberly Senior, Randy Skinner, Michael Stotts and Michael Benjamin Washington.

The Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards are bestowed annually on theatre professionals for distinguished achievement. The Tony is one of the most coveted awards in the entertainment industry and the annual telecast is considered one of the most prestigious programs on television.

The 2022 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. At The Broadway League, Lauren Reid is Chair and Charlotte St. Martin is President. At the American Theater Wing, Emilio Sosa is Chair and Heather A. Hitchens is President & CEO.

For the CBS broadcast, Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss/White Cherry Entertainment are Executive Producers. Weiss also serves as Director.

Tickets for the 2022 Tony Awards will go on sale on Monday, May 9th at 9:00 AM ET through TonyAwards.com/tickets.

Sponsors for the 2022 Tony Awards include: Carnegie Mellon University – the first-ever, exclusive higher education partner; Cadillac – official automotive partner of the Tony Awards; City National Bank – official bank of the Tony Awards; MAC Cosmetics – official makeup partner; Playbill; Sofitel New York – the official hotel of the Tony Awards; Rainbow Room – official partner of the Tony Nominee Luncheon; and United Airlines – the official airline of the Tony Awards for over 20 years.

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Nominations for the 2022 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®

Presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing

Best Book of a Musical

Girl From The North Country

Conor McPherson

MJ

Lynn Nottage

Mr. Saturday Night

Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Paradise Square

Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas & Larry Kirwan

A Strange Loop

Michael R. Jackson

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Flying Over Sunset

Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Michael Korie

Mr. Saturday Night

Music: Jason Robert Brown
Lyrics: Amanda Green

Paradise Square

Music: Jason Howland
Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Masi Asare

SIX: The Musical

Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

A Strange Loop

Music & Lyrics: Michael R. Jackson

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy
Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy
Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy
David Morse, How I Learned to Drive
Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues
David Threlfall, Hangmen

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Gabby Beans, The Skin of Our Teeth
LaChanze, Trouble in Mind
Ruth Negga, Macbeth
Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H.
Mary-Louise Parker, How I Learned to Drive

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Billy Crystal, Mr. Saturday Night
Myles Frost, MJ
Hugh Jackman, The Music Man
Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire
Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline, or Change
Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset
Sutton Foster, The Music Man
Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square
Mare Winningham, Girl From The North Country

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Alfie Allen, Hangmen
Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out
Ron Cephas Jones, Clyde’s
Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out
Jesse Williams, Take Me Out

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Uzo Aduba, Clyde’s
Rachel Dratch, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kenita R. Miller, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew
Julie White, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kara Young, Clyde’s

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Matt Doyle, Company
Sidney DuPont, Paradise Square
Jared Grimes, Funny Girl
John-Andrew Morrison, A Strange Loop
A.J. Shively, Paradise Square

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Jeannette Bayardelle, Girl From The North Country
Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night
Jayne Houdyshell, The Music Man
L Morgan Lee, A Strange Loop
Patti LuPone, Company
Jennifer Simard, Company

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Beowulf Boritt, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong, Skeleton Crew
Es Devlin, The Lehman Trilogy
Anna Fleischle, Hangmen
Scott Pask, American Buffalo
Adam Rigg, The Skin of Our Teeth

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions, Flying Over Sunset
Bunny Christie, Company
Arnulfo Maldonado, A Strange Loop
Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini, MJ
Allen Moyer, Paradise Square

Best Costume Design of a Play

Montana Levi Blanco, The Skin of Our Teeth
Sarafina Bush, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Emilio Sosa, Trouble in Mind
Jane Greenwood, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite
Jennifer Moeller, Clyde’s

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Fly Davis, Caroline, or Change
Toni-Leslie James, Paradise Square
William Ivey Long, Diana, The Musical
Santo Loquasto, The Music Man
Gabriella Slade, SIX: The Musical
Paul Tazewell, MJ

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Joshua Carr, Hangmen
Jiyoun Chang, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy
Jane Cox, Macbeth
Yi Zhao, The Skin of Our Teeth

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Neil Austin, Company
Tim Deiling, SIX: The Musical
Donald Holder, Paradise Square
Natasha Katz, MJ
Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset
Jen Schriever, A Strange Loop

Best Sound Design of a Play

Justin Ellington, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Mikhail Fiksel, Dana H.
Palmer Hefferan, The Skin of Our Teeth
Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, The Lehman Trilogy
Mikaal Sulaiman, Macbeth

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Simon Baker, Girl From The North Country
Paul Gatehouse, SIX: The Musical
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Company
Drew Levy, A Strange Loop
Gareth Owen, MJ

Best Direction of a Play

Lileana Blain-Cruz, The Skin of Our Teeth
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy
Neil Pepe, American Buffalo
Les Waters, Dana H.

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop
Marianne Elliott, Company
Conor McPherson, Girl From The North Country
Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage, SIX: The Musical
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ

Best Choreography

Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Warren Carlyle, The Music Man
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, SIX: The Musical
Bill T. Jones, Paradise Square
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ

Best Orchestrations

David Cullen, Company
Tom Curran, SIX: The Musical
Simon Hale, Girl From The North Country
Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, MJ
Charlie Rosen, A Strange Loop

Best Play

Clyde’s

Author: Lynn Nottage
Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Khady Kamara

Hangmen

Author: Martin McDonagh
Producers: Robert Fox, Jean Doumanian, Elizabeth I. McCann, Craig Balsam, Atlantic Theater Company, Jon B. Platt, Len Blavatnik, Richard Fishman, John Gore Organization, Stephanie P. McClelland, David Mirvish, The Shubert Organization, Jamie deRoy/Sandy Robertson, Patrick Myles/Alexander ‘Sandy’ Marshall, M. Kilburg Reedy/Excelsior Entertainment, Playful Productions, The Royal Court Theatre

The Lehman Trilogy

Author: Stefano Massini, Ben Power
Producers: National Theatre, Neal Street Productions, Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kash Bennett, Lisa Burger, Caro Newling, Ambassador Theatre Group, Stephanie P. McClelland, Annapurna Theatre, Delman Whitney, Craig Balsam/Heni Koenigsberg/John Yonover, Fiery Angel/Seth A. Goldstein, Starry Night Entertainment, Gavin Kalin Productions, Paul & Selina Burdell/Bill Damaschke, 42nd.club/Phil & Claire Kenny, CatWenJam Productions, Amanda Dubois, Glass Half Full Productions, Dede Harris/Linda B. Rubin, Kallish Weinstein Creative, Kors Le Pere Theatricals LLC, James L. Nederlander, No Guarantees, Mark Pigott KBE, KStJ, Playing Field, Catherine Schreiber/Adam Zell, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Richard Winkler/Alan Shorr/Dawn Smalberg, The Shubert Organization, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Jillian Robbins

The Minutes

Author: Tracy Letts
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Rebecca Gold, Carl Moellenberg, Spencer Ross, Louise Gund, Elizabeth Armstrong, Blakeman Entertainment, HornosBerger, Across the River Productions, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley/Leah Lane, Jayne Baron Sherman, Kathleen K. Johnson, Emily Dobbs, Robert Flicker, Jacob Soroken Porter, The Shubert Organization, Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Skeleton Crew

Author: Dominique Morisseau
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove

Best Musical

Girl From The North Country

Producers: Tristan Baker & Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Steven Lappin, Sony Music Entertainment/Sony ATV, David Mirvish, Len Blavatnik, The Dodgers, Eric & Marsi Gardiner, Dianne Roberts, John Gore Organization, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Tommy Mottola, Independent Presenters Network, Rod Kaats, Diana DiMenna, Mary Beth O’Connor, Barbara H. Freitag, Patrick Catullo, Aaron Lustbader, The Old Vic, Matthew Warchus, Kate Varah, Georgia Gatti, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

MJ

Producers: Lia Vollack, John Branca, John McClain, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Music Entertaiment, Roy Furman, Cue to Cue Productions, James L. Nederlander, Kumiko Yoshii, Naoya Kinoshita, Latitude Link, Candy Spelling, Stephen C. Byrd, John Gore Organization, Sandy Robertson, Ed Walson, Peter W. May, CJ ENM, Martin Bandier, Michael Cassel Group, Albert Nocciolino, Playful Productions, Ken Schur, Willette & Manny Klausner, Doug Morris, Michael David, Estate of Michael Jackson

Mr. Saturday Night

Producers: James L. Nederlander, Face Productions, Inc., Hunter Arnold, Michael Cohl, TEG Dainty, Candy Spelling, Steve Traxler, Marc David Levine, Caiola Productions, Crossroads Live, Jamie deRoy, Roy Furman, Arny Granat, Grove Entertainment, John Gore Organization, Wolf Gutterman, Van Kaplan, Larry Magid, Peter May, Carl Moellenberg, Beth W. Newburger, Albert Nocciolino, Eva Price, Iris Smith, The Shubert Organization, Howard Tenenbaum, Barry and Fran Weissler

