“Finding Neverland”: 8 Lessons Broadway Can Learn From Eurovision

Before Chris and I fell in love with Eurovision, there was Broadway. As Americans, Eurovision isn’t part of our shared cultural vocabulary, but musical theater is. Well, for some of us, musical theater is. When discussing Eurovision on this blog, we’ve often turned to live theater for a framework to understand artistic choices and common cultural points of reference.

The 69th Tony Awards, which celebrate the best of the Broadway season, aired on Sunday night. Chris and I love the Tony Awards. They expose us to native stars that don’t cross over into other entertainment realms, we see actors known from film and TV take on unexpected roles, and we witness inspiring, creative performances with the original casts. As we don’t live in New York, the Tonys are our one chance each year to see what Broadway has to offer. We never miss it. In fact, we have VHS tapes of old Tony Award broadcasts that date back to the 1980s. Over the years, Broadway has figured out that a memorable Tony performance can give a box office bump to a flagging show, so the awards broadcast has increasingly become a commercial showcase to maximize those chances. This year’s telecast not only included live performances from the Best Musical and Best Musical Revival nominees but also a handful of shows open but not nominated. Get those tickets now, folks.

One of the performances at this year’s Tonys was from “Finding Neverland”. “Finding Neverland,” you may recall, was first a play and then a movie about J.M. Barrie and the inspiration that led to his writing Peter Pan. “Finding Neverland” has since been musicalized and is currently playing on Broadway. It might even stay open for a couple more weeks. Matthew Morrison (Glee) plays J.M. Barrie and Kelsey Grammer (Frasier and Cheers, which naturally they reference in the musical) is Captain Hook. Choreography by Mia Michaels (So You Think You Can Dance).

Turns out, after following Eurovision for so long, we’ve finally come full circle. Eurovision provides a framework for us to understand theater.

The song they performed at the Tonys was “Stronger,” the closing number to the first act. This sucker was more cheesy and more clueless than anything we saw at Eurovision this year. Here’s the full number in all its hamfisted glory. Since Tony clips get taken down way too soon, here is a clip instead:

What’s amazing is how many Eurovision mistakes are rolled up into this mess. Any one of them would probably have been fine. But, no, when something isn’t working, the temptation is to add. “If we just add one more thing, then it’ll all be ok”. It’s the same mistake we see in many of the great Eurovision misfires. Let’s break it down.

Lesson #1: Use thematic content so visual that it stages itself. Because “Pirates of the Sea” (Latvia 2008) qualified, amiright? Also, “Love Me Back” (Turkey 2012), but that was actually good. Still, thanks to Eurovision, we’ve seen these visuals before.

Lesson #2: Use dry ice whenever possible, and as much as possible. Can you see your knees through the smoke? Not enough.

Lesson #3: Use a generic song title. “Stronger” is admittedly tad more original than “Shine,” but it’s not exactly setting new standards for innovation. “Stronger Every Minute” (Cyprus 2004) and “Hold On Be Strong” (Norway 2008) come to mind.

Lesson #4: Ignore fit of song to thematic content. With Loreen (Sweden 2012) and Mäns Zelmerlöw (Sweden 2015) we pointed out how important a fit the song was with the artist. In what world is a bombastic pop song appropriate for an Edwardian biography?

Lesson #5: Have an old guy yell at us for no apparent reason. Kelsey Grammer is giving us gruff Captain Hook, which in principle isn’t a bad thing. But as Matthew Morrison is trying to sing, Kelsey Grammer keeps yelling at him. It’s supposed to be encouraging, but Kelsey Grammer JUST KEEPS YELLING AT HIM. Remember when 75 cents did this (Croatia 2008)? It didn’t work then either.

Lesson #6: Say yes to Crazy Eyes. What better Eurovision trope is there? Alyona Lanskaya, Charlotte Pirelli, Malena Ernman, really so many that have come before.

Lesson #7: A chest hair reveal is the best way to bring home the final chorus. If you’re a man and you’re manly, Dima Bilan (Russia 2008)Sakis Rouvas (Greece 2008), and more recently Eduard Romanyuta (Moldova 2015) taught us that you should tear open your shirt at the 2:00 mark.

Lesson #8: At the climactic moment, hold aloft your magic sword. Oh wait, that’s not Eurovison, that’s He-Man.