30 Days Of The 2014 Tony Awards: Day #7 - BILLY ELLIOT Vs. NEXT TO NORMAL
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 most recent big battles for Best Musical with BILLY ELLIOT versus NEXT TO NORMAL.
Kicking off one of the most elaborate and electrifying opening sequences in Tony Awards history, BILLY ELLIOT composer Elton John took to the stage of Radio City Music Hall to perform the score standout "Electricity" to vociferous applause. Although BILLY ELLIOT is largely centered on the coal miner's strike of the mid-1980s in North England, it is also about the electric reaction a performer has when performing (thus the major musical moment bearing that title), whereas the most notable other musical of the season actually had the word electric in its moniker in an earlier version, back when it was called FEELING ELECTRIC - the psychosis-themed NEXT TO NORMAL. Clearly, both BILLY ELLIOT and NEXT TO NORMAL were more than merely capable of eliciting high-wattage audience response and commanding high-voltage performances from the actors within them, and both featured electricity in different ways, but the real power of both musicals lies in their all too applicable messages to modern audiences about acceptance, awareness and how to appropriately show affection.
BILLY ELLIOT was adapted from the hit 2000 Stephen Daldry film of the same name penned by Lee Hall, both of whom continued on in the same roles for the stage adaptation. Hall penned lyrics to Elton John's catchy original score, while Daldry worked alongside renowned ballet choreographer Peter Darling to create a unique and arresting production complete with some astonishing aerial effects. Nonetheless, what made BILLY ELLIOT particularly unusual in the theatre realm most of all was the utilization of a special preparatory school set up to train future young ballet stars to eventually essay the title role and others in the piece, which dramatically concerns itself with a young boy who yearns to dance ballet.
Just as BILLY ELLIOT hinged on its title player, NEXT TO NORMAL offered the role of a lifetime to a capable actress - in this case, recognizable Broadway star and previous Tony Award nominee Alice Ripley, who devoured the lead role of psychologically troubled Diana in the musical drama written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, with direction by Michael Greif. Featuring early appearances by rising stars Aaron Tveit and Jennifer Damiano, the visually impressive and masterfully acted original production of the musical as seen on Broadway was a technical marvel as well as a moving piece of theatre with many pertinent themes for modern audiences to savor, particularly those relating to family and mental illness and how we deal with the loss of loved ones.
BILLY ELLIOT eventually ended up the big winner of the night in 2009, taking home the Best Musical award in addition to Best Actor In A Musical - which was shared by the three actors playing the lead; David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish - plus Best Featured Actor In A Musical (Greg Jabara), Best Book (Lee Hall), Best Scenic Design (Ian MacNeil), Best Lighting Design (Paul Arditti), Best Lighting Design (Rick Fisher), Best Direction Of A Musical (Stephen Daldry) and Best Choreography (Peter Darling). Best Orchestrations were won by Martin Koch of BILLY ELLIOT and Michael Starobin/Tom Kitt of NEXT TO NORMAL, respectively, in a rare tie. Additionally, NEXT TO NORMAL won Best Actress In A Musical (Alice Ripley) and Best Original Score (Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey).
30 DAYS OF THE 2014 Tony Awards IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY... This fall, Fathom Events will present Tim Rice's timeless new musical "From Here to Eternity" to cinemas across the United States. Captured during the show's successful six-month West End run, U.S. audiences will be able to enjoy the UK production, as well as exclusive extras, on the big screen before it hits Broadway in 2015. More information is available here.
So, now, let's look at some of the most memorable Tony Awards moments pertaining to BILLY ELLIOT and NEXT TO NORMAL.
First, Elton John kicks off the 2009 Tony Awards with "Electricity" from BILLY ELLIOT in a sequence also showcasing NEXT TO NORMAL's Aaron Tveit with "I'm Alive".
Next, the cast of BILLY ELLIOT perform "Angry Dance".
The Billy Elliot trio accept their Tony Award.
After that, see Alice Ripley accept her Tony Award.
Lastly, take in this riveting performance by the cast of NEXT TO NORMAL.
If forced to pick a favorite between these two towering theatrical achievements, which would you choose? Although BILLY ELLIOT obviously won most of the top prizes of the night back in 2009, NEXT TO NORMAL received the Pulitzer Prize For Drama soon after the ceremony, confirming its essential importance. While comparing and contrasting can be fun, perhaps sometimes it is best to admit that some things can't truly be compared. One thing is for sure: both musicals are refreshingly eclectic in their intentions and positively electric in performance.