Paradise Square

Producers: Garth H. Drabinsky, Peter LeDonne, Jeffrey A. Sine, Matthew C. Blank, Joe Crowley, RSR Finance LLC, Hunter & Mariana Milborne, Len Blavatnik, Joseph Coffey, Sherry Wright & Craig Haffner, Bernard Abrams, James Scrivanich, Rick Chad, Arthur M. Kraus, Broadway & Beyond Theatricals, Brian Luborsky, Gilbert & Elisa Palter, The Shubert Organization, Terry Schnuck, Urban One, Inc., Robert Wolf, Richard Stursberg, Mark W. Everson, Sanjay Govil, Jeremiah J. Harris, Amabel James, Sheila C. Johnson, Dennis Mehiel, Louise H. & John G. Beard, Henry R. Muñoz, III & Kyle Ferari Muñoz, Walter Swett, Zachary Florence, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

SIX: The Musical

Producers: Kenny Wax, Wendy & Andy Barnes, George Stiles, Kevin McCollum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater

A Strange Loop

Producers: Barbara Whitman, Pasek, Paul & Stafford, Hunter Arnold, Marcia Goldberg, Alex Levy & James Achilles, Osh Ashruf, A Choir Full Productions, Don Cheadle & Bridgid Coulter Cheadle, Paul Oakley Stovall, Jimmy Wilson, Annapurna Theatre, Robyn Coles, Creative Partners Productions, Robyn Gottesdiener, Kayla Greenspan, Grove Entertainment, Kuhn, Lewis & Scott, Frank Marshall, Maximum Effort Productions Inc., Joey Monda, Richard Mumby, Phenomenal Media & Meena Harris, Marc Platt & Debra Martin Chase, Laurie Tisch, Yonge Street Theatricals, Dodge Hall Productions/JJ Malley, Cody Renard Richard, John Gore Organization, James L. Nederlander, The Shubert Organization, RuPaul Charles, Alan Cumming, Ilana Glazer, Jennifer Hudson, Mindy Kaling, Billy Porter, Page 73 Productions, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons

Best Revival of a Play

American Buffalo

Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Steve Traxler, Stephanie P. McClelland, GFour Productions, Spencer Ross, Gemini Theatrical, Chris and Ashlee Clarke, Suna Said Maslin, Ted & Richard Liebowitz/Cue to Cue Productions, Patty Baker/Good Productions, Brad Blume, Caiola Productions, Joanna Carson, Arthur Kern, Willette Klausner, Jeremiah J. Harris and Darren P. Deverna, Van Kaplan, Patrick Myles/David Luff, Alexander Marshall, Ambassador Theatre Group, Kathleen K. Johnson, Diego Kolankowsky, Steve and Jacob Levy, Morwin Schmookler, Brian Moreland, Jacob Soroken Porter, The Shubert Organization

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

Producers: Nelle Nugent, Ron Simons, Kenneth Teaton, Ellen Ferguson and Vivian Phillips, Willette and Manny Klausner, Hunter Arnold, Dale Franzen, Valencia Yearwood, One Community, Audible, Dennis Grimaldi, Terry Nardozzi and Tracey Knight Narang, Grace Nordhoff/Mickalene Thomas, Angelina Fiordellisi/Caiola Productions, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

How I Learned to Drive

Author: Paula Vogel
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove, Daryl Roth, Cody Lassen, Vineyard Theatre

Take Me Out

Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Khady Kamara

Trouble in Mind

Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow

Best Revival of a Musical

Caroline, or Change

Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow, Lot’s Wife, Hunter Arnold, Caiola Productions/Willette & Manny Klausner, Chambers -D’Angora/Joseph & Alyson Graci

Company

Producers: Elliott & Harper Productions, The Shubert Organization, Catherine Schreiber, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Crossroads Live, Anapurna Theatre, Hunter Arnold, No Guarantees, Jon B. Platt, Michael Watt, John Gore Organization, Tim Levy, Grove – REG, Hornos – Mollenberg, Levine – Federman – Adler, Beard – Merrie – Robbins, LD Entertainment/Madison Wells Live, Benjamin Lowy/Roben Alive, Daryl Roth/Tom Tuft, Salmira Productions/Caiola Productions, Aged in Wood/Lee – Sachs, Berinstein – Lane/42nd.club, Boyett – Miller/Hodges – Kukieiski, Finn – DeVito/Independent Presenters Network, Armstrong – Ross/Gilad – Rogowsky, Boardman – Koenigsberg/Zell – Seriff, Concord Theatricals – Scott Sanders Productions/Abrams – May, deRoy – Brunish/Jenen – Rubin, Fakston Productions/Sabi – Lerner – Ketner, Maggio – Abrams/Hopkins – Tackel, Levy & Chauviere, Jujamcyn Theaters

The Music Man

Producers: Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kate Horton, Fictionhouse

Tony Nominations by Production

A Strange Loop – 11

MJ – 10

Paradise Square – 10

Company – 9

The Lehman Trilogy – 8

SIX: The Musical – 8

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf – 7

Girl From The North Country – 7

The Music Man – 6

The Skin of Our Teeth – 6

Clyde’s – 5

Hangmen – 5

Mr. Saturday Night – 5

American Buffalo – 4

Flying Over Sunset – 4

Take Me Out – 4

Trouble in Mind – 4

Caroline, or Change – 3

Dana H. – 3

How I Learned to Drive – 3

Macbeth – 3

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive – 3

Skeleton Crew – 3

Diana, The Musical – 1

Funny Girl – 1

Lackawanna Blues – 1

The Minutes – 1

Mrs. Doubtfire – 1

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite – 1

Review: ‘West Side Story’ (2021), starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James and Rita Moreno

December 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in “West Side Story” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“West Side Story” (2021)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1957 in New York City, the musical drama remake “West Side Story” features a cast of white and Latino people representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A young Puerto Rican woman and a young Polish American man fall in love with each other, despite having people close to them who are in rival, warring gangs that are opposed to this romance.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of fans of the original “West Side Story” movie musical, this 2021 version of “West Side Story” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of director Steven Spielberg and movie adaptations of Broadway musicals.

Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez in “West Side Story” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

The 2021 remake of “West Side Story” is exactly the glossy spectacle that you might expect from director Steven Spielberg. The movie is a bonafide crowd-pleasing epic that makes some interesting changes from the 1961’s “West Side Story” movie, a classic that was directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. In the 2021 version of “West Side Story,” some of these changes work better than other revisions to the original movie. The original “West Side Story” movie was based on a Tony-winning musical that debuted on Broadway in 1957. The Broadway musical was written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay to the 1961 “West Side Story,” while Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay to the 2021 “West Side Story.”

The original “West Side Story” movie starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris as four young people in New York City who are caught in the middle of gang warfare, ethnic bigotry and risky romance. Moreno and Chakiris won Oscars for their supporting roles in the movie, which won a total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. (Moreno’s Oscar victory was groundbreaking, as she became the first Latina to win an Academy Award.) Is the 2021 version of “West Side Story” worthy of 10 Academy Awards? No, but there are some standout performances that should bring more attention to some very talented cast members. They do all their own singing, unlike some of the stars of the original “West Side Story” movie.

Most fans of musicals already know the basic premise of “West Side Story,” which is set in New York City (specifically, in a working-class area of Manhattan’s West Side) in 1957. It’s a story inspired by William Shakeapeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In “West Side Story,” a sweet and innocent Puerto Rican woman named Maria, who’s in her late teens, falls in love with a slightly older, streetwise Polish American man named Tony, who is an ex-con trying to start a new and reformed life away from an all-white gang that he used to lead called the Jets. Maria’s domineering older brother Bernardo is the leader of an all-Puerto Rican rival gang called the Sharks. Bernardo is dating Maria’s sassy best friend Anita. Needless to say, the romance of Maria and Tony sparks a war between the Jets and the Sharks.

In the original “West Side Story” movie, Wood was Maria, Beymer was Tony, Moreno was Anita and Chakiris was Bernardo. In the 2021 “West Side Story” remake (which also takes place in 1957), Rachel Zegler is María, Ansel Elgort is Tony, Ariana DeBose is Anita and David Alvarez is Bernardo. Unlike the original “West Side Story” movie, Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake avoids any criticism of “whitewashing” racial casting, by casting the people of color characters with actors who are also people of color. Zegler is a Latina of Colombian heritage. DeBose is multiracial; in interviews, she sometimes identifies herself as African American. (DeBose’s father is Afro-Latino, and her mother is white.)

Perhaps the biggest and best change to the “West Side Story” remake is the clever idea to cast original “West Side Story” movie co-star Moreno in the role of a new character: Valentina, the no-nonsense but kind-hearted owner of a drugstore called Doc’s Chemists, where Tony works. In this version of “West Side Story,” Valentina is the widow of Doc, the store’s owner in the original “West Side Story” movie. (Doc was played by Ned Glass.) Considering all the racial discord in the story, the Valentina character gives the movie added poignancy because a Latina woman has given Tony a chance to redeem himself and start a new life.

Valentina represents the bridge between the divides caused by racism and xenophobia in the community that’s depicted in the movie. And there’s an extra layer of female empowerment/solidarity in a pivotal scene in the movie, when Anita defends herself from being attacked in the store by members of the Jets, and Valentina intervenes to put a stop to the assault. This scene has a greater impact than in the original “West Side Story,” when the upstanding but somewhat wishy-washy Doc was the one who stopped the attack.

