Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 Tonys Broadcast: The Morning After

Audra McDonald accepts a record-breaking 6th Tony Award

Whatever one may think of the politics and commercialism of Broadway and its annual rite of selling itself to the American public (it is show business, after all!), the Tony Awards do recognize the artistic talents of the recipients—and it is the artistry that speak to an audience.  So, do let me begin by heartily congratulating all of the artists who were winners of the 2014 Tonys. Well done, you guys, well done!!!

As to the Tonys broadcast, well…let’s just say it had its moments, but generally the entire show—and I am speaking of the broadcast as a televised entertainment event—was as bland as a bowl of oatmeal without the raisins, butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and totally mired in the past (and not in a good way).

If the show is going to provide its host with nothing but old dance routines and hoary tunes ("updated" with new and uninspired lyrics), at least these should come from classic Broadway shows rather than from old and sometimes obscure movie musicals. It was lovely that Hugh Jackman serenaded and danced with the nominees for best actress in a musical, but did he have to do it to a song (“Stepping Out With My Baby”) from a 1948 movie musical (Easter Parade)? And how many of us had to do an Internet search to come up with Bobby Van's bouncing dance number from 1953’s Small Town Girl?  Really?  That’s the best they could come up with for the opening?  (Here’s my alternative suggestion: HJ descends upside-down from the rafters dressed as Hedwig, and does some sort of bit to acknowledge the handing-off of the hosting from Neil Patrick Harris).

As to the “rap” of the “Rock Island” number from The Music Man, if any of my former 7th grade students had seen the show, they would have been able to participate—because I taught it as a poetry-in-performance piece for many years, going back to the 1980s. Perhaps a more interesting Meredith Willson story might be that he wrote the “Chicken Fat” song that is now being used in current Apple commercials, at least one of which played during the broadcast.

And maybe it's time to shelve the gay jokes??? 

If you think of the showpiece performances as marketing devices, the best of these were “I’ve Decided to Marry You” from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and the segment from Rocky. Two different styles, but both very effective for their intended audiences. The former was geared toward regular Broadway theatergoers, the latter toward those who generally do not go (i. e. men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s) unless they are dragged there.

Idina Menzel’s powerhouse singing of “Always Starting Over” was (despite the awkward tight camera closeups) a potentially great selling pitch for If/Then.  But those inappropriate closeups serve as a reminder that watching a televised performance is not the same experience as attending a live performance. Someone needs to figure out how to do a better job of presenting numbers from a Broadway show on television (and effectively using cameras) if the goal is to excite a potential audience into paying the big bucks for a seat in a theater. 

Acceptance speeches generally are not a pleasure to sit through, but kudos to Mark Rylance for his appropriately subdued speech and for his thoughtful commendation to the actor Sam Wanamaker, who was instrumental in resurrecting the Globe Theatre in England. I thought that Sophie Okonedo and Audra McDonald gave very good acceptance speeches as well. Ms. McDonald’s appreciation for her parents’ decision not to medicate her for her apparent ADD as a child could provide meaningful support for others in a similar situation. Oh, and I did like Jessie Mueller’s ending to her somewhat scattered speech:  “Everyone wants a drink…so, thank you.”

Even though the winning slate was difficult to handicap (I hit 50% this year, which leaves me with no bragging rights whatsoever), there were few surprises, other than the unexpected wins for the revival of A Raisin In The Sun.  I could have lived without the number from Wicked (like it really needs a boost to its ticket sales!), but at least we were spared yet another Lion King performance.  It’s impossible to say whether the sneak previews of upcoming shows (The Last Ship, Finding Neverland) served any purpose other than to stroke the vanities of their promoters, but I do like the idea of using television to whet the appetite for the new season.  Perhaps some forum other than the always-too-long Tonys show would be an idea for someone to explore, what with the ratings success of the live production of The Sound of Music, and with announced future productions of Peter Pan and The Music Man (with cameos by LL Cool J and T.I.?)

But enough about the Tonys.  There’s always something new to see.  Which is one of the main reasons why I Heart New York. 

Feel free to tell you friends about this blog, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment. 

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