With Broadway mothballed for the foreseeable future and the Tony Awards shelved until a to-be-determined date, what’s a theater fan to do these days? In the absence of a Tony ceremony that was supposed to air Sunday night, we’ve compiled a list of award-worthy performances and plays that fans can watch to celebrate the best of the truncated Broadway season. (Unless otherwise noted, you can find all of these clips on YouTube.)
Tell me more, tell me more! In place of this year’s postponed awards show, CBS is presenting a sing-along version of the classic 1978 film “Grease,” starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, and Stockard Channing, as part of its revived “Sunday Night Movies” lineup. The “Grease Sing-Along,” airing at 8:30 p.m., will be accompanied by onscreen lyrics to all the show’s classic songs, including “Summer Nights,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “You’re the One That I Want," “Greased Lightnin’,” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
The rousing “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is the epitome of a big, splashy, vibrant Broadway musical that’s much missed these days. Scrambling up hits from the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Adele, the Police, OutKast, and Lady Gaga, the show received its world premiere at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre in 2018 before bowing on Broadway last summer. It would’ve been a top Tony contender in many categories, including best musical. You can see stars Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo, who play lovestruck composer Christian and doomed chanteuse Satine, harmonizing on the soaring Elton John ballad “Your Song” on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” last fall. Or watch Danny Burstein, as nightclub impresario Harold Zidler, and the dynamic cast perform the show’s explosive opening mash-up of “Lady Marmalade” and “Because We Can” from the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on “Good Morning America” in February.
Another show with local roots that would’ve been a serious Tony contender is “Jagged Little Pill,” which premiered at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater in 2018 and opened on Broadway last fall. The show features the songs from Alanis Morissette’s trailblazing 1995 album, finding the fire and fury in a story that touches on a range of hot-button issues, including opioid addiction, racism, rape culture, and gender identity. Watch the cast perform “You Learn” on “Good Morning America” last December. Or go behind the scenes at a rehearsal with director Diane Paulus, choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and cast members Celia Rose Gooding and Antonio Cipriano as they work through a performance of “Head Over Feet.”
The fierce, cheeky, female-empowered musical “Six,” which passed through the ART’s Loeb Drama Center last summer on its way to Broadway this spring, was a legit contender for Tony gold, including best musical. Written by Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow and staged as an exhilarating pop concert, the show tells the story of the six wives of Henry VIII, tossed-aside queens who refused to be relegated to the dustbin of history. Check out the London cast slaying the show’s scorching opening number, “Ex Wives,” at the 2019 Olivier Awards, in a flash-mob performance of that electric anthem outside the Tower of London, or strutting to Anne Boleyn’s catchy cautionary tune “Don’t Lose Your Head” on BBC’s “The One Show.”
The race for best actress in a musical likely would have included previous Tony winners Olivo and Katrina Lenk. Yet the contest was shaping up as a showdown between Olivier Award winner Sharon D. Clarke — for her stirring performance as a Black woman grappling with the Jim Crow South in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s “Caroline, or Change” — and pint-size dynamo Adrienne Warren for her turn as the inimitable pop diva in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” Watch Clarke’s soul-shaking rendition of “Lot’s Wife” at last year’s Oliviers and the sparkling Warren, who came to Boston in a 2010 tour of “Dreamgirls,” sing an earthquaking “River Deep/Mountain High” at the same ceremony. Or click on Warren belting out Turner’s pop anthem “The Best” from her bathtub on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” in March.
Patti LuPone has long been one of Broadway’s most renowned divas. She has two Tony Awards (for “Gypsy” and “Evita”) and seven other nominations. Would she have added a third award to her shelf as the acerbic Joanne in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”? Judge for yourself. Check out LuPone slaying the lacerating lament “The Ladies Who Lunch” at a 2011 concert performance of “Company” or delivering a more sardonic version at the composer’s 80th birthday bash in 2010. We’ll drink to her.
Speaking of “Company,” Marianne Elliott’s revelatory revival reimagined the restless bachelor Bobbie as a romantically ambivalent single woman facing the uncertainties of aging alone. Lenk’s turn as Bobbie on Broadway had only just begun before the show had to shut down. For now, fans can view Lenk’s star-making turn as the enigmatic Dina in a duet with Tony Shalhoub on the aching “Omar Sharif” from “The Band’s Visit” at the 2018 Tonys, where it won best musical and nine other trophies. The show’s tour was set to arrive at the Colonial in late March, until the pandemic shut theaters. This is a small glimpse of its magical charms.
David Byrne’s dazzling “American Utopia,” a heart-lifting theatrical concert that had a tryout at the Colonial last September before opening on Broadway, felt like a balm for these times. Watch Byrne and his diverse band as they summon an anguished cover of Janelle Monáe’s searing protest anthem against racial violence and the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of the police, “Hell You Talmbout.” The powerful call-and-response song recites the names of 18 victims, including Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Emmett Till, and was written, said Monáe in 2015, “to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue.” (You can also watch Monae herself perform the song here.) Say their names, say their names, say their names.
There’s nothing wrong with escapism in these fraught times. But in light of the urgent Black Lives Matter protests, theater fans might be in the mood for more thought-provoking drama. Dominique Morisseau’s haunting “Pipeline” tells the story of a mother desperate to protect her young Black son from getting caught in the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.” The play is available for streaming on the subscription service BroadwayHD.com (a free trial is available). The trailblazing writer-performer Anna Deavere Smith explores similar territory in her solo performance piece “Notes From the Field,” seen at the ART in 2016. In the film version, available on HBO’s streaming services, Smith embodies a multitude of characters as she investigates the connections between police brutality, the mass incarceration of Black men, and an educational system that often fails communities of color.
One of the most talked-about new dramas of the Broadway season, Jeremy O. Harris’s “Slave Play,” would have been a top contender for best play, along with Matthew Lopez’s multi-generational epic “The Inheritance.” You can watch Harris discuss the psychological and personal roots of his provocative examination of race, sex, trauma and America itself, on the BUILD series. Or click on an interview with Lopez and actor Kyle Soller discussing generational responsibility and the legacy of AIDS in the Oliver Award-winning “Inheritance” on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.”
Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.