Rather than putting the scene in a stereotypical context of a man coming to the rescue of a woman, this “West Side Story” movie has a woman in charge (Valentina), who is the unflinching moral compass in a maelstrom of hate and chaos. The scene is also symbolic of all the racism and sexism that women of color have had to experience and what happens when women help each other in moments of distress and pain. Moreno has talked extensively in interviews about how this scene was the most emotionally difficult one for her to film in the original “West Side Story,” and she has said it was a surreal experience to film it again in the “West Side Story” remake—this time, as the rescuer instead of the one being attacked.

Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake stays true to the main elements of the story. The movie opens with the Jets in a rubble-filled area that’s undergoing reconstruction to make way for higher-priced homes. The Jets, led by Tony’s best friend Riff (played by Mike Faist), are hoodlums who come from dysfunctional families and are hostile toward non-white immigrants whom they feel are taking over the city. Since 1917, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory, and people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. But that doesn’t stop people like the Jets (and many other xenophobic and racist people) from thinking that Puerto Ricans aren’t “real Americans.” If Tony had any past racism when he was in the Jets, it’s not directly mentioned in the movie. What’s clear is that Tony is now a reformed person and very much against racism.

Meanwhile, many of the Sharks, including Bernardo, dislike white people, whom they see as racist oppressors. Puerto Ricans such as Bernardo, María and Anita are U.S. citizens but feel like immigrants in the United States, where English is the dominant language and there’s open hatred and discrimination against people who aren’t white. Bernardo feels that the Sharks are superior to the Jets because, as he tells Riff in one of their many confrontations, at least most of the Sharks have jobs. The Jets—who are U.S.-born, mostly unemployed descendants of white European immigrants—are fueled by anger in their perception that the American Dream has been ripped away from them.

María, Bernardo, and Anita (who all pay rent and share the same apartment in this “West Side Story” remake) represent the American Dream of people whose first language is not English, which they’ve had to learn in order to get certain opportunities. María, Bernardo and Anita also represent Puerto Ricans who come to the United States in search of a better life while the majority of their families still live in Puerto Rico. Coming to a place like New York City—where the cost of living and is higher and the living spaces are smaller than most other U.S. cities—can be a rude awakening that can be handled with optimism or pessimism. This dichotomy is represented in one of the musical’s most famous song-and-dance numbers: “America,” with Anita taking the lead for the optimistic side, and Bernardo taking the lead for the pessimistic side.

A noticeable difference in this “West Side Story” remake is that the Puerto Ricans speak a lot more Spanish—and there are no subtitles. It’s a clear indication that Spielberg (who is one of the movie’s producers) wanted this version of “West Side Story” to be more inclusive to Spanish-speaking audiences and present a more realistic depiction of people who speak more than one language. Although the 2021 version of “West Side Story” has no subtitles for the Spanish-language dialogue, it’s easy for people who don’t know Spanish to figure out what what’s being said, based on the cast members’ tones of voice, body language and facial expressions.

In this movie remake, the Puerto Rican characters are less concerned about assimilating in English-speaking America than their counterparts were in the 1961 version of “West Side Story.” Valentina even says so, when she makes this comment about her interracial marriage: “I married a gringo. He thinks that makes me a gringo. I ain’t.”

“West Side Story” was ahead of its time for having the androgynous Anybodys character, who is presented in both movies as a young transgender man, during an era when the word “transgender” did not exist. In the “West Side Story” remake, Anybodys (played by Iris Menas) is a lookout for the Jets. Anybodys is sometimes referred to as a “girl,” but Anybodys would rather be just one of the guys.

There’s a point in the movie where people start using male pronouns to describe Anybodys—and that makes Anybodys very happy. In the 2021 “West Side Story” remake, Anybodys has less screen time than the Anybodys in the first “West Side Story” movie. The character is depicted with more subtlety and less-exaggerated mannerisms in the remake.

Just like in the original “West Side Story,” the movie begins with the introduction of the Jets, followed by the Sharks, and the tensions between the two gangs. The Jets are first seen emerging from the rubble with paint cans, which they use to commit vandalism on an outdoor wall mural of the Puerto Rican flag. (This vandalism of a Puerto Rican flag mural is new to the remake.) The Sharks see this vandalism, are offended, and a brawl ensues between the two gangs until police arrive to break up the fight.

On the scene is Officer Krupke (played by Brian d’Arcy James), a “regular Joe” cop who would like nothing more than for the Jets and the Sharks to stop fighting each other, even though he knows that’s not very realistic. Krupke’s swaggering boss is Lieutenant Schrank (played by Corey Stoll), who’s even more impatient with these rival gangs than Krupke is. Schrank gruffly insults the Jets by calling them “the last of the can’t-make-it Caucasians,” and he barks this order: “Evict yourself from my crime scene, Bernardo!”

The Jets and the Sharks don’t trust each other, but both gangs have even less trust of the police. It’s why no one in either gang will snitch when the police try to find out who started the violent fight. No one is arrested this time, but the fight’s not over. As soon as the cops leave, Riff and Bernardo agree that there should be a rumble to decide which gang will come out on top. Anita and María openly express their disapproval of Bernardo’s gang activities, but he doesn’t pay attention to them, and there’s not much María and Anita can do to stop him.

Riff is somewhat of a reluctant chief of the Jets because he became the default leader when Tony was sent to prison for attempted murder of a young man during a gang fight. Now on parole, Tony is keeping his distance from the Jets because he truly wants to turn his life around and no longer be a criminal. Tony will not rejoin the Jets, despite Riff’s constant pleas.

Faist’s version of Riff has an insecure scrappiness to how he handles his gang leadership, indicating that Riff craves and fears power. He looks like he’s got a more fascinating and harrowing story to tell than Russ Tamblyn’s version of Riff in the first “West Side Story” movie. Tamblyn’s Riff looks like a frat boy gone bad. Faist’s version of Riff looks like a real street survivor who’s had a rough life and has the facial scars to prove it.

Riff has a platinum-blonde girlfriend named Velma (played by Maddie Ziegler), who is loyal and loving to him, but she disapproves of him getting involved in violent crimes. It’s a change from the Velma in the first “West Side Story” movie, where Velma was much more of a gang moll who looked the other way or encouraged Riff to be a violent thug. Ziegler became an actress after years as a professional dancer. Her dance expertise shows in Velma’s feisty and eye-catching dance moves.

In this “West Side Story” remake, Tony goes into more details about his life in prison in ways that weren’t in the original “West Side Story” movie. He still talks more about how prison changed him and made him determined to lead a law-abiding and productive life, but he expresses more guilt about the crime and more remorse about how he hurt the victim. After he was released from prison, Valentina gave Tony a job and a place to stay. (He lives in the store’s basement.) Valentina has known the members of the Jets since they were children. She has become a mother figure to Tony, who is estranged from his parents.

Just like in the original “West Side Story,” Tony and María meet and have a “love at first sight” encounter at a dance attended by local young people, including the members of the Jets and the Sharks. The dance’s chaperone announces at the dance that it’s a “social experiment” to better integrate white people and Latinos who live in the area. “And then you can all go back to your feral lives,” the chaperone cynically adds. However, racial segregation is still a fact of life that the attendees find difficult to change at this dance. They still congregate in groups according to race, including the inevitable dance-off where Anita and Bernardo outshine everyone else.

As an example of how much slicker this version of “West Side Story” is, the dance is held at a shiny-looking, well-lit school gymnasium, compared to the somewhat dark and grimy-looking dancehall in the original “West Side Story” movie. It’s a setting that looks a little too polished and well-kept for an area that’s supposed to be populated by people who are struggling financially and has public schools that are more run-down than they should be.

Tony has come to this dance reluctantly, after much persuasion from Riff, who wants to use the dance as away for Tony to see all of his former gang pals again. But once Tony and María lock eyes, meet cute behind the gym bleachers, and exchange some smitten dialogue, Tony can’t think of anything else but being with María. Tony and María couple up immediately by dancing together and having their first kiss just a few minutes after meeting that night. They agree to meet the next day at a museum.

Tony and María’s attraction to each other doesn’t go unnoticed. Bernardo orders Tony to stay away from María . Bernardo would rather that María date someone who’s Puerto Rican, such as his mild-mannered best friend Chino (played by Josh Andrés Rivera), who is not a member of the Sharks, although Chino would like to be. Chino was sort of Maria’s date at this dance, but Chino and María’s relationship has always been about platonic friendship only.

At the dance, Bernardo gets a little rough by pushing Tony away when he sees that Tony is interested in María. Riff and the rest of the Jets come to Tony’s defense, which leads the Sharks to get in on the dispute. María and Anita are disgusted with all of this seemingly never-ending fighting between the Sharks and the Jets, so they leave the dance. However, Tony doesn’t join his former gang cronies in this fight and instead runs out of the dance to look for María , but she is long gone.

The next day at Doc’s store, Tony has told Valentina about this new romance. He asks Valentina how to say, “I want to be with you forever” in Spanish, so that he can make this declaration of love to María on their first date. These kids move fast. Even Valentina notices how quickly Tony wants to commit to María, by cracking this joke: “You sure you don’t want to ask her out for coffee first?” Because this movie is set in the 1950s, when it was more common for people in the U.S. to get married in their late teens and early 20s, this swift courtship is easier to believe than if the movie had been set in the present day.

