Tag Archives: natasha pierre & the great comet of 1812

Theatre Thursday :: a cursory unbiased view of the 2017 Tony nominees for Best Musical

8 Jun

By “cursory unbiased” I mean… based entirely on having listened to each of the cast recordings one time on YouTube.

I really wanted to like them, I really, really did. And maybe the Tony performances, which I do intend to watch this year, will change my mind. But I… am cynical and hardened and a modernist but also not into pretentiousness and nothing hit me correctly. Maybe it’s time and place or maybe after the last couple years of things that actually somewhat interested me my standards were up. Or maybe I just have very specific taste.

But here we go.

Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812… well, I went into this one a little biased, maybe, because I have friends who saw this and did not give a great review. I wanted to give it a chance anyway, though. And I’ll admit that of the four albums, it did leave the most distinctive impression, which is to say I’ve found bits (very small bits, like one or two sentences’ worth) of some of the songs lingering in my mind and it didn’t immediately make me scream “derivative.” But it doesn’t know what it wants to be, aside from sort of smug. More than any other musical I can think of off the top of my head, it has its head stuck up its own ass; it’s desperate to prove to you how clever it is. “It’s a complicated Russian novel! Everybody has nine names!” and etc. It fluctuates between vaguely baroque and modern electronica-fusion, old-fashioned language and modern slang, in a way that isn’t wholly consistent. And it has an annoying habit of randomly deciding that in the middle of a song, the characters are going to suddenly start singing their stage directions. All of which is to say, I could also definitely hear how, when I was younger and more pretentious myself, I could have probably gotten into this. But I’m past that stage at this point.

Dear Evan Hansen was one I’d heard nothing but good about. A musical about a kid with anxiety! Celebrities keep going to it and posting pictures on Instagram. Dear Evan Hansen de-ameliorated itself to me before the opening number was even over, though, because… we already have Next to Normal. We didn’t need this, too. The opening song, in my read, is virtually the same as Next to Normal‘s “Just Another Day” – “I am a mother and I am singing about my stressful family situation with my children and nobody’s happy and everybody’s nervous and oh, look drugs!” I also legitimately did not realize that it was two different women singing for a while; I thought Evan Hansen must have an older brother. Nope. Evan Hansen has peripheral friends, who are roped into a plan I had to Wikipedia to make sense of because I genuinely also thought for a second that maybe he was anxious because he was gay and in the closet. Nope. Evan Hansen is anxious because he is, but then he does something horrible, with the intention of being… inspirational? Important? Whatever it was, once I got the plot summary I was actually horrified. And that pretty well killed my enjoyment.

I wasn’t expecting to love Groundhog Day, because I had a feeling that it was going to be the other kind of smug: not pretentious, but “musicals for straight men.” Smirky and tongue-in-cheek and based on a movie that’s about dudes so it’s accessible. And it’s totally straight, you guys. It was exactly what I expected. It’s a vibe that traces back to things like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I don’t dislike (but that’s a lot of it due to Norbert and Sherie on the album), and it strikes me as just really… mediocre. It’s not trying to be anything more than sort of funny and ironic. It’s filling a niche that didn’t need filled. Also, the protagonist is a thoroughly unlikable person. What happened to musicals about people we actually liked?

Then Come From Away, which I’d heard the least about. It’s based on the true story of a tiny town in Newfoundland that housed 38 planes that got diverted on 9/11. It’s an ~ensemble piece~ and a ~quaint small town musical~ and even though it’s Newfoundland and not England like a lot of the other ones (Billy Elliot, Kinky Boots, etc.) it’s got pretty much the same feeling. Except there’s also the fact of it in my honest opinion being too soon to make a musical about 9/11, especially a true story. It capitalizes on the sentiment evoked by the tragedy, which, okay, I’m sure that’s cathartic for someone but it felt weird to me. Also like an excuse for people to do various folksy accents and regionalisms and to trot out a few scenes for stock characters. (The gay men, Kevin and Kevin – hilaaaaaarious. No. Really not.) The tunes aren’t particularly original, to my ears, but they weren’t offensive. It just felt like I’d pretty much dealt with it before.

Maybe they prove me wrong on the Tonys, though. Anyone. Please, prove me wrong.

–your fangirl heroine.

welp