The Playgoer: Tony Demystification

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tony Demystification

As the Broadway echo-chamber revs up for Sunday night, here's some needed perspective on what the Tony Awards are and are not.

It's common knowledge that shows still running have a better chance to bag statuettes than those that have closed. But producer/blogger Ken Davenport even claims the data to prove it! His evidence that Spring openings fare better at Tony Time than do their Autumn competitors, I'm sure is no secret to producers. If they really want to vie for the Tonys they aim for a March/April opening from the outset. Just like Hollywood studios know very well when "Oscar season" is and save their "prestige" product for December. But now Academy voters can watch dvd's of "for your consideration" films. And there's still a lot on Broadway that can get in the way of producers' calendar plans--like star's nontheatrical commitments and a finite number of venues!

While I seem to remember the awards for design being banished (or at least rushed) from the telecast for quite a while, Riedel confirms this week that if you don't sing and you don't dance, CBS doesn't want you on camera. The network, reportedly,

the decision to eliminate from Sunday's Tony telecast a bunch of what are patronizingly called "creative awards" and put in their place musical numbers from touring productions of "Jersey Boys," "Mamma Mia!" and -- here's a good reason to switch channels -- "Legally Blonde"?

Tony officials announced this week that the awards for things such as lighting, sets and costumes -- all insignificant components of a Broadway show, as anyone who works in the theater can attest -- will not make the broadcast. And that's not all. Also banned from prime time are the awards for choreography, book of a musical and revival of a play.

The decision to ditch creative awards in favor of more musical numbers comes right from the top -- CBS chief Les Moonves, who, I'm told, decreed that the Tonys should mainly be about singing and dancing. "Les wants more entertainment and fewer speeches," one source says.

Well I'm all for that, actually. But it depends on what you mean by "entertainment," I suppose.

Riedel quotes many decrying the commercialization of the awards. To which I just have to say: really? You do you realize you're talking about Broadway here, right? Because, by definition of their own criteria, the Tonys only give consideration to commercial theatre productions (in venues of 500 seats or more). So I'm not sure what kind of public-service enlightenment anyone ever possibly expected.

Hey, don't forget my annual Blogcast Sunday night!

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