María and Tony are blissfully happy together in the short time that they’ve known each other, but their romance is threatened by the growing hatred between the Jets and the Sharks. The “West Side Story” remake keeps the sentiment that María and Tony have a pure love for each other. It’s a love that borders on obsession, especially in a scene where María gets some very bad news about something Tony did to hurt one of María’s loved ones, and her priority is to comfort Tony. However, there’s a slight but noticeable difference in how the remake presents this scene, which is in a better way than the first “West Side Story” movie.

The “West Side Story” remake has no drastic revisions to the songs’ tempos or arrangements. The movie also doesn’t add any original songs that were written specifically for this remake, in an attempt to get awards for new and original movie music. The song placements mostly stay true to the original, with some notable exceptions.

“I Feel Pretty,” Maria’s joyous ode to romance and self-confidence, has a different setting. In the original “West Side Story” movie, Maria sang “I Feel Pretty” in a private room with three seamstresses. In the “West Side Story” remake makes this musical number a much more public spectacle.

María works as a cleaning woman at a boutique. She sings “I Feel Pretty” while dancing through the rooms of the boutique with several other cleaning women during after-hours. This setting gives the scene a more aspirational tone to what the characters do, as they let loose in a boutique where they work but probably can’t afford the clothes that are sold in the boutique.

Fans of Moreno will have to wait until the last third of the movie for Valentina’s big musical moment: the show-stopping tune “Somewhere,” which she performs solo. It’s an absolute exquisite rendition that might make some viewers more than a little misty-eyed. All of the cast members rise to the occasion to make this “West Side Story” very entertaining and emotion-filled. There isn’t a mediocre performer in the movie’s principal cast.

Zegler carries her scenes as María with an eager-to-please demeanor. She doesn’t have the star power of Wood, but Zegler and Elgort have nice chemistry together as María and Tony. Elgort doesn’t always sound like the working-class New Yorker that he’s supposed to be as Tony when he speaks, but Elgort gives Tony the type of heartthrob charm that makes it easy to see why María falls so hard and fast for him. Elgort and Zegler have singing voices that are very good, but not particularly distinctive.

DeBose lights up every scene that she’s in and is the breakout star of the movie. Her version of Anita has a commanding presence and the flashiest dance movies. Debose’s larger-than-life portrayal of Anita is ideal for this type of splashy movie musical. Anita has a big personality, but she also has a more realistic view of life and love than starry-eyed María. And that’s why, for adults with enough life experience, Anita is a more relatable character than María.

Alvarez’s Bernardo has more machismo, as well as a little more emotional depth, than the Bernardo of the original “West Side Story” movie. Bernardo uses his arrogance to cover up his insecurities over feeling like he’s someone who’s “not good enough,” so he over-compensates. What he sees as being over-protective of María is really being over-controlling. What he sees as pride in being a Shark is really an endorsement of violent racism.

In the original “West Side Story,” Anita and Bernardo were an attractive couple, but you never got the impression that they had much romantic passion for each other. There’s more believable sexual heat with Anita and Bernardo in this “West Side Story” remake. DeBose and Alvarez seem to have natural chemistry with each other as Anita and Bernardo, who sees himself as the ultimate alpha male. Sex in the movie is hinted at but not explicitly shown. For example, Anita and Bernardo kiss passionately before slamming a bedroom door behind them; María and Tony wake up together half-dressed in bed.

As for the dazzling dance numbers, “West Side Story” movie remake choreographer Justin Peck brings his ballet background to the movie, with dance moves that are more complicated but a little more graceful, enhancing the stellar work by choreographer/director Robbins for the first “West Side Story” movie. DeBose is a standout in the dance scenes, which have a more sensuous and unbridled energy than the original “West Side Story” movie. (And that’s probably because depictions of sexuality in movies had more restrictions in movies released in 1961, compared to 2021.)

For the “West Side Story” remake, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and production design make things look bigger and more over-the-top in scale. An overcast night can’t just be an overcast night. It looks like a fog-filled, full-moon scene out of a horror movie. A crumbling slum area can’t look like a crumbling slum area. It looks like a bombed-out war zone. It’s all very impressive, in terms of visuals.

And yet somehow, this more ambitious, bigger-budget version of “West Side Story” loses some of the neighborhood intimacy that the original “West Side Story” movie had. Everything looks professionally done in the remake, but just a little too staged and calculated. And maybe that’s because the movie was filmed and built on soundstages. (The “West Side Story” remake was filmed at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn.) Sometimes bigger isn’t always better.

The ending of the “West Side Story” remake doesn’t end as abruptly as the first “West Side Story” does. Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that the remake has a more melodramatic ending with some preachiness. It’s a revision that some “West Side Story” fans might like, while others won’t. This slightly new ending doesn’t take away from the overall spirit of “West Side Story,” which is a celebration of life and love, with the knowledge that both can be precious, fleeting and experienced with a lot of heartache.

20th Century Studios will release “West Side Story” in U.S. cinemas on December 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!,’ starring Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Judith Light and Vanessa Hudgens

November 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (Photo by Macall Polay/Netflix) 

“Tick, Tick…Boom!”

Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in 1990 in New York City, the musical biopic “Tick, Tick…Boom!” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American, Latino and multiracial) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Aspiring playwright/composer Jonathan Larson, who’s frustrated that he hasn’t reached his goals by the age of 30, struggles to complete his first musical, which he hopes will end up on Broadway.

Culture Audience: “Tick, Tick…Boom!” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of movie musicals, Broadway musicals, Lin-Manuel Miranda and star Andrew Garfield.

Robin de Jesús, Mj Rodriguez and Ben Levi Ross in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (Photo by Macall Polay/Netflix)

It’s very fitting that Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway musical mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) makes his feature-film directorial debut with an emotionally stirring and ambitious musical celebrating another Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway musical mastermind: “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson. In 1996, Larson tragically and unexpectedly died at the age 35 of an aortic dissection. A brief period of Larson’s life (mostly in 1990) is recreated with a winning blend of exuberance and gravitas in the Miranda-directed musical “Tick, Tick…Boom!,” based on Larson’s solo artist show that featured a book and biographical original songs written by Larson. After Larson’s death, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” was reworked as a three-actor show and premiered off-Broadway in 1996. For a while, Miranda portrayed Larson during the off-Broadway stint of “Tick, Tick…Boom!”

In the “Tick, Tick…Boom!” movie role of Larson, Andrew Garfield gives a stunning and heartfelt performance that perfectly captures the highs, lows and everything in between of what it means to be a passionate but struggling artist. Miranda and “Tick, Tick…Boom!” screenwriter Steven Levenson crafted a story that does cinematic justice to the musical genre, with elements that combine gritty drama with whimsical fantasy. This blend mostly works well, although some viewers who are unfamiliar with Larson’s story might be confused by the timeline jumping in the movie. Most other people will simply be enthralled by the journey.

Larson was born in White Plains, New York, on February 4, 1960. In the beginning of the “Tick, Tick…Boom!,” Jonathan is living in New York City and is a few days away from turning 30. And he’s not happy about it. Why?

Jonathan, who writes and performs pop/rock music, hasn’t achieved his goal of writing a musical that’s gone to Broadway. He’s beginning to question if he made the right decision to be a playwriter/composer. He’s so financially broke, he hasn’t been paying his utility bills. And he’s worried that eviction from his apartment might be in his future.

Things aren’t completely bleak for Jonathan. He and his girlfriend Susan (played by Alexandra Shipp) are in love. She is completely supportive of his goals, even if it means Jonathan gets so immersed in these goals that he doesn’t pay enough attention to her. Jonathan is also proud and supportive of Susan’s chosen career. Susan contemplated being a doctor, but she chose instead to have a career in modern dance, and she overcame a setback of fracturing her ankle. She’s been more successful than Jonathan in actually getting paid as a professional artist, although Jonathan is quick to point on in a movie voiceover that Susan doesn’t care about becoming rich and famous.

Jonathan also has three other special people in his life, who are all close friends of his: Michael (played by Robin de Jesús), his opinionated gay best friend from childhood; Carolyn (played by Mj Rodriguez, also known as Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), a sassy co-worker at the Moondance Diner, where she and Jonathan work as servers; and sweet-natured Freddy (played by Ben Levi Ross), who’s also a Moondance Diner server. Michael used to be a struggling actor and Jonathan’s roommate, but he gave up this lifestyle to have a steady income as an advertising agency executive.

Jonathan has been working on a musical called “Superbia,” which he describes as an “original dystopian musical that I’ve been writing and rewriting.” It’s the “rewriting” part that has got Jonathan anxious, because he currently has writer’s block in finishing the musical. Another problem is that Jonathan has a hard time describing the plot of the musical, because he doesn’t quite know where the plot is going.

Jonathan throws a 30th birthday party for himself at his apartment. Michael, who is more financially practical than Jonathan, gently chides Jonathan for spending money on the party when Jonathan hasn’t been paying his bills. Jonathan and Susan still have romantic sparks between them, but something has shifted in their relationship: Jonathan turning 30 has given him a new restlessness and insecurity about his career goals, while Susan wants a sign that Jonathan is ready to make a more solid commitment to her.

