Musical Dares

Broadway's Tony Awards -- a celebration of New York theater's best -- is not the first place you'd look for controversy. But the award of the coveted Best Musical for 2000 to Susan Stroman's Contact stirred up some serious debate: Some critics claimed that Contact, which won four Tonys (not to mention four Drama Desk and five Critics Circle awards), isn't a musical at all!

Contact is something of a new theatrical animal. It's made up of three one-act plays. Dialogue is minimal and none of the performers sings a note. As for the music, it's provided by a very cool sampling of great old records. The "score" features the likes of Benny Goodman, Dion and the Belmonts, Dean Martin, Stephane Grappelli and Robert Palmer.

It may sound a bit artsy, but Contact drew attention less for its novelty than for its spectacular staging. This is a big, classic Broadway production with all the brilliant costuming, lighting and general excitement that term implies.

Contact's three parts are intriguingly diverse. "Swinging" brings Jean Honoré Fragonard's 18th-century painting to life. "Did You Move?" is the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who fantasizes of escape through dance. "Contact" relates the tale of a suicidal businessman who takes refuge in a swing dance club. His life is saved by establishing contact with others there.

Stroman co-wrote, directed and choreographed the show. Previously, she has picked up Tony Awards for her work on the revivals of Showboat and Crazy for You. It was Stroman, too, who caused a sensation on the West End in London with her production of Oklahoma!.

Most recently, Stroman directed and choreographed a little show called The Producers. Said show picked up 11 Tonys, setting a new record that may never be broken.

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David Gofstein