Heavenly or Hellish? Our Critics Debate the Broadway Season

Theater

And yet, when I turn to your ballots describing who you think should win the best musical Tony I find — to my surprise, and yes, a bit of excitement — that you both selected “The Prom.” Not exactly the radical choice. Say more.

GREEN There are ways in which “The Prom” is quite radical. Not, of course, in its mode of storytelling; that’s as conventional as could be. But using such an anodyne form to tell such a sly story — about egotistic New York actors descending on Middle America to help a lesbian go to her high school prom — makes it almost subversive. And the execution is nearly flawless.

BRANTLEY For me, it was the only musical that created and sustained an alternative reality that I love to visit when I’m feeling blue: The World of Musical Comedy (!!), in which characters seamlessly express themselves in song and dance, and find catharsis in harmony. It’s been so long since we’ve seen a show that honored the conventions of an honorable and venerable form with such integrity and affection, without feeling in any way hidebound.

GREEN “Tootsie” hits many of the same marks for me and is, in some ways, more distinctive. But “The Prom,” as Ben said, touches on an atavistic need for comfort without condescension that we rarely get to enjoy at such a high level of skill anymore.

How can a show based on an old movie be more distinctive than an original production?

GREEN Two ways. The story of “Tootsie” has been substantially reworked, in part to make its gender politics more palatable and also, of course, to make it a musical. (It’s now set in the world of New York theater, not soap operas.) And there’s no overestimating the change that songs make, especially the angular, urban, angsty, joke-filled ones by David Yazbek.

BRANTLEY I found “Tootsie” to be less than a seamless whole. Yazbek’s score was intriguing, with its own neurotic, twitching meter. But I’m not sure it matched the wholesale make-believe corniness of the rest of the show, including Scott Ellis’s staging. The production in general seemed to exist in an unresolved state of identity, that, among other things, found it with a (high-heeled) foot in two decades, 30 years apart, at the same time.

GREEN Whereas “The Prom” is cut from one piece of cloth. New cloth, at that, as was also the case with “Be More Chill” and, if you ignore centuries-old Greek mythology, “Hadestown.”

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