Susan and Jonathan don’t live together, and they’re not in a rush to get married. However, Susan wants to eventually live with Jonathan, who doesn’t really want to commit to a “yes” or “no” answer in contemplating taking their relationship to the “live-in partner” level. Jonathan and Susan’s relationship is tested in a big way when Susan gets a job offer to be a dancer and dance instructor in the Berkshires, a rural part of Massachusetts.

The news about this job offer comes around the same time that Jonathan gets a big opportunity for his musical theater dreams: He’s been asked to present “Superbia” as a workshop at Playwright Horizons. The director of Playwright Horizons is Ira Weitzman (played by Jonathan Marc Sherman), an experienced, middle-aged theater benefactor who is encouraging to Jonathan but is skeptical that Jonathan can be focused enough to finish “Superbia.”

Invitations have gone out for the “Superbia” workshop, but few people have responded so far. Still, Jonathan is under immense pressure to finish his musical by the deadline. He’s too embarrassed to tell Ira the biggest problem: He hasn’t written a single song for the musical yet.

“Tick, Tick…Boom!” has two parallel countdowns: (1) The more explicitly stated countdown to Jonathan finishing his “Superbia” musical on time, and (2) Jonathan’s own internal and implicit countdown to write a musical that ends up on Broadway before he thinks he’s too old. The title of “Tick, Tick…Boom!” comes from Jonathan’s description of how he feels like his life is a ticking time bomb where his dreams will explode into disappointment if he doesn’t reach his career goals by the deadlines that he sets for himself.

During these intense scenes of Jonathan rushing to finish “Superbia” on time, he encounters some other problems: Susan is pressuring Jonathan to set aside time to talk with her about the decision she’ll make on whether or not she’ll take the dance job in the Berkshires. He avoids Susan because he wants to work on “Superbia.” Jonathan, who uses a computer for writing the musical’s book, experiences a major setback when his electricity is suddenly turned off the night before the workshop, and he still hasn’t finished the musical.

Jonathan’s fast-talking agent Rosa Stevens (played by Judith Light) does the best she can to get him work, but she’s blunt in telling him that it’s difficult when he hasn’t had any work produced on Broadway. At this point in time, Jonathan’s best shot of getting investors for “Superbia” is through this upcoming workshop, which could lead to “Superbia” going to Broadway, if everything goes according to Jonathan’s plan. As far as he’s concerned, this workshop for “Superbia” is a “make it or break it” moment in his career.

But now for the moments in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” that might turn off or confuse some viewers: This entire tension-filled story telling what happened to Jonathan and his race to finish “Superbia” on time is told within a flashback context where Jonathan is describing this part of his life in a solo-artist rock concert musical called “Tick, Tick…Boom!” During this concert, he sings and narrates the story (often while playing piano), while he’s backed up by a band and two other singers who sing lead vocals the songs: Karessa (played by Vanessa Hudgens) and Roger (played by Joshua Henry).

In real life, Larson began performing “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (originally titled “Boho Days”) in an off-Broadway show, beginning in 1990, just a few years before completing “Rent.” “Tick, Tick…Boom!” essentially keeps the same premise as the stage version, except that Larson’s flashback storytelling is acted out in scenes on screen. What happened to “Superbia”? That’s revealed in “Tick, Tick…Boom!,” which has plenty of vibrant musical numbers, although some of the narrative aspects of the screenplay are a little clunky.

For example, there’s a scene in the movie where Jonathan, while performing his “Tick, Tick…Boom!” show on stage, has a flashback to several years earlier, when he met legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim (played by Bradley Whitford) at a musical theater workshop. At the time, Jonathan was presenting an unnamed project that ultimately never made it to Broadway and possibly never even got produced.

Jonathan describes this workshop for aspiring playwrights and composers as having a rotating number of guest panelists who evaluate each musical presented. The panelists are usually professional Broadway writers. Stephen was one of the two panelists evaluating Jonathan’s musical. It’s an amusing scene where Stephen and a fictional character named Walter Bloom (played by Richard Kind) is the other panelist.

After Jonathan presents songs from his musical, Walter immediately gives an insulting rant, including saying that the musical has no identity. Walter also says that the musical style doesn’t know if it wants to be more like rock music or more like Broadway show tune music. Meanwhile, Stephen (who’s the most famous person in the room) gives a positive review: He says the musical knows exactly what it is, but the songs need more work. Walter, who is clearly intimidated by Stephen’s clout, quickly changes his mind and agrees with everything that Stephen says.

At one point, Stephen praises one of the songs as having “first-rate lyric and tune.” In a voiceover, Jonathan says, with awe still in his voice, that those words from one of his theater idols gave Jonathan the type of encouragement that he carried for years. As part of this flashback, Jonathan and Stephen are then shown having a one-on-one evaluation session, where Stephen gives Jonathan some more helpful advice.

This flashback scene, although very well-acted, is one of the drawbacks to the movie’s back-and-forth timeline structure. If viewers aren’t paying attention, they can mistake the scene of Jonathan meeting Stephen for the first time as something that took place in or close to 1990, not years earlier, as Jonathan quickly mentions in describing this flashback.

At any rate, even though Jonathan and Stephen have not been in contact for years, Stephen is one of the people whom Jonathan invites (by leaving a message with Stephen’s manager) to Jonathan’s “Superbia” workshop. There’s a scene where Jonathan somewhat desperately calls several people in an attempt to boost attendance at his workshop just a few days before it takes place.

Most of the criticism that “Tick, Tick…Boom!” might get is how it packs in a lot of issues within what’s supposed to be a very short timeline. There’s a point in the movie where Jonathan literally has less than 12 hours before the workshop and he still hasn’t written most of the “Suburbia” songs and he’s still struggling with the book for the musical. Whether someone is familiar with musical theater or not, the movie still has a timeline that’s kind of messy.

For example, it’s not adequately explained how Jonathan could be doing such a last-minute scramble to finish the musical’s songs the night before the workshop rehearsals. Certain scenes muddle the timeline on how much he needs to get done before the actual workshop. Certain parts of the movie go to great lengths to repeat that Jonathan hasn’t finished any songs for “Superbia” yet. And then, he talks about the one last song he really needs to finish is a pivotal song for the musical’s second act. But these deadline worries aren’t really shown in chronological order.

That’s why the workshop rehearsal scenes seem a little off-kilter. These brief rehearsals are hastily explained in the movie by having Jonathan showing up with sheet music for songs that might or might not be half-finished. Everyone in the group is expected to magically start playing and singing, as if they can easily learn this music and act like within minutes, they already know this music by heart. It’s a big leap and stretch of the imagination for the movie’s audience to take.

Instead of showing how he crafted these songs, the movie goes on a path of subplots and other tangents. You still won’t really know what “Superbia” is about by the end of the movie. If Jonathan doesn’t care enough about “Superbia” for it to be ready for the workshop, why should this movie’s viewers care? And maybe that’s the point, because the subplots are context to what ended up inspiring “Rent,” the real-life Larson’s best-known work.

One of the biggest themes in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is the decisions that aspiring artists have to make between pursuing their artistic passion when it pays little or nothing, or giving it up to work full-time at a job that pays a steady income. Many artists who haven’t “made it” find a way to compromise, by having a day job to pay the bills and pursuing their artistic passion in their free time.

Jonathan is in that “in-between” zone, but he wonders out loud how much of a loser he might be if he keeps being a restaurant server well into his 30s. He likes his co-workers, but he knows the job doesn’t pay enough to get him out of his financial hole. However, working at the Moondance Diner is one of the few jobs he can get with the flexibility of work hours that can give him the time to work on his musicals.

Michael has already made his own decision on how he’s going to make living, and he’s at peace with giving up acting, because he considered himself to be a mediocre actor. Michael makes enough money at his ad agency job to move into an upscale apartment building and buy a BMW. Jonathan thinks Michael is being a sellout, because he thinks Michael gave up his real passion: being an actor.

Meanwhile, Michael thinks Jonathan should not give up his passion to be a musical theater writer because Michael thinks that Jonathan has extraordinary talent that should not be squandered. However, Michael thinks Jonathan needs to stop having a self-righteous attitude about being a starving artist and find a way to make more money so that Jonathan can be more financially responsible in paying basic bills. Jonathan and Michael have an argument about it, because in their own separate ways, Michael and Jonathan feel like the other one is being somewhat of a hypocrite in their career decisions.

In the “race against time” aspect of the “Superbia” workshop, Jonathan finds out that Ira won’t pay for the number of band musicians that Jonathan says he needs for the “Superbia” workshop. And so, there are scenes where Jonathan has to rush to find a way to come up with the money. As a last resort, he accepts Michael’s offer to be part of a paid focus group for the ad agency.

Jonathan’s participation in the focus group is one of the movie’s funnier scenes. He’s only in this focus group for the money. Jonathan has a deeply cynical attitude toward ad agencies, which he thinks are in the business of lying to “sell shit to people that they don’t need.” Laura Benanti portrays Judy, the ad agency’s slightly uptight leader of the focus group. Utkarsh Ambudkar has a comedic cameo as Todd, one of the gullible focus group participants. (In real life, Ambudkar and Miranda are two of the members of the performance group Freestyle Love Supreme.)

