Tony Award Wishes
It's Tony nomination time and I always feel a bit like a kid at Christmas as I wait to find out which shows will receive recognition, which ones will establish themselves as historical pieces of art, which will be also-rans, and which will be "egregiously overlooked." The Tony awards used to be an enormous deal for me, a chance to sit down for three hours and see the faces that made Broadway. How completely did I revel in the scenes from plays such as Lettice and Lovage with Maggie Smith or Fences with James Earl Jones? The myriad musical numbers that I committed to memory and then replicated to the best of my ability in our basement. I can even remember such moving speeches as Michael Jeter accepting for Grand Hotel or Andrea Martin hilariously making the most of her time to talk, winning for My Favorite Year.
The Tony Awards used to be classy. They were exclusively inclusive, painting a warm portrait of the New York Theatre community as an elegant dinner party where Bea Arthur, David Wayne and Karen Morrow could pop in for a song or two around a grand piano, leading to Angela Lansbury overseeing the proceedings with elegance, panache, and grace. Actors, not movie stars, handed trophies to other actors and everyone was there because they loved theatre. Designers, composers, writers weren't relegated to separate and not-so-equal awards presentations. It was intimate, tasteful, and not an overblown production filled with cheeky, off-color humor and ridiculously banal specialty numbers. Theatre was enough and since it was theatre that was being celebrated, it seemed appropriate that it got to be the star for one night of network television a year.
I make no bones about how old fashioned I am about theatre, nor do I keep secret the disappointment I often feel over contemporary theatre pieces, so many of which feel as though they were constructed from an IKEA manual, and not from heart. When did theatre become so cold? When did those warm embers of the Tony Awards of yesteryear cool into something steely and mechanical? When did we, the audience, become unwitting cogs in that machine? There is a disconnect now, despite a talented and warm theatre community.
My wish for the 2015 Tony Awards is that they find their community, history, and heart again. I know it is important that they happen in a big theatre so more tickets can be sold, and I know that we need movie stars so more people people will tune in, and apparently banal production numbers are all the rage for the five-minutes we hear them. But maybe...just MAYBE, we could make the Tony Awards about theatre again? They used to be this special world that celebrated the new nominees and winners as they triumphantly joined the old. For me, this is the true honor of theatre, it's legacy and it's place as the greatest art form.