Friday, June 14, 2024

Weird -- The Daniel Radcliffe Story

With the Tony Awards ceremony, dedicated to honoring the best of Broadway, coming closer—it’s scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, June 16—I’m looking forward, as always, to catching glimpses of stage magic. One huge difference between movies and live theatre is that anyone can watch a hit movie, whether in a cineplex or (increasingly) over cable. To see a theatrical hit with its opening night cast intact, you generally need to travel to New York City and pay hundreds of dollars for your seat. Since I can’t often do that, I’m forced to live vicariously through theatre reviews and through the snippets performed on primetime TV in the course of the Tony show.

 Invariably, some of the top nominated plays are headlined by stars best known for their work in Hollywood films. This year’s nominees include such lead performers as Live Schreiber, Michael Stulberg, Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Rachel McAdams, and Eddie Redmayne, hailed for his performance as the eerie emcee in a revival of Cabaret. But I was especially tickled by the inclusion of Daniel Radcliffe for his supporting turn in the revival of one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, Merrily We Roll Along.

 Radcliffe, now 34 (can it be?) is of course best known as the title character in all 8 Harry Potter films, bringing to convincing life the bespectacled young hero in J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular series of fantasy novels. In 2001, when not yet in his teens, he became an international superstar as the plucky and magical Harry. For many actors, being identified with an iconic character ultimately leads to career death: no one is willing to see them try on other roles. But after a full decade of playing Harry, Radcliffe has managed to move beyond his most famous characterization, both on the screen and on stage. In film and on television, the diminutive Radcliffe seems to have headed straight for the oddball roles, like that of a talkative corpse in the surrealistic Swiss Army Man (2016), the first film by the two Daniels who went on to win Oscars for Everything Everywhere All At Once. I managed to miss that, but can enthusiastically recommend Radcliffe’s Emmy-nominated performance as Weird Al Yankovic in 2022’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a curly ‘fro out to there, Radcliffe is hilarious as the writer of goofy parody songs who plays the accordion, romances Madonna, and foils the schemes of a South American drug lord.

 Starting in 2007, on stage in London, Radcliffe shook off his Harry Potter image by appearing as the deeply troubled Alan Strang in Equus, a play that required of him a strange and graphic nude scene. For Broadway, he remained covered up as the leading man in the satiric musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, playing the song-and-dance role once made famous by Robert Morse and then revived by Matthew Broderick. His current Broadway gig, Merrily We Roll Along, casts him as the writing partner of a hotshot composer who squanders his musical talent on his way to fame and fortune. There’s a marvelous Sondheim score, of course, featuring a vicious rant for the much put-upon character played by Radcliffe (and, not so long ago, by Lin-Manuel Miranda). Now he’s up for a Tony, as are the other two members of the show’s central trio. No, I haven’t seen this staging of a play that was once a big Sondheim flop but is now a really hot ticket. But I can’t help rooting for Daniel Radcliffe: there’s something magic about him.

 Update from 6/17: An emotional Daniel Radcliffe took home the Tony last night. 



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