30 Days Of The 2014 Tony Awards: Day #2 - LA CAGE AUX FOLLES Vs. SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
Today we continue the 2014 edition of our annual BroadwayWorld feature series spotlighting the very best Tony Awards-related moments of all time with a special focus on one of the biggest battles for Best Musical: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES versus SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.
The Best Of Times
Classic versus contemporary. Old versus new. Herman versus Sondheim. Rarely in Tony Awards history has there been as close a race for the big awards as in the year of the frothy, audience-pleasing LA CAGE AUX FOLLES versus the idiosyncratic and cerebral SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at the 1984 Tony Awards. True, GYPSY battling it out with THE SOUND OF MUSIC and FIORELLO (the latter two tying for Best Musical and FIORELLO going on to win the Pulitzer Prize) was an anomaly; and, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN versus THE WHO'S TOMMY was almost too close to call, as well; then, there was the epic battle of NINE versus DREAMGIRLS, recounted recently in this very countdown column, plus CHICAGO versus A CHORUS LINE, too; and, of course the titanic match-up of INTO THE WOODS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, as covered here yesterday. But, 1984 was certainly something special indeed and many at the time assumed that the way the favor of the night swayed would signal the general artistic direction of the theatre at large near future.
What makes the 1984 pairing of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE so utterly fascinating is that one show represented the old guard, with the polish, surface sheen and pizzazz of Broadway as it was at its height - LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Harvey Fierstein and direction by Arthur Laurents - while the other Best Musical candidate seemed to emblemize the future - to quote the show itself, "so many possibilities" of the theatrical art form and what it could potentially be - SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book and direction by James Lapine.
As the particularly celebratory ceremony went on - the theme of that year's Tonys was saluting the composers/lyricists of the Best Musical nominees; all of them repeat nominees and/or winners that season - the early technical wins for SUNDAY seemed to point to its favor, but, just as quickly, LA CAGE swept in and took many of the big prizes - George Hearn for his magnetic gender-bending turn as Zaza, taking Best Actor In A Musical; Laurents for Best Direction Of A Musical; and, perhaps most famously, Jerry Herman for Best Score; as well as the show itself winning Best Musical.
Although Herman's seemingly well-meant words when taking the stage to accept his award were taken out of context in the ensuing years, his pointed comment on "hummable melodies" left an unmistakable sting - intentional or not. While Broadway babies will surely forever debate the merits of the wildly different musicals themselves and the true meaning and intention behind that infamous Best Score acceptance speech - and the even more disparate composers and their respective trajectories themselves; to say nothing of the themes of each show and their pertinence to theatre, society and beyond - we can all agree that both LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE offered some of the finest theatre moments of the 1980s and both act as solid proof that Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim were still very much at the apotheosis of their abilities... which is to say, the best of the best of Broadway; now or ever.
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So, now, let's take a look at the sleek style of the original Arthur Laurents production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and take part in the French flair and glamour of Zsa Zsa and those dangerous, dazzling Cagelles, and, also, travel to the Parisian park of La Grand Jatte in 1884 and witness Georges Seurat and his mistress, Dot, make art history right before our very eyes - and ears.
First, the original cast of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE perform on the 1984 Tony Awards.
Next, sample the 2008 revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.
Now, view the original cast of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES on the 1984 Tony Awards.
Last, check out the 2010 revival of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.
As a special bonus, view the entire 1984 Tony Awards below.
Who would win today - LA CAGE or SUNDAY? Furthermore, who really should have won way back when, in your estimation? Honestly, which musical has had the biggest impact on Broadway in the 30 years since? Without a doubt, they are so dissimilar in their style, intention and ultimate impact that perhaps it is most instructive to not even compare them. After all, art and commerce can exist side by side - as we see here, sometimes not only in the same season, but even in the same shows. Nevertheless, 1984 was certainly among the best of times as far as major Tony Awards battles are concerned.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro