The 1993-94 Broadway season is over. And not a moment too soon. When the New York theater world celebrates the best of this past season at the 48th annual Tony Awards ceremony, you won't believe your eyes or ears. Numbers from the Best Musical nominees will include something from a live stage version of a cartoon (Beauty and the Beast), and a slice of Stephen Sondheim's dark all-brainer about the ugliest woman since Olive Oyl (Passion). There'll be at least one Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty from a lightweight revue (A Grand Night for Singing!) that closed five months ago. And when a number from the defunct Dutch disaster Cyrano is introduced, quick turn down the volume.
In other words: not a championship season for original musicals. And not even supershowman Tommy Tune could save the Great White Way. His almost universally reviled and short-lived sequel, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, featured Vegas-style celebrity impersonators and a phone-sex dance number that earned the show a place among Broadway's great disasters. The best entertainment unfolded off stage. In April both Michael Hayden, the star of Carousel, and his understudy fell ill at the same time. But the show went on anyway, with Marcus Lovett, who was plucked from the title role in Phantom of the Opera and given three days to rehearse.
Here's a selective guide for the summer traveler heading to New York City. Tourists take note: Beware of pickpockets and that awful new revival of Grease!
Angels in America: Perestroika In the second half of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winner, a bright white menacing angel descends on the late 1980s and tries to recruit a bitchy AIDS patient (Stephen Spinella) as her prophet. Director George C. Wolfe has composed a breathtaking, heartbreaking, hysterically funny symphony of language and light. David Marshall Grant makes the best sensitive gay Mormon Republican lawyer you've ever seen. A
An Inspector Calls J.B. Priestley's antique thriller is rather ordinary. A mysterious police interrogator implicates an aristocratic family (Rosemary Harris among them) in the death of a poor young woman and lectures them about their responsibility to their fellow human beings and blah blah blah. But director Stephen Daldry and designer Ian MacNeil wrap this tired tale in the season's most extraordinary production. A lonely townhouse, soaked in a beautiful blue torrent of rain, hovers precariously above the apocalyptic rubble. In the hands of these talents, trite becomes powerful; predictable becomes mesmerizing. Maybe they could do something with Miss Saigon. A-
Beauty and the Beast The most expensive musical in Broadway history is also just about the tackiest. Rather than rethinking the beloved 1991 cartoon for the stage, Disney producers have all-too-faithfully fashioned it into a gaudily uninspired theme-park extravaganza. It belongs on ice, not on Broadway. C-