Chris Jones (Chicago Trib) on This Year's Tony's Noms

GilmoreGirlO2 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
Opinion piece by Chris Jones, the leading Chicago Tribune theatre critic, on what he feels the Tony nominations mean for theatre and why he would have chosen differently:,0,2366802.story

I agree with much of his thoughts, particularly his ideas of how awarding the kind of shows that were picked this season will only encourage more of the same to get produced on Broadway as opposed to shows that push the boundaries and possibilities onstage. This really describes many of my feelings toward the Tony noms this year and why my initial reaction when seeing them was finding them “boring”; Jones explains my feelings a lot more eloquently than I ever could, though.

Updated On: 5/2/14 at 01:51 PM
JoeKv99 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I really like Chris Jones and thought this hit the nail on the head. I wish we knew Tony Nominators were selecting the shows they thought were best and not picking inferior shows for strategic reasons.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
DottieD'Luscia Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
That's the best argument I have read on behalf of Rocky. I wasn't bothered by it not being nominated for Best Musical as I didn't particularly like it, but that article at least made me think about what I saw.
Hey Dottie! Did your colleagues enjoy the cake even though your cat decided to sit on it? ~GuyfromGermany
tazber Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Thanks for sharing that Gilmore.

....but the world goes 'round
newintown Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Once again, this is all a question of taste. Anyone can like what they like, dislike what they like, but to think your opinion has anything to do with commercial success is just illusion. You can love a flop and hate a billion-dollar mega-hit.

All I can add, though, is the suggestion that if you ever spent an evening at a dinner table with Chris Jones, you might subsequently develop a tendency to look askance at anything he were to say or write, because he is truly an über-schmendrick of the first water.
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Mr Roxy
Broadway Legend
Column was spot on. Agree with him totally. His was not a hatchet job but a sobering comprehensive take on the season.
Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth - Lillian Hellman
Hackasaurus_Rex Profile Photo
I agree with most of what he said in this article, although I do take exception with... "the Tony Awards Nominating Committee has an obligation to understand that it is harder to depict serious emotion and ideas in the theater than to cut away such emotion or intellectual notion with the satirist's scalpel."

Only someone who has never been tasked with making 1000 people laugh every night would so so flippantly undervalue the art of writing a really great joke.

What Chris doesn't understand is creating comedy is just as hard if not harder than crafting a dramatic scene... it only SEEMS effortless. And this is my biggest problem with pseudo-intellectuals (many of which are critics and not creators). They put to very high a value on "effort." If it looks hard it must be hard. While something silly, satirical, or just fun? Well, that can't be art. To me it just shows a complete lack of understanding of the craft of storytelling that most people who write about theater or film don't get.

As Woody Allen said, "Those who can't do teach, and those that can't teach... teach gym." To that point, most critics should be organizing kickball.
Broadway Star
Speaking of Woody Allen, Chris Jones raved about Bullets when he reviewed it, but didn't even mention it in this column, which I found puzzling.
<--------Curtain call, opening night of A Little Night Music, Dec. 13, 2009
Broadway Star
I agree with most of this. I found it disheartening that the committee chose Aladdin and Beautiful (a cartoon and a paint by number jukebox musical) over some of the other candidates.
henrikegerman Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
"If/Then" may have been flawed (hard to follow, I know), but it, too, did something I've never seen a musical — heck, any piece of theater — do. It caught how well-educated urban liberals have changed, probably selling out in the process, and how their new big-city world (driven by myriad choices of all kinds) has not brought many of them happiness. That's because life in these cities, now so well tuned to the needs of their yuppie populace, can turn so easily into an urban stew of regret."

Has he never seen COMPANY, FOLLIES or MERRILY?

Updated On: 5/3/14 at 10:13 AM
themysteriousgrowl Profile Photo
Broadway Legend

This is nonsense and a non-article.

Chris Jones raises his hand and says, "Hey... guys, I'm, uh -- I'm here, too!"
JayG  2 Profile Photo
JayG 2
Featured Actor
This guy was too kind to Cherry "Mumbles" Jones. Her performance is the least effective of the three I saw. Parsons wind hands down.

As far as musicals, he nailed it. I'd rather see Pousse Cafe, The Fig Leaves are Falling, and Kelly on consecutive nights rather than ever again sit through show by a lazy creators(?) that uses pre-existing music.
Hackasaurus_Rex Profile Photo
What makes a creator lazy for using pre-existing music? That only makes sense if they hired a composer/ lyricist who made the decision NOT to write music but rather let other people's songs do their work... THAT would be lazy.

The job of a book writer for a "jukebox" musical is no easier than one who writes a book for an "original score" musical. One could say the job is very difficult because they are bound to use songs originally written for a completely different purpose to tell THEIR story (as opposed to a book writer of an "original score" musical who can let the lyricist help them develop their story by infusing whatever dialogue they want into the songs).

And certainly the job of the director is no easier. The job of the producer is no easier. Choreographer? Nope. So who is being lazy? I am seriously asking because I've heard this expressed often on here but have no idea what it means.

