The Playgoer: THE TONYS

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005


At some later date, Playgoer will discuss what is so wrong and evil about the Tonys. But for now, let's enjoy the sport of it...

First for the newsflashes-- well, none, actually. C'mon what would actually constitute a surprise here? Each season a small number of shows open at the 40-odd eligible theatre buildings around Times Square and every May, guess what-- nearly all of them get nominated! When On Golden Pond and La Cage Aux Folles can bag nominations (as Best Revival) you know it's a grab bag. Not that those shows haven't been entertaining people-- but Best??? One has to wonder what the very word means in this context. We have to start reading these categories as signifying: Musicals that actually opened this year, etc. I remember one year when "the committee" could only nominate two musicals: one was by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the other wasn't. And that's about all anyone cared about either.

Spamalot--Again, big surprise. The real story here, though, is this is Producers Redux. No one is commenting on this very strange trend-- not just movies into musicals (take a number). But I mean film comic geniuses (Mel Brooks, now Eric Idle) exploiting their own youthful masterpieces late in life, only to water it down and peddle it to the Times Square tourists. Plus, I would imagine the songwriting profession must be very worried that after the years spent by practiced craftsmen laboring over every note, Mel Brooks can just sing some funny lyrics into a tape recorder one day and, voila, he wins a Tony for Best Score. I don't know about Idle (who did collaborate with a real musician, John Du Prez) but Brooks has admitted he can't read or write a note of music. That didn't hurt Paul McCartney, some might say, but is this what's become of the legacy of Tin Pan Alley? (Okay, Irving Berlin, too, but at least he could play and compose his songs on the piano himself!) The really interesting question to me is: will any of these songs ever enter "the catalogue"? Will they form any kind of musical theatre tradition? Somehow I can't imagine Michael Feinstein or Barbara Cook slipping "Springtime for Hitler" or "The Song That Goes like This" into their cabaret acts. Not that that has to matter so much-- they're great, funny songs, and totally work in their contexts (and, hey, the "integrated" musical is what it's all supposed to be about, right?). But we know about Gershwin, Porter, and Rodgers to this day because we still sing their songs. Will anyone be interested in reviving Spamalot in ten, twenty years? (aside from some geeky High Schoolers?) Probably not.

This rant has nothing to do with the Tonys, I guess. Probably it would be better to post after Spamalot actually wins it. But part of what's in the air, nevertheless. And has Playgoer actually seen Spamalot...? Of course not. But when he does, you, dear reader, will be the first to know.

More Antoinette Perry deconstruction to come later...

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