Tony Night Postmortem
Generally, I'm not a Tony watcher. Yeah, that's a kicker of a confession from a theater critic, particularly one who lives an hour and a half from the Lincoln Tunnel's dirty mouth, but I have my reasons. I'm alright with checking the next-day results, and religiously read NYTimes reviews, but as far as taking the time to plant myself in front of a tv for three hours to cheer on (or grumble about) productions I'll almost certainly never see, forget it. Though the Inquirer reviews Broadway, I don't (please, Howie, give my regards...), and as a parent, I have neither the free time nor the spare change. However, when my city's Barrymore Awards roll around, I'm chewing my fingernails down to the skin until the winners are announced. It's not that I don't care about the Tonys, it's just that generally, for my purposes, they're irrelevant.
But this year was different. Aside from looking forward to next season's Philly productions of The Seafarer and Rock and Roll, I was, for once, fully engaged.
There's change in the Broadway winds, and though I've seen exactly none of the contenders, couldn't wait for this year's ceremony. It was outsiders' night, and just the right tone for Broadway to drum up some outside-the boroughs excitement.
Unfortunately, the Tony Awards' producers weren't in on the vibe. With Whoopi helming an abominable series of skits, the Tonys tried to prove their mass market viability rather than B-Way's rising credibility. The addition of Mario Lopez, the Little Mermaid's ridiculous costume--with its humiliating, scene-hogging tail--or Megan Mullaly's limited effort to divine some of Madeline Kahn's je ne sais quoi, it's little wonder this year's broadcast attracted its lowest audience ever. The Disneyfication of Broadway is what earned it its current lame reputation in the first place.
And yet. Things could have so easily gone the other way, with more of irreverent left-field contender Passing Strange (Stew tried, he really did, with those Groucho glasses and that how-did-I-get-here demeanor); Lin-Manuel Miranda's freestyling and and loose cannon ebullience; scenes from the Fringe-esque 39 Steps.
And how about some acknowledgement that this was the year regional theater flexed its considerable muscle. Chicago graciously bestowed upon us a new, improved David Mamet by way of Edward Albee in the form of Tracy Letts, and when Letts swaggered up to the stage and thanked his producers because "they decided to produce an American play on Broadway with theater actors," it was a swoon-worthy moment. Yeah, he crossed over to film, but he came back, didn't he?
Why wait until the thing was half over to break out Lily Tomlin, Xanadu and Liza? What were they thinking? Still, the array of entertainment was a welcome peek into the tug-of-war for Broadway's soul, and the ephemeral nature of theater being what it is, it's awfully nice to get a taste of what's been going on all season. Since most viewers won't ever get to see Patti LuPone in Gypsy, at least we've been provided with a sample. And since most will never get to the current production of Grease, at least they'll know they're not missing anything.
I don't get the Tonys' Hollywood inferiority complex, and hope that after this season's rejuvenating batch of productions, next year's ceremony won't feel so much like an also-ran to the Oscars. Let "theater actors" (cough, Patti LuPone, cough) host the show. Ditch the crap and bring even more of that stage magic to the stage. This was an exciting year, and it deserved a more exciting framework than this broadcast. Come on, Broadway, you've got a whole lot of writers working for you; next year, use them.