Updated On: 5/3/14 at 06:51 PM
henrikegerman Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Damn the lazy Freed, Donen, Kelly, Comden, Green, and his Indolence, Leo the Lion for the temerity of using pre-existing music for the score of their bathetic movie, Singin' in the Rain.
BrerBear Profile Photo
I remember critics like Chris Jones from when I did competitive one-act plays in high school. When my school's troupe made it to the state finals, and lost, the judge told us that our comedy was "a nice break between the dramas which were here to win the competition."

I really don't get where he's coming from. Since when is it Broadway's "moral obligation" to build shows that reflect real people? Or that "the Tony Awards Nominating Committee has an obligation to understand that it is harder to depict serious emotion and ideas in the theater than to cut away such emotion or intellectual notion with the satirist's scalpel". For real?

As others have already stated in this thread, comedy is *hard*. I boggle that he can claim that Jefferson Mays' performance is less deserving than Norbert Leo Butz in Big Fish because the latter cost more emotionally. He gives Rocky special credit for recreating thrill onstage, but I fail to see why rousing an audience with spectacle -- whether it's a helicopter landing onstage or a loud, quick cut boxing match -- is particularly worthy. In my experience, that is the *easiest* way to evoke audience emotion.

That article is all kinds of wrong.

(For bonus point subtraction, he actually claims that It/Then's financial success is due to its recognizable main character archetype. Not its star. Or it's creators. ::eye roll:: )
orangeskittles Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
The day the Tonys were announced, he posted an article complaining that "serious original musicals" like If/Then, Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County and Bullets Over Broadway were overlooked in favor of "comedy pastiches" and musical revues. Because nothing says "original" like a movie franchise with 9 sequels. I'd even argue that Aladdin is more original than Bullets over Broadway.,0,3428937.column
Like a firework unexploded
Wanting life but never knowing how
henrikegerman Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
^"In essence, every serious original musical of the season was snubbed, with the nominations going to two musical revues and two comedy pastiches."

Apart from the fact that there is nothing wrong with a good revue or a good pastiche, exactly which current best musical tony nominee other than AFTER MIDNIGHT is a revue?

Is the man completely nuts?
FishermanBob Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
One of my favorite quotes is the classic "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard" attributed to Edmund Gwenn among others. If Chris Jones had ever tried to make people laugh, he wouldn't undervalue how incredibly hard it is to do it well and consistently, night after night.
dented146 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
The Tony Nominating Committee is only 50 people at most and often fewer. Who knows what biases and friends they have in the business. It's a very small community.

A lot of money is at stake. When three or four changed votes can determine a nomination, the whole process has to be considered suspect.
henrikegerman Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
No one is ever going to be happy with nominations.

All awards are suspect. Politics is always involved. The Pulitzer board is only 20 people. The Golden Globes are voted by the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press for God's sake.

There are advantages and disadvantages to a smaller more select committee than a broader-based nominating body.

Moreover, there are cohesive critiques of who/what does and does get nominated. Jones's critique may raise a few good points.

But mostly it's bull**** and reflects badly on him as a critic.

The generic and dubious suggestion that "serious" works are more dignified than "lighter" ones is idiotic. The idea that revues should be seen as second class productions makes one wonder if he has ever even heard of SIDE BY SIDE, JACQUES BREL, BERLIN TO BROADWAY, AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', That he would say that the exclusion of Rocky shows that independent creative works of gravity are devalued is pathetic. No offense to Rocky but what does it have to do with his flawed premise?

This is just a k'vetch. Fine, the theatre is full of them. But he might have gotten his talking points into some semblance of order.
GilmoreGirlO2 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
I could be wrong in how I’m reading it, but I took Jones’ “serious is harder” comment to refer specifically to the style of both the comedy and drama in specific shows this year, not as a general statement. And, by that standard, I understand what he means. Not in the case of “Gentleman’s Guide,” but, say, in the style of comedy in “Aladdin.” Full disclosure: I haven’t seen it, but from what I have read, I get the impression that most of the humor is cheap shots and groaners (“Move that bus!” and the like)? If this is true, then, yes, I would say pulling off the seriousness in some of the shows this season would be a greater feat than eliciting some laughs and a fun time through cheap jokes (especially in shows like “Big Fish” and “Bridges” where the serious could tend toward the melodramatic, but, for me, the production/actors found a way to make these moments genuine and natural). (Of course, “Aladdin” might have other very worthy qualities that earned it its nomination that had nothing to do with its humor.) I certainly don’t agree with a general statement of serious musicals are harder to pull off than comedic ones, but I could see how the argument could be made this year in terms of the style of comedy in some of the shows this year vs. the scope and depth of the dramatic in others.

Of course, this is all just opinion, but I found Jones’ ideas interesting regarding how the nominations might affect what kinds of shows producers might be willing to invest in in the future.
[spoiler tag?]

Some of Babkak, Omar's and Kassim's simple wordplay didn't land with me, like the "Do you mind? I'm on a scroll". On the other hand, the joke about the Chosen People being 1000 miles to the west, did land with me. There were a lot of Mediterranean food jokes, which also landed with me, since you have to know all of these foods and they must have been hard to write jokes for. Rather than loads of celebrity impersonations and references, there was a Dancing with the Stars reference, a West Side Story reference, and they were all kind of limited to "Friend Like Me".