There are other issues in Jonathan’s life. He’s terrified of being considered a failure. Jonathan’s parents Nan (played by Judy Kuhn) and Al (played by Danny Burstein), who appear briefly in the movie, are emotionally supportive and not far from his mind, because he doesn’t want to be a disappointment to them. (In real life, Larson had a sister named Julie, but she’s not mentioned in the movie.) And then, certain people in the story have a health crisis that deeply affects many people.

It’s a lot to pack in a movie that’s a musical within a musical. Despite having a timeline that could’ve been been presented better, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is able to rise above its flaws, thanks to stellar performances from the cast members. Garfield is the obvious standout. He’s able to convey genuine emotions without falling into the musical actor trap of over-emoting.

Shipp, Hudgens and de Jesus also have moments where they shine in the film. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is not one of those musicals where only the musical numbers are the highlights. There are plenty of spoken-word-only dramatic moments that are among the best in the movie, particularly those that involve the friendship between Jonathan and Michael. As Jonathan’s jaded agent Rosa Stevens, Light plays her role for laughs, and it comes very close to being a parody of real-life agents.

And because “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” creator Miranda is considered Broadway royalty, it’s no surprise that several Broadway stars signed up for cameos in Miranda’s feature-film directorial debut. The most memorable, star-studded scene in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is for the tune “Sunday,” which takes place at the Moondance Diner. It’s a fantasy sequence where Jonathan lifts up his hands, the front of the diner’s walls fall away, and the diner’s customers join in song.

And what a bunch of customers they are. It’s like a who’s who of Broadway: Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey, Phylicia Rashad, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bebe Neuwirth, André Robin De Shields, Beth Malone and Howard McGillin. Also in this scene are “Hamilton” co-stars Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo, as well as original “Rent” Broadway co-stars Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Miranda has a cameo in this scene as a Moondance Diner cook.

An early highlight of the film is “No More,” performed by Garfield and de Jesús in an energetic song-and-dance duet about Jonathan and Michael expressing how they don’t want to be struggling artists anymore. Another standout is a cast rendition of “Boho Days,” performed at Jonathan’s birthday party and with Garfield on lead vocals. Shipp and Hudgens have their best moment in “Come to Your Senses” a powerful timeline-jumping duet that shows the characters of Susan and Karessa trading off lines of the song. And de Jesús will probably bring some viewers to tears with Michael’s heartbreaking performance of “Real Life.”

Other songs written or co-written by Larson that make it into the movie include “30/90,” “Out of My Dreams,” “Green Green Dress,” “Sugar,” “LCD Readout,” “Swimming,” Johnny Can’t Decide,” “Sextet,” “Therapy,” “Ever After,” “Debtor Club,” “Why,” “Come to Your Senses,” “Louder Than Words” and “Only Takes a Few.” “Play Game” is presented in the style of 1990s-styled rap video clip, with real-life rapper Tariq Trotter as the fictional rapper H.A.W.K. Smooth. The screenplay could have benefited from an improved structuring of its narrative, but the movie’s songs, performances and direction combine to create an enjoyable experience where the movie’s two-hour running time seems to fly by effortlessly.

Netflix released “Tick, Tick…Boom!” in select U.S. cinemas on November 12, 2021. The move premiered on Netflix on November 19, 2021.

2020 Tony Awards: ‘Jagged Little Pill’ is the top nominee

October 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tony Awards logo

 

With 15 nods, including Best Musical, “Jagged Little Pill” is the top nominee for the 74th annual Tony Awards, which will be webcast in a virtual ceremony on a date and time to be announced. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Tony Awards (which are traditionally held in June) were postponed from its original date of June 7. CBS, which usually telecasts the Tony Awards in the U.S., is not going to be involved in the Tony Awards this year. It has not been announced yet if there will be a host for the ceremony. The Tony Awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League.

As of March 12, 2020, all Broadway shows have been shut down until further notice. The re-opening date for Broadway shows has been tentatively set for May 31, 2021, but that date could change. One thing is clear: The traditional eligibility period for the 2021 Tony Awards (June 2020 to May 2021) has now been completely wiped out, since there will be no Broadway shows playing during this eligibility period.*

*[June 1, 2021 UPDATE: CBS has announced that it will televise the 2021 Tony Awards on September 26, 2021. Paramount+ will have the ceremony available for streaming.]

Tony-winning “Aladdin” musical star James Monroe Iglehart announced the nominations for the 2020 Tony Awards on a webcast on October 15, 2020. Even before the shutdowns, “Jagged Little Pill” had been expected to be a top contender. The critically acclaimed musical, which opened on Broadway in December 2019, features songs from Alanis Morissette’s Grammy-winning 1995 multiplatinum album “Jagged Little Pill.” The “Jagged Little Pill” musical is about a suburban family with serious personal problems, such as addiction and sexual assault.

Following close behind in nominations, with 14 nods, is “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” which is based on the 2001 original musical movie. Earning 12 nominations each are “Slave Play” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.” Rounding out the top five nominated shows is the play “The Inheritance,” which has 11 nominations.

Because of the COVID-19 shutdown of Broadway shows, many of the 2020 Tony Awards categories have less nominees than usual. Some categories (including Best Musical and Best Revival of a Play) that normally have five nominations each have three or less nominations for the category this year. In the category for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, there is only one nominee: Aaron Tveit of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” which makes him the default winner.

This year’s three Tony Award nominations for Best Musical are all “jukebox musicals” adapted from previous work: In addition to “Jagged Little Pill,” the other nominations in the category are “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical,” which features a catalogue of well-known Tina Turner songs. Therefore, these three musicals are not eligible for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre.

However, “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” are competing against each other in nine categories: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.

“Slave Play,” the play with the most Tony nominations in 2020, is competing in several categories with “The Inheritance,” “A Soldier’s Play” (which garnered seven nominations), “The Sound Inside” (which has six nods) and “A Christmas Carol,” which scored five nominations.

Here is the complete list of nominations for the 2020 Tony Awards:

Best Play

Grand Horizons

Author: Bess Wohl
Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Mandy Greenfield

The Inheritance

Author: Matthew López
Producers: Tom Kirdahy, Sonia Friedman Productions, Hunter Arnold, Elizabeth Dewberry & Ali Ahmet Kocabiyik, 1001 Nights Productions, Robert Greenblatt, Mark Lee, Peter May, Scott Rudin, Richard Winkler, Bruce Cohen, Mara Isaacs, Greg Berlanti & Robbie Rogers, Brad Blume, Burnt Umber Productions, Shane Ewen, Greenleaf Productions, Marguerite Hoffman, Oliver Roth, Joseph Baker/Drew Hodges, Stephanie P. McClelland, Broadway Strategic Return Fund, Caiola Productions, Mary J. Davis, Kayla Greenspan, Fakston Productions, FBK Productions, Sally Cade Holmes, Benjamin Lowy, MWM Live, Lee & Alec Seymour, Lorenzo Thione, Sing Out, Louise! Productions, AB Company/Julie Boardman, Adam Zell & Co/ZKM Media, Jamie deRoy/Catherine Adler, DeSantis-Baugh Productions/Adam Hyndman, Gary DiMauro/Meredith Lynsey Schade, John Goldwyn/Silva Theatrical Group, Deborah Green/Christina Mattsson, Cliff Hopkins/George Scarles, Invisible Wall Productions/Lauren Stein, Sharon Karmazin/Broadway Factor NYC, Brian Spector/Madeleine Foster Bersin, Undivided Productions/Hysell Dohr Group, Ushkowitzlatimer Productions/Tyler Mount, The Young Vic

Sea Wall/A Life

Author: Simon Stephens & Nick Payne
Producers: Nine Stories, Ambassador Theatre Group, Seaview Productions, Benjamin Lowy Productions, LFG Theatrical, Audible, Gavin Kalin Productions, Glass Half Full Productions, Jacob Langfelder, Brian Moreland, Roth-Manella Productions, Salman Vienn Al-Rashid Friends, SLSM Theatricals, Teresa Tsai, Dunetz Restieri Productions, Morwin Schmookler, Jane & Mark Wilf, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

Slave Play

Author: Jeremy O. Harris
Producers: Seaview Productions, Troy Carter, Level Forward, Nine Stories, Sing Out, Louise! Productions, Shooting Star Productions, Roth-Manella Productions, Carlin Katler Productions, Cohen Hopkins Productions, Thomas Laub, Blair Russell, WEB Productions, Salman Al-Rashid, Jeremy O. Harris, Mark Shacket, New York Theatre Workshop

The Sound Inside

Author: Adam Rapp
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Lincoln Center Theater, Rebecca Gold, Evamere Entertainment, Eric Falkenstein, Salman Vienn Al-Rashid, Spencer Ross, FilmNation Entertainment/Faliro House, Iris Smith, Jane Bergère, Caiola Productions, Mark S. Golub and David S. Golub, Ken Greiner, Gemini Theatrical Investors, Scott H. Mauro, Jayne Baron Sherman, CZEKAJ Productions, Wendy Morgan-Hunter, Kristin Foster, Brian Moreland, Sonia Mudbhatkal, Jacob Soroken Porter, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Mandy Greenfield


