Today we are continuing the 2012 Tony Awards Clip Countdown with another pairing sure to instigate ample amounts of approbation and opprobrium - now, just as it did twenty-five years ago - the famous Tony Awards battle of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA versus INTO THE WOODS.
While the 1984 Tony Awards had its fair share of tension and drama due to the unlikely competitors that seemed emblematic of the era in their own singular ways - the old guard versus the new; LA CAGE AUX FOLLES versus SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, with the former taking Best Musical and most of the top prizes - so, too did the 1988 Tony Awards have its touchstones - the cerebral musical versus the popular hit. Yet, SUNDAY would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, just as WOODS would go on to win Best Revival in 2002 - giving some vindication to many fans of both the Best Musical losers. While the apparently amicable competition between LA CAGE composer Jerry Herman and SUNDAY composer Stephen Sondheim was still rife with drama and controversy anyway, the public and press set up Sondheim as the intellect against another titan of the popular musical Theatre Four years later - then-reigning King Of Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber. While Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber had had shows open in the same seasons and play simultaneously on Broadway before, there was a certain blockbuster air to both musicals the men premiered on Broadway during the 1988 season - Sondheim, again collaborating with his visionary SUNDAY book writer and director, James Lapine, on INTO THE WOODS; and Andrew Lloyd Webber presenting PHANTOM, purportedly his grandest score to date, with the added bonus of direction by Sondheim’s iconic partner and constant collaborator, Hal Prince - heightening the stakes to near-mythic proportions for each candidate for Best Musical (and all the other awards of the evening). The result? Mostly a split. Sure, PHANTOM took Best Musical - as well as Best Actor for Michael Crawford’s incomparable original performance and Best Featured Actress for Judy Kaye (back on Broadway and nominated in the same category this season for NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, incidentally)- but INTO THE WOODS took Best Book, Best Score and Best Actress for the divine Joanna Gleason. Hal Prince took the trophy for Best Direction and PHANTOM scored in the technical categories, as well, making PHANTOM almost doubly the favorite. So, while PHANTOM won a considerable number more awards - and, of course is still running on Broadway to this day - it was not as quite a clear-cut victory as the LA CAGE versus SUNDAY match-up of 1984.
So, let’s take a look at the delicious original cast performances from the 1988 Tony Awards telecast, which was hosted with expected class, grace and delightfulness that only one of the most beloved stars of Broadway, now or ever, can command - Angela Lansbury.
First up, here is a medley - featuring portions of the opening, as well as the anthemic “Children Will Listen”, here essayed by replacement Witch, Phylicia Rashad - from INTO THE WOODS; introduced and narrated by Lansbury.
Next, here is a performance by Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman - the latter Miss Andrew Lloyd Webber at the time; and, the latter also being the inspiration for the show, actually - of the PHANTOM title song followed by Crawford’s inimitable “The Music Of The Night”.
As our first bonus, here is a performance by the 2002 revival cast of INTO THE WOODS, led by Vanessa Williams and the rest of the James Lapine-directed revival cast - a sparkling new production which went on to win Best Revival.
Lastly, here is the return of PHANTOM on the Tony Awards in a special salute to record-number-of-Tony-wins-holder, director Hal Prince, from the 2006 Tony Awards show.
So, should we even be comparing the respective merits of these two tremendous musicals of the 1980s, or is there room for both THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and INTO THE WOODS in our hearts? While Lloyd Webber may have written the most successful entertainment of all time with PHANTOM, WOODS went on to win Best Revival and thrive in schools and community theatres around the world - and still does, to this day; just as PHANTOM still plays eight times a week on Broadway. Both shows have brought the world of theatre to the world at large and both are worthy of the highest praise for not only that, but because they are both damn good shows, additionally. Plus, not until ten years later, with RAGTIME versus THE LION KING, would the Tony Awards have as fierce a fight to the finish as the 1988 battle royale.