Thursday, June 7, 2007

Only One Night Only

Wow. First of all, let me thank all of you have been book-marking this blog, reading it, telling others to check it out, or whatever it is that’s drawing people here. Considering my blog isn’t quite a week old, I have a relatively surprising number of profile views (60). I know a few of them are mine from editing and updating info, but they’re not ALL me. So, thank you so much! I hope you keep checking back. After all, a writer is only as good as his readers!

Now on with the show . . .

The Tony Awards present a real problem for me, namely in that I don’t have cable, and my CBS reception is really crappy. I always end up pawning myself off on someone who will let me watch and record the awards. Right now, I still don’t have anyplace lined up to go . . . Gulp!

Like a lot of people, I like to record the show because I love watching those performances over and over and over and over and a hundred times more. As a teacher, I used them a lot in teaching theater, but I really record them for myself.

Since everyone rants about the Tony Awards after the fact, I think I’ll do my ranting (soul-searching reflection, really) now.

In short, Broadway is home to some of the most incredibly talented people in the entire universe—Susan Stroman, Bob Crowley, Kathleen Marshall, Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Stephanie J. Block, Jerry Mitchell, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz, Robin Wagner, Sam Mendes, Tina Landau, and a ton of other people. Yet somehow, the Tony Awards always seem like an afterthought, like someone was so busy doing their taxes, they forgot to leave time for those annoying old Tonys. You know, it’s sad when the MTV Movie Awards are more creatively produced than Broadway’s biggest night.

For example, when Hal Prince was given his lifetime achievement award, the best thing people could come up with was a funky tableau representing his significant work?

Sometimes we get a smashing opening number, such as Hugh Jackman and everyone on Broadway singing “One Night Only,” and other times just a solo song.

Sometimes we get a host and sometimes not.

Considering all the potential, the Tony Awards should be a little more creative. If I was producing, I would gather together a committee of the most amazingly talented people working in the theatre and let them have at it. Let them know to be uber-creative, that nothing is too outlandish.

If I was part of that committee, here are some things I would propose.

1. For the latest trend, the unavoidable pop music performance, I’d make the pairing one of an audience-grabbing pop music star with a true Broadway star—Kelly Clarkson singing “Written in the Stars” with Adam Pascal, Katherine McPhee singing “Foor Good” with Eden Espinosa, or Michael BublĂ© and Donna Murphy singing “Better Than a Dream.” That would allow the world-wide big-name talent to bring in viewers and the phenomenal Broadway talent to keep focused on Broadway.

2. Get a host. Talent should trump name. Yes, it would be nice if some hilarious television personality would do it, but if they’re going to just have a gaggle of “All-Star Presenters,” it would be better to pass it on to someone who can keep it lively and full of spark and spunk—Leslie Kritzer, Stephen Lynch, Douglas Sills, or someone else. Then instruct that person to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Wink wink jokes about gay dancers or Jewish producers or puppets ogling Hugh Jackman’s butt only serve to create an exclusive atmosphere and unwelcoming to anyone watching who isn’t “in the know” or part of that world. Why join the party if you’re never going to be able to take part?

3. If you advertise that people should watch the Tonys for performances from “Broadway’s Brightest,” then give them performances (and don’t be bullied out of it). Allow every nominated musical to do their thing, then provide a way for other current shows to perform, at least in a medley combining them all or something. It was great in the Rosie/PBS days when you got to see a significant representation from many of the shows on the boards because of the PBS education segments.

4. Bring back the PBS portion and their educational segments. Gosh, I loved those.

5. Make it bold, different, and classy in every way. When Carol Channing presented with L.L. Cool J, that was different and fun. Seeing Elaine Stritch praise librettists from the heart was engaging. Watching Jane TV Star (or even Jane Broadway Star) flatly reading something flat off a teleprompter is not too exciting.

6. Require Broadway show producers to provide interesting scenes from their shows. Watching an incomprehensible, LSD-inspired medley from Into the Woods, for example, is not interesting. Seeing a stand-alone scene from Thoroughly Modern Mille is.

We do need to acknowledge that the Tony Awards are in a difficult position. You have an event that is very narrow in its appeal. It’s the only televised award show where the majority of Americans have no clue about the nominees. CBS wants to carry the show because it appeals to higher class viewers, but I’m sure they are conscious of the ratings as well.

It’s also important that the show remains available for all the country to see because it educates people. I have been greatly influenced by what I’ve seen. Like a great many people, not only have I gone to shows because of what I’ve seen, but I’ve supported shows and artists based solely on what I’ve been introduced to. A few examples:

Impressed by the performance from Side Show, I bought the CD. Because I loved the CD, I bought the libretto from Samuel French. If I would have had an African-American male in my theatre program, I would have directed the show when I taught. Even then, I attended a local production of the show with a friend, and I bought one of Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley’s CDs. Because of all this, I was ecstatic to see Emily Skinner in the tour of On the Record. Even though she wasn’t on the CD, I bought the On the Record CD. I also fell in love with Norm Lewis’s voice and would love to someday write a role for him (and I just plain old fell in love with Emily Skinner). Additionally, I showed this scene to several of my classes of students as an example of the standard of Broadway performers (and they were impressed). And all this came about because of a Tony Awards performance.

I fell in love with Parade because of its performance. I made sure to see the show on tour, made a point of meeting Jason Robert Brown after the show, and bought the CD. Because I am in love with the show, I keep an eye open for whatever Jason Robert Brown is doing and plan on buying The Last 5 Years hopefully soon. I also bought the American Theatre issue that published the libretto, then bought Wiley Hausam’s collection The New American Musical to get a more permanent copy. I’ve also used the clip numerous times in teaching about plays in my classes. Lastly, I bought a copy of the CD as a gift for an actress friend of mine. Now she loves the show and has talked about using one of the songs as an audition song.

Honestly, I could go on about any number of shows and people I’ve come to know and financially support because of the Tonys—among them Sutton Foster; Follies; Bells are Ringing; Hunter Foster; Kiss Me, Kate; Ragtime and its stars; and the list goes on. While people as fanatic as I are in the minority, the Tony Awards is the only chance for Broadway theatre and our theatre folk to get a prime-time nationwide audience. A small nationwide audience is better than no nationwide audience.

The televised Tony Awards are very important to the theatre community. In reality, there are probably a half-dozen things that could be done to ensure a more interesting presentation, something that will inject the show with spunk. My specific solutions may not be the solutions, but we can’t risk losing the chance for these to be televised.

I just don’t get why the awards show representing such an exciting craft needs to be so standard.

Broadway MouthJune 7, 2007

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