Best Musical

Jagged Little Pill

Producers: Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David, Eva Price, Caiola Productions, Level Forward & Abigail Disney, Geffen Playhouse-Tenenbaum-Feinberg, James L. Nederlander, Dean Borell Moravis Silver, Stephen G. Johnson, Concord Theatricals, Bard Theatricals, M. Kilburg Reedy, 42nd.club, Betsy Dollinger, Sundowners, The Araca Group, Jana Bezdek, Len Blavatnik, BSL Enterprises, Burnt Umber Productions, Darren DeVerna & Jeremiah Harris, Daryl Roth, Susan Edelstein, FG Productions, Sue Gilad & Larry Rogowsky, Harmonia, John Gore Theatrical Group, Melissa M. Jones & Barbara H. Freitag, Stephanie Kramer, Lamplighter Projects, Christina Isaly Liceaga, David Mirvish, Spencer B. Ross, Bellanca Smigel Rutter, Iris Smith, Jason Taylor & Sydney Suiter, Rachel Weinstein, W.I.T. Productions/Gabriel Creative Partners, Independent Presenters Network, Universal Music Publishing Group, Jujamcyn Theaters, Tamar Climan, American Repertory Theater

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Producers: Carmen Pavlovic, Gerry Ryan, Global Creatures, Bill Damaschke, Aaron Lustbader, Hunter Arnold, Darren Bagert, Erica Lynn Schwartz/Matt Picheny/Stephanie Rosenberg, Adam Blanshay Productions/Nicolas & Charles Talar, Iris Smith, Aleri Entertainment, CJ ENM, Sophie Qi/Harmonia Holdings, Baz & Co./Len Blavatnik, AF Creative Media/International Theatre Fund, Endeavor Content, Tom & Pam Faludy, Gilad-Rogowsky/Instone Productions, John Gore Organization, MEHR-BB Entertainment GmbH, Spencer Ross, Nederlander Presentations/IPN, Eric Falkenstein/Suzanne Grant, Jennifer Fischer, Peter May/Sandy Robertson, Triptyk Studios, Carl Daikeler/Sandi Moran, DeSantis-Baugh Productions, Red Mountain Theatre Company/42nd.club, Candy Spelling/Tulchin Bartner, Roy Furman, Jujamcyn Theaters

Tina — The Tina Turner Musical

Producers: Stage Entertainment, James L. Nederlander, Tali Pelman, Feste Investments B.V., David Mirvish, Nattering Way, TEG Dainty, Katori Hall, Mark Rubinstein LTD, Warner Chappell, Peter May, Eva Price, No Guarantees, Caiola Productions, Jamie deRoy, Wendy Federman, Roy Furman, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Marc Levine, Carl Moellenberg, Al Nocciolino, Catherine Adler, Tom Perakos, Iris Smith, Candy Spelling, Anita Waxman, Daryl Roth, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Tina Turner


Best Revival of a Play

Betrayal

Producers: Ambassador Theatre Group Productions, Benjamin Lowy Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions, Glass Half Full Productions, AnnaPurna Theatre, Hunter Arnold, Burnt Umber Productions, Rashad V. Chambers, Eilene Davidson Productions, KFF Productions, Dominick LaRuffa, Jr., Stephanie P. McClelland, Richard Winkler/Alan Shorr, The Jamie Lloyd Company

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Author: Terrence McNally
Producers: Hunter Arnold, Debbie Bisno, Tom Kirdahy, Elizabeth Dewberry & Ali Ahmet Kocabiyik, Broadway Strategic Return Fund, Caiola Productions, FedermanGold Productions, Invisible Wall Productions, John Gore Organization, Mike Karns, Kilimanjaro Theatricals, Peter May, Tyler Mount, Seriff Productions, Silva Theatrical Group, Cliff Bleszinski/GetterLazarDaly, Jamie deRoy/Gary DiMauro, Suzi Dietz & Lenny Beer/Sally Cade Holmes, Barbara H. Freitag/Ken Davenport, Barry & Kimberly Gowdy/Mabee Family Office, Kayla Greenspan/Jamie Joeyen-Waldorf, John Joseph/Broadway Factor, Tilted Windmills/John Paterakis, The Shubert Organization

A Soldier’s Play

Author: Charles Fuller
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow


Best Book of a Musical

Jagged Little Pill

Diablo Cody

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

John Logan

Tina — The Tina Turner Musical

Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins


Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

A Christmas Carol

Music: Christopher Nightingale

The Inheritance

Music: Paul Englishby

The Rose Tattoo

Music: Fitz Patton and Jason Michael Webb

Slave Play

Music: Lindsay Jones

The Sound Inside

Music: Daniel Kluger


Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Ian Barford, Linda Vista
Andrew Burnap, The Inheritance
Jake Gyllenhaal, Sea Wall/A Life
Tom Hiddleston, Betrayal
Tom Sturridge, Sea Wall/A Life
Blair Underwood, A Soldier’s Play


Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Joaquina Kalukango, Slave Play
Laura Linney, My Name is Lucy Barton
Audra McDonald, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Mary-Louise Parker, The Sound Inside


Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Aaron Tveit, Moulin Rouge! The Musical


Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Karen Olivo, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Elizabeth Stanley, Jagged Little Pill
Adrienne Warren, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical


Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Ato Blankson-Wood, Slave Play
James Cusati-Moyer, Slave Play
David Alan Grier, A Soldier’s Play
John Benjamin Hickey, The Inheritance
Paul Hilton, The Inheritance


Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Jane Alexander, Grand Horizons
Chalia La Tour, Slave Play
Annie McNamara, Slave Play
Lois Smith, The Inheritance
Cora Vander Broek, Linda Vista


Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Danny Burstein, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Derek Klena, Jagged Little Pill
Sean Allan Krill, Jagged Little Pill
Sahr Ngaujah, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Daniel J. Watts, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical


Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Kathryn Gallagher, Jagged Little Pill
Celia Rose Gooding, Jagged Little Pill
Robyn Hurder, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Lauren Patten, Jagged Little Pill
Myra Lucretia Taylor, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical


Best Scenic Design of a Play

Bob Crowley, The Inheritance
Soutra Gilmour, Betrayal
Rob Howell, A Christmas Carol
Derek McLane, A Soldier’s Play
Clint Ramos, Slave Play


Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Riccardo Hernández and Lucy Mackinnon, Jagged Little Pill
Derek McLane, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Mark Thompson and Jeff Sugg, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical


Best Costume Design of a Play

Dede Ayite, Slave Play
Dede Ayite, A Soldier’s Play
Bob Crowley, The Inheritance
Rob Howell, A Christmas Carol
Clint Ramos, The Rose Tattoo


Best Costume Design of a Musical

Emily Rebholz, Jagged Little Pill
Mark Thompson, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical
Catherine Zuber, Moulin Rouge! The Musical


Best Lighting Design of a Play

Jiyoun Chang, Slave Play
Jon Clark, The Inheritance
Heather Gilbert, The Sound Inside
Allen Lee Hughes, A Soldier’s Play
Hugh Vanstone, A Christmas Carol


Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Bruno Poet, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical
Justin Townsend, Jagged Little Pill
Justin Townsend, Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti & Christopher Reid, The Inheritance
Simon Baker, A Christmas Carol
Lindsay Jones, Slave Play
Daniel Kluger, Sea Wall/A Life
Daniel Kluger, The Sound Inside

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Jonathan Deans, Jagged Little Pill
Peter Hylenski, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Nevin Steinberg, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical


Best Direction of a Play

David Cromer, The Sound Inside
Stephen Daldry, The Inheritance
Kenny Leon, A Soldier’s Play
Jamie Lloyd, Betrayal
Robert O’Hara, Slave Play


Best Direction of a Musical

Phyllida Lloyd, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical
Diane Paulus, Jagged Little Pill
Alex Timbers, Moulin Rouge! The Musical


Best Choreography

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jagged Little Pill
Sonya Tayeh, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Anthony Van Laast, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical


Best Orchestrations

Tom Kitt, Jagged Little Pill
Katie Kresek, Charlie Rosen, Matt Stine and Justin Levine, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Ethan Popp, Tina — The Tina Turner Musical

*   *   *


Tony Nominations by Production

Jagged Little Pill – 15

Moulin Rouge! The Musical – 14

Slave Play – 12

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical – 12

The Inheritance – 11

A Soldier’s Play – 7

The Sound Inside – 6

A Christmas Carol – 5

Betrayal – 4

Sea Wall/A Life – 4

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune – 2

Grand Horizons – 2

Linda Vista – 2

The Rose Tattoo – 2

My Name is Lucy Barton – 1

Review: ‘We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,’ starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Thomas Kail, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Bill Sherman and Chris Sullivan

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Bill Sherman, Christopher Jackson and Arthur Lewis in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme”

Directed by Andrew Fried

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and partially in the United Kingdom, the documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” tells the story of the multiracial musical improvisational group Freestyle Love Supreme, whose most famous member is Tony-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Culture Clash: The members of Freestyle Love Supreme struggled for years to make a living from their craft, and then the group’s loyalty and work schedules were tested after Miranda and musical director Thomas Kail went on to mega-success with the Tony-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

Culture Audience: “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical theater that includes hip-hop.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale in the mid-2000s in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

The feel-good documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” shows what can happen when several tight-knit friends in a musical improvisational group manage to keep the group going for several years, despite the members’ individual careers and personal lives going on divergent paths. Directed by Andrew Fried, who began filming footage for the documentary in 2005, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” is a breezy ride through the group’s story, even if it it feels like a lot of inevitable behind-the-scenes turmoil was deliberately left out of the film. The documentary includes exclusive interviews (everyone in the group is interviewed separately), as well as archival on-stage and off-stage footage, spanning from the mid-2000s to the group’s stint on Broadway in 2019.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s most famous member is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning star/creator of the stage musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.” Miranda (whose nickname in the group is Lin-Man) is an original member of Freestyle Love Supreme, which was formed in New York City in 2004. But the documentary shows that the origins of Freestyle Love Supreme really began in 1999, during a road trip taken by group co-founder Anthony Veneziale (also known as Two-Touch) and Thomas “Tommy” Kail, the group’s musical director who went on to direct the original Broadway productions of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” as well as most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s stage shows.