Babkak, Omar, Kassim, and also Iago do a lot of physical and visual humor, Jafar, and later the Genie does a tango with Aladdin. Jafar also teases him, pinching his face and stuff like that. The Fortune Teller is humorous, and so is Jafar's 'uncle' voice. Jafar is witty as he usually is, and the self-awareness jokes done by most of the characters aren't too intrusive, and there's usually some kind of build before the punchline so it's not just random.

It's not high comedy, but a lot of the jokes seemed to require a lot of thought and preparation. A lot of the jokes were general, too, so they won't need to keep up with ever-changing pop culture the way other Aladdin shows do.

The article said that Aladdin "challenged the great theatrical minds at Disney...considerably less than many of its other musicals." He doesn't explain in what ways, so does he mean the technical aspects, the story, the music, or some other thing?

So Beauty and the Beast had slow, dramatic transformation sequences, the furniture fused with humans, introspective, heartfelt music.

The Lion King has puppets, masks and innovative costumes, giant sets, actors going into the audience, and "Madness of King Scar".

The Little Mermaid had light-reflecting costumes that mimicked underwater, heelies, soaring sets, and three songs for Ursula.

Aladdin has big orchestrations, sound that envelops the audience in some parts of the show, fast-moving sets, fast but elegant costume changes, and a more or less harmonious merging of Howard Ashman's concept with the movie. How is that unchallenging? : (

I'm not sure how much the the villains contributed to Aladdin getting Best Musical nomination, but even if it didn't, just in terms of something Aladdin's done effectively, is that of the villains in the Disney Broadway musicals, I think Jafar has been handled best.

Ursula had an amazing but unwieldy costume that seemed to make movement for some of Ursula's actors hard, limiting her interaction with Ariel. Ursula's death I heard was not good at all--that means her life is linked to that magic shell.

Scar uses a cane, and it also looks like that costume is hard to move in, and he doesn't move a lot apart from striding across the stage and gesturing occasionally to the hyenas. Though he might be more dynamic in "Madness of King Scar" and during the final fight with Simba, or maybe it's dependent on the actor?

Jafar doesn't hold his staff like a cane, and he sometimes lifts it up or Iago holds it. Jafar's costume doesn't look light but it doesn't seem to restrict Jafar from moving his hands around or changing his posture, or interacting with Aladdin.

Most importantly, Jafar's demise does not inherently change his character. Sure, it's much faster, and if you blink you will miss his evil Genie form, but it keeps Jafar's evil, bellowing punch while moving it along at a briskly comedic pace.

That's another thing, Ursula was given revenge motivation with "I Want the Good Times Back" but her power was greatly reduced because when Ariel breaks her shell, she dies.

Scar was given development with "The Madness of King Scar" where he's haunted by the ghost of Mufasa, so he's running away from his evil deeds.

Jafar gets a tradeoff--no magic powers in Act 1 but once he gets the lamp he gets everything: everyone bowing to him as Sultan and for a few seconds, all the power in the universe. This lets him be evil with no compromises. He doesn't lament or get a backstory or run away from the consequences of what he did, he just hates his boss and wants absolute power and does whatever he can to get it.

So, does the humor in Aladdin rely on cheap shots and groaners? I'd say half of it does and half of it doesn't. Did it challenge the minds of the creatives less than the other Disney musicals? No way! : (
RippedMan Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I don't feel like you should nominate a show just because they depict realistic boxing? That doesn't make it a good show. And if you're sitting in the balcony the whole last 20mins are super boring and exhausting to watch.

As for Bridges - it's my favorite show of the season - but I can see it's faults and I can see why you wouldn't nominate it.

If/Then I'm surprised by. It seems to be doing great business and it's an ambitious show and should have at least been awarded for trying something new as opposed to all these paint by numbers revues and juxebox shows.
Mister Matt Profile Photo
Mister Matt
Broadway Legend
If/Then I'm surprised by. It seems to be doing great business and it's an ambitious show and should have at least been awarded for trying something new as opposed to all these paint by numbers revues and juxebox shows.

Since when does being ambitious and trying something new automatically qualify a show as being more award-worthy than shows that received better reviews from both critics and audiences? If that were the case, any "ambitious" and "new" show like Metro, Glory Days or In My Life would have been showered with nominations. I've never understood the notion that original material, regardless of quality, should be placed in higher regard simply because of good intentions.

I haven't seen If/Then, so I have not formed an opinion on the quality of the show itself. Perhaps after I see it, I will feel it deserved more nominations based on the quality of the material or the overall production, but I don't give any show automatic bonus points for its aspirations or the originality of its material.
"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
EricMontreal22 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Matt, you beat me to it. I was going to say, by that criteria, In My Life (and a slew of other notorious flops) should have had a ton of nominations.

When it comes to issues with the Tonys, the only real one I think this year, perhaps more than anyother shows, is that they really should try to somehow integrate Off-Broadway shows. I don't think this is a trend that is going to change, either...