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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Out-Broadway--What the Tonys Taught Us

The Fab Marquee Out-Broadway by Cody Daigle.

When you're living in a part of the country that's isolated from a theatre center (which, to be fair, is most of the country), The Tony Awards telecast serves as one of the few tangible connections to the world of Real Theatre – the kind that doesn't involve your dermatologist taking a desperate stab at plumbing the depths of Willy Loman.

It's a lifeline of sorts. It's a chance to see, even in tiny bursts, what happens when a budget meets actors with legitimate training and a director who doesn't have a day job. It gives little theatres (and the people who populate their stages) a point of reference for what theatre could – if not always should – be.


So what did this year's Tony Awards teach us out in the hinterlands?

1.Plays Don't Matter. Granted, little theatres won't stop doing plays (because they're more financially feasible than musicals), but the Tonys sure let us know that they're little more than bastard stepchildren. With ten to twenty measly seconds of a clip to display the depth and breadth of each Best Play nominee, the Tony Awards essentially shrugged off straight drama as a side note to the season–even though plays dominated the landscape.

2.Newness Doesn't Matter. Why did plays get the shaft? Maybe it's because of all those touring companies we watched. Sure, I get that it was a ploy to attract more viewers, but it taught those little theatre gurus around the country that hauling out the old hits (How many times have we watched that Mamma Mia! number on the Tonys?) beats showcasing something new.

3.Originality Doesn't Matter. With two Best Musical nominees based on movies and one nominee a jukebox musical (and those national tours boasted two jukebox musicals as well), the Tonys taught us that original ideas are passe. While the producers of these shows may be raking in the bucks for churning out yet another uninspired retread of existing material, it does nothing to spark the inventiveness of that kid out in the middle of Nebraska who dreams of writing the Next Great Original American Musical. Too bad the [title of show] gang didn't get to perform.

4.Anyone Who's Not An Actor Doesn't Matter. To pad the telecast with performances, many of the major creative awards weren't aired, leaving designers, orchestrators and writers out in the cold. Great for the 5 Jersey Boys, not so great for the theatre aficionados out in the world. Not every starry-eyed kid out there wants to be an actor. For that one night of the year, it's important for those kids (and adults) dreaming of a life on Broadway to see actors stand beside designers and writers, showing the full scope of what a life in the theatre can be. You never know who's sitting in front of their television set, wondering if it's worth dreaming of writing the Great American Play.

Here's hoping the Tonys teach some better lessons next year. Until then, my dermatologist is dying to get his hands on The Crucible.

1 comment:

rickydee55 said...

Point well taken regarding plays and the unique genre of persons who a. watch them and b. understand them. You are a rare breed.

Your craft is brilliant and creative and masterful. It does not, however, attract audiences between commercials. That is just a fact. This year was brilliant for most TONY viewers!

Here is my suggestion. PBS should do a retrospective of in-context excerpts of Broadways Best Plays each year. A. This is you demographic and B. Public funds support it.

I am frustrated that there is not a Live Arts cable channel that somehow manages to present Play and Musicals to the 99.7% of th country who has no access to NYC. Regional and travelling companise just will never be NYC or London.