I always love to go to dramatic plays in Chicago and New York to see fine acting. However, after watching the Tony Awards this past Sunday, I am left wondering that if I am interested in seeing great acting, then perhaps I should get tickets for the musicals as well! I love musicals, and personally, am always partial to the acting element in any show, musical or play (heehee, I suppose that is no surprise!). Sometimes though, I think that the acting element is deemed not as vital to the success of the storytelling in musical theater, as compared to the singing or dancing. That certainly was not the case this year!
From David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder in Hello Dolly! to Eva Noblezada as Kim in Miss Saigon, I think it was the acting that turned these into Tony-nominated performances. I was particularly struck by the beautiful performance by Andy Karl in Groundhog Day. From the first moment of Karl’s singing, I was immediately moved. It was clear that his character had been on a journey, and the baggage from this journey was subtly, yet fully, there in Karl’s performance. Reflecting back on the number, I can’t remember what Karl’s voice sounded like per se; I only remember the effect that his simple yet specific acting choices had on me as an audience member, watching the live telecast in my living room. His ease and sincerity, along with his groundedness, vulnerability, and focused presence were all interlaced, and taken together, this captivated me and allowed for me to connect with and care about the character of Phil Connors. It was a really touching performance full of many acting lessons.
The most important lesson perhaps is that acting a song, in addition to singing a song, is powerful and can give a musical performance the oomph it might need to turn it into a work of art.