Processing the Tony Nominations (And the Oversights)
It was a crowded spring, jam-packed in fact. The Tony nominations were sure to overlook some of our favorites, simply for the sheer abundance of new plays and musicals that opened on Broadway this season. It was simply a brutal game of “Survival of the Fittest”, with musicals that would have found buoyancy (and some nominations) in a typical season, being pulled under with so many innovatively new productions and starry revivals riding the current. Have I thoroughly exhausted the “Sink or Swim” metaphors yet?
Let’s keep in mind, too, that the nominating committee has its own unspoken agenda as well (yes, I said it), a way of choosing nominees that doesn’t always feel authentic, altruistic, or that may require some explaining for us to understand. In a Best Revival category that typically has four slots, how did the well-reviewed and enthusiastically received Sunset Boulevard not impress enough to secure a nomination? In a season with a plethora of new musicals, many of which would have been nominated in a typical season, why didn’t they expand the category to five nominees? Not that either of these was necessary, I just point them out to demonstrate that there is an agenda here. Maybe a legitimate one. Maybe not.
In all honesty, we shouldn’t be completely surprised by the Best Musical nominees. They were, after all, the best reviewed new musicals of the season and all have genuinely strong word-of-mouth to boot. Dear Evan Hanson, Come From Away, Groundhog Day, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are each, in their own way, deserving of the honor, innovative and marketable. That’s not to dismiss the other musicals that opened this year. If the Tony honors excellence, then surely the right four musicals are nominated.
The problem is how we treat and respond to Tony nominations, as if it is to be bestowed the Holy Grail. Why can’t a musical or play just be entertaining without it having to be “The Best”? I have spoken to many who have walked out of Amelie, A Bronx Tale, Bandstand, Holiday Inn and Anastasia who have simply had fun, feeling satisfaction for the time and money spent. In the world of cinema, hundreds of films open each year and only a handful are nominated. It doesn’t stop us from seeing a romantic comedy, children’s film, or a road trip comedy for the sheer pleasure of escapism. However, the cost of a film is not the same as the cost of a Broadway ticket, so we need to feel justified in our expenditure. Everyone wants a transformative experience every time they enter a theatre. “At $120 a ticket, I better be blown away.” It is understandable, but doesn’t accurately assess the work put into, or the pleasure to be extracted from, shows that are not of the anointed. In a better world, these also-rans would have an opportunity to find an audience, without necessarily dying on the vine because they couldn’t secure the coveted Tony nomination.