"Musical theater is not dead," declared "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder" co-writer Steven Lutvak -- just one of the Broadway luminaries who spoke to Billboard at the star-studded event.
Sunday's Tony Awards, held at New York's Radio City Music Hall, was a star-studded affair that, at times, felt more Hollywood than Broadway -- thanks to such TV notables as Neil Patrick Harris, Zach Braff and Bryan Cranston. You could say the same of the pre-show red carpet, where theater's latest and greatest looked back at their productions and ahead to what’s in store.
Below, 10 things Billboard learned at the 2014 event...
1. Tupac Shakur’s music was made for the theater. Billboard chatted with director Kenny Leon, who won a Tony Award that night for his direction of Denzel Washington in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun, about working on Holler If Ya Hear Me, a new original musical featuring the music of Tupac. “I think all the Tupac fans will be really excited that we honor Tupac, but we broaden where his music can go,” says Leon, who calls himself a huge Tupac fan. “His music is theatrical because he understood character, he understand human beings. It adjusts to the stage better than any other music.”
2. Cynthia Weil wants Hugh Jackman to take his shirt off. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil walked the red carpet chatting about Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which dramatizes the life of the title’s namesake as well as Mann’s and Weil’s life and songwriting. “It’s kind of unbelievable to see us up on stage,” Mann says. “I never thought 50 years ago that the songs that we wrote would be up on a stage but beyond that to see us as characters, is just fantastic.” However, Weil has something else on her mind. “I keep hoping Hugh Jackman will take his shirt off, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she jokes.
3. Whatever Idina wants, Idina gets. If/Then writers Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt chatted with us about collaborating with their star, Idina Menzel. “She’s not only one of the most gifted performers on the planet, she’s also a tremendous collaborator. She’s fearless,” says Yorkey. “This is a lady who could have come back to Broadway in a revival of any musical she wanted and she chose a new musical by a couple of young-ish freaks.” Yorkey and Kitt are also working on musical adaptation of Freaky Friday and Magic Mike, but if Idina calls, they’re ready. “Any time Idina wants us to write something for her, we are there,” Yorkey adds.
4. Hedwig designer Arianne Phillips drew some inspiration from Madonna. Phillips, who is known for her work in film and fashion, makes her Broadway debut for costume design of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Phillips has also worked on costumes for Madonna tours, which helped her out with this project. “It’s a learning curve putting men in high heels, and luckily with Madonna, I had the opportunity to do that with a lot of her dancers,” says Phillips, who also designed the costumes for the 2001 Hedwig film. “That has made me a better designer.”
5. The Hedwig album might have a hit on its hands. Neil Patrick Harris stopped the show with his performance of “Sugar Daddy” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, giving Orlando Bloom a lap dance and licking Samuel L. Jackson’s glasses during the number. “For me it’s my favorite number in the show; It’s the most lascivious number in the show,” says John Cameron Mitchell, the star of the 1997 downtown production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the 2001 film and the musical’s book-writer. The original cast recording of the Broadway revival will be released in July. “It should be a single. If Broadway songs were on top ten like they used to be, this would be the single.”
6. Rock ‘n’ roll is different in a Broadway theater. Newly minted Tony Award winner Lena Hall, who co-stars with Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, also moonlights as the lead singer for the band The Deafening, and her rocker experience helped her land the role. “I think that what really stood out was that I’m an authentic rock ‘n’ roller, and I wasn’t putting on any kind of airs when I was singing the music because I understand the genre,” says Hall. Though performing on a Broadway stage is different than performing in a downtown club. “Sometimes the audience is not feeling it!” Hall says with a big laugh.
7. Musical theater is not dead. The writers of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which took home the top prize for best musical, Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, want the music world to know that theater is still relevant. “Musical theater is not dead,” says Lutvak, who adds that he listened to Mozart, Chopin, and Gilbert and Sullivan for musical inspiration. “It’s funny for a new musical to be considered so outré.” “Its not a pop score,” Freedman adds. “It’s a musical theater score. But it’s extremely accessible.”
8. Jessie Mueller does right by Carole King. “We did it!” Mueller, who took home the Tony for leading actress in a musical for her portrayal of King and performed onstage with King during the broadcast, exclaims on the red carpet, excited to have finally made it this far with her show. She adds that she couldn’t be happier to have honored King’s work and legacy in the music industry with the show.
9. Sutton Foster bares all. Two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster bares all in the revival of Violet. “She literally glows from the inside,” says the show’s director Leigh Silverman. “It’s a whole new career defining thing for her. She’s not tap dancing, she’s not glammed out; she’s not even wearing chap stick out there, no make up.”
10. The Clintons hit Broadway. While chatting up the press on the red carpet, Bryan Cranston revealed that Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton stopped by his Tony-winning play All the Way, about the first year of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, on Sunday afternoon.