Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Tony Awards Show

The Broadway theater industry put on its annual self-love fest last night at the Tony Awards ceremonies.

I don’t want to be a Monday morning quarterback, and so I won’t comment on the winners and losers and the overlooked. But I would like to share some thoughts about the broadcast itself, both as a theatrical event and as an indicator of where the industry would like to position itself in the eyes of the American public.

It seems to me there was a greater understanding that this was a television show as well as a theatrical awards ceremony. More attention was paid to entertainment values and to keeping the adrenalin flowing, with an eye toward attracting a younger audience to both the broadcast and to Broadway.

Nothing wrong with that; the traditional audience for a Broadway show is getting rather long in the tooth, and so an appeal to the next generation is a good thing. Thus, the rock band Green Day and music from the show American Idiot, which features the group’s songs, were given lots of air time. There was a video promo by rock superstar Jon Bon Jovi. Two performers from the popular television show Glee, Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison, were given feature spots in which to perform Broadway show tunes. And there was a very visible presence of popular Hollywood stars as presenters, recipients, and camera-ready front-and-center audience members.

Do note that “younger audience” is a relative term. Green Day and Bon Jovi date to the 1980s, and both Mr. Morrison and Ms. Michele sang show tunes from the late 1950s and mid-1960s, respectively. The target audience would seem to be those old enough (mid 30s to mid 50s) to have sufficient disposable income to pluck down the big bucks for an evening at a Broadway show. Maybe some of them will even be hitherto non-theatergoing guys; hence the presence of New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who introduced a number from the musical Memphis. (Didn’t Spamalot demonstrate that the right marketing could bring in an enthusiastic male audience?)

It is difficult to turn an awards ceremony into an entertaining must-see event. I don’t envy the producers of the Tony Awards show. Hopes are always high that maybe this year, the show will be exciting and offer up more than the expected. There will be enough people griping about long-winded speeches and problems with the sound, so let me just point out some of the things I did like about the broadcast.

Sean Hayes was a charming, professional, and seemingly comfortable host for the evening. No over-the-top “Just Jack” moments for this actor, best known for his role as the outrageous Jack McFarland on the TV show Will and Grace. He performed admirably—from his introductory piano performance to his gentle humor to his participation in a choreographed sequence from the Broadway show in which he currently stars, the revival of Promises, Promises.

Marian Seldes, the 81-year-old always-working actress, accepted her lifetime achievement award by posing coyly for a few moments, then walking offstage without saying a word. Perhaps the best speech of the evening.

Lea Michele did a gutsy, “out there” rendition of the song “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from the show Funny Girl. The musical is slated to be revived on Broadway in the 2011-2012 season under the direction of Bartlet Sher, who helmed the near perfect revival of South Pacific, and many believe this was Ms. Michele’s audition performance. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether she might make a good Fanny Brice, but I certainly admired her moxie.

Bibi Neuwirth and Nathan Lane were a delightful pair of presenters for the awards for best actress and best actor in a musical. They were well prepared and appropriately self-mocking of the critical “thumbs down” for the musical in which they currently co-star, The Addams Family. They were a pleasant contrast to the typically formal, squinting-at-the-teleprompter presentation speeches.

It’s always difficult to convey the power of a musical number taken out of context of a show and sprawled across the stage of Radio City Music Hall. The one number that worked best in my view was the song “The Best of Times” from La Cage aux Folles, headed up by Douglas Hodge, who won the Tony Award for his performance as Albin. The number made good use of the stage, and even went out into the audience., lending dimensionality often lacking in such televised production numbers. It certainly played well and could lead to an upsurge in ticket sales for a show that has been revived on Broadway twice since its original production in 1983.

In case you were wondering, tickets for the Tony Awards generally go on sale the same day the nominations are announced. This year, tickets prices were $250 and $450, and the event is billed as “black tie only.” I don’t know about you, but unless I am invited as someone’s guest (tux thrown in), I’ll continue to watch from home.

And so, the 2009-2010 New York theater season ends with its usual share of official winners and losers.

Let the 2010-2011 season begin!

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