According to what Kail says in the documentary, he and Veneziale (who met when they were students at Wesleyan University) went on a road trip from New York City to Iowa, to help a friend make an independent film. During the trip, the only way they could stay awake was by listening to the B-side of the Daft Punk song “Around the World.”

“Anthony freestyled for four straight hours,” says Kail of that road trip. “That, in some way, was the seed for Freestyle Love Supreme.” Freestyle Love Supreme then became a collective of friends who would get together at the Drama Book Shop, which was their creative “lab,” according to Kail. Although Kail isn’t an on-stage performer for Freestyle Love Supreme, he is credited with being the behind-the-scenes architect of the group’s career.

Freestyle Love Supreme then honed their improvisational skills so that their on-stage act became randomly choosing words volunteered by the show’s audience, and then making up hip-hop-infused, often-comedic stories about those words right there on the spot. Veneziale (who also co-founded the improv FLS Academy) is the group’s emcee, who interviews audience members during the show and brings some audience members on stage. This highly interactive format makes every Freestyle Love Supreme show truly unique, which is in contrast to the traditional theater format of doing the same show for every performance.

The other original members of Freestyle Love Supreme are Christopher Jackson (also known as C-Jack); Bill Sherman (also known as King Sherman); Chris Sullivan (also known as Shockwave); and Arthur Lewis (also known as Arthur the Geniuses). Miranda and Kail went on to collaborate on “In the Heights” (which went to Broadway in 2008) and “Hamilton” (which made its Broadway debut in 2015), with both musicals including Jackson (who is Miranda’s best friend) as a co-star.

After the success of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” made Miranda, Jackson and Kail too busy for Freestyle Love Supreme on a regular basis, Freestyle Love Supreme added new members to the group. The documentary does a very good job of putting a spotlight on each member, so that people can know what their unique contributions are to Freestyle Love Supreme. (Freestyle Love Supreme has also had numerous guest performers, including Daveed Diggs and Wayne Brady.)

Miranda, who is a self-described “theater geek,” is shown to be an energetic optimist but also a perfectionist who can be very hard on himself. Jackson, who is more laid-back than Miranda, is described as the “dad” of the group, since he’s the oldest member and the first member of Freestyle Love Supreme to get married and have children.

Sherman, who plays keyboards and has a goofy sense of humor, used to be Kail’s roommate and remains very close to Kail. Sullivan, who does most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s beatboxing, is the “actual musical heartbeat of the group,” says Kail. Lewis, who plays keyboards, is described as the group’s most intellectually gifted member and “the ethereal one” of Freestyle Love Supreme, according to Kail.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s newer members are also given a spotlight: Utkarsh Ambudkar (also known as UTK The INC) is described by Miranda as “the best nuts-to-bolts rapper in the group.” James Monroe Iglehart (also known as J-Soul) is praised by multiple people as being the best singer in the group. Andrew Bancroft (also known as Jelly Donut) seems to be in awe of his group mates and says he still can’t believe that he’s in Freestyle Love Supreme.

And by the time that Freestyle Love Supreme began headlining on Broadway, the group had added its first permanent female member: Aneesa Folds (also known as Young Nees), who expresses how star-struck and honored she is to be in Freestyle Love Supreme. Why did it take so long to add a woman to the group? Probably because after the #MeToo movement happened, Freestyle Love Supreme wanted deflect any criticism that this group deliberately excludes people who aren’t of the male gender.

It probably never crossed their minds to invite women into their group before, because it’s clear from the archival footage that Freestyle Love Supreme operated very much like a fraternity, but not in a mean-spirited way. However, because of heightened awareness of how gender discrimination against people who aren’t cisgender males has been an ongoing problem in the entertainment industry (and society in general), it no doubt prompted Freestyle Love Supreme to take a hard look at their own decision making in whom they were inviting to be a part of their exclusive club.

The documentary doesn’t call attention to why Freestyle Love Supreme was a male-only group for about 15 years, probably because the male members of the group don’t want to address this issue on camera. Instead, the movie puts an emphasis on all the camaraderie they have—perhaps a little too much emphasis, to the point where it looks sugarcoated. There’s a lot of screen time devoted to soundbites where the members of Freestyle Love Supreme praise themselves and each other.

Jackson comments on how Freestyle Love Supreme is a privilege of being able to work with his closest friends: “If more people had this experience, truly, the world would be a better place.” Ambudkar says that he felt an instant connection to the members of Freestyle Love Supreme: “Whatever Freestyle was doing, it fit me like a well-worn hoodie.”

Miranda says that in the group’s early days, there was a real struggle to build a fan base, but the audience grew when the show improved and because Freestyle Love Supreme didn’t give up: “We had to work hard [for an audience]. The show worked.”

Some of the documentary’s best archival footage is of a pivotal point in the early career of Freestyle Love Supreme, when the group was invited to perform at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. No one knew at the time that Miranda was three years away from finding Broadway fame and acclaim with “In the Heights.” But during this trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the members of Freestyle Love Supreme considered it to be the highlight of their careers so far.

There’s a real infectious joy in this footage that shows their youthful optimism, as they roam the streets of Edinburgh and soak up Scottish culture. The documentary also includes footage of the group reading their first negative review together. And even that moment of the group getting some scathing criticism has a lot of humor and shows how closely bonded the group members are.

A present-day Miranda looks back on that time with a lot of fondness in the documentary. He says that even though all of the members of Freestyle Love Supreme were financially broke at the time, and their futures were uncertain, it was one of the happiest times of his life. “Everything was happening, but nothing was happening,” Miranda quips.

Some other great archival footage is of Miranda and Kail walking through New York City’s Times Square, not long before “In the Heights” was scheduled to begin previews on Broadway. Kail and Miranda look up in awe and excitement at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which had the “In the Heights” billboard and marquee already prepared.

In this archival footage, Kail and Miranda joke about how people in Times Square might or might not recognize them. Kail, who resembles former “American Idol” finalist Justin Guarini, says that people probably think he’s “that guy from ‘American Idol.'” Kail also jokes that people will probably think that Miranda looks like a “Mexican Bud Bundy,” referring to Miranda’s slight resemblance to actor David Faustino, who had the role of bratty son Bud Bundy in the sitcom “Married With Children.” (Miranda’s heritage is actually Puerto Rican, not Mexican.)

All joking aside, a group of people working together this long can’t be immune to jealousies, rivalries and conflicts. Although the documentary acknowledges that Miranda is the most famous member of Freestyle Love Supreme (after his Broadway success, he became a star and a producer in movies and television), the other group members who talk about it for the documentary only express happiness for Miranda. If they have any envy that Miranda’s career has skyrocketed, compared to the careers of other group members, it’s not shown in this movie.

However, there is some acknowledgement that Freestyle Love Supreme did go through a less-than-smooth adjustment period when it became obvious that in order for the group to keep going, certain group members (namely Miranda, Jackson and Kail) would not be as available as they once were, due to their busy Broadway careers. Another big shift in the group’s dynamics occurred when Veneziale moved to San Francisco (because of his wife’s graduate studies) and started a family there.

As a result of that relocation to the other side of the United States, Veneziale and Kail, who used to be best friends, say they became estranged from each other, and their relationship hasn’t really been the same since. Veneziale describes Kail in the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme: “He was my co-conspirator in making things.” Kail says that Veneziale is the “guts and blood” and the “engine” of Freestyle Love Supreme. However, it’s obvious that there’s still tension between Kail and Veneziale, because they choose their words very carefully when talking about each other, while expressing regret that they aren’t close friends anymore.

The documentary doesn’t bring up personal problems in Freestyle Love Supreme until the last third of the movie. Ambudkar opens up about his alcoholism and how it affected him and his role in the group. Ambudkar says that the success of “Hamilton,” which made Miranda even less available to Freestyle Love Supreme than ever before, forced Ambudkar to take a hard look at where his life was headed, and it motivated Ambudkar to get clean and sober.

The clips of Freestyle Love Supreme performing on stage, especially on Broadway, are absolutely electric and elevate this documentary, which plays it very safe overall. “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” gives the impression that it doesn’t want to divulge a lot of the realistic behind-the-scenes ego clashes in the group, for fear that it would mess up the “lovefest” vibe that the documentary is trying to convey. It’s why viewers of this movie get a lot of effusively upbeat soundbites that are a lot like this one from Ambudkar when he describes Freestyle Love Supreme: “It’s truly about embracing and celebrating the human experience.”

Hulu premiered “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” on July 17, 2020.

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