When I was a kid, all the award shows were exciting and sophisticated. But none had the artistic intensity, the style, the glamour, of the Tonys. Live theater is so fleeting, so ephemeral; and to be able to get a glimpse of it—particularly when that might be your only chance to see the shows and their creators—was a privilege and a thrill.
Boris Aronson accepting his umpteenth Tony for set design with a terse “Thanks.” Seasoned first ladies of the theater—Colleen Dewhurst, Julie Harris—with long loose hair, arty clothes, and jewelry the Hollywood set could never carry off, breathlessly, eloquently, feelingly making their speeches. The looks back at Tony wins of previous years: Zero Mostel, Carol Channing, Yul Brynner, Ethel Merman, Gwen Verdon. The exciting performances from the year’s best musicals; the power and thunder of the year’s best dramas.
Over the years, as tastes and styles and economics have changed—and as I have become more aware of and grateful for the theater magic that is created in indie theater off Broadway—my interest in the Tony awards has diminished. But still, we have watched the show, even when glamour turned to glitz, when wit became witless, when the sweeping theatricality of the evening’s presenters and awardees was homogenized and dumbed down to blandness at best, crassness at worst.
But it hit an all-time and, to my mind, unforgivable low last night. The lack of respect for artists and artistry was evident in every choice the show made. Awards given during commercial breaks. Elder statesmen like Tommy Tune shunted to the side.
All award shows these days have the flavor of a roast; we are apparently embarrassed to praise but we do love to skewer. But when the show devoted several minutes to a memorium segment featuring Josh Groban and a chorus of, well, everyone, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as the names of the recently departed were swiftly (and often illegibly) flashed on a backdrop, all I could think of was Margo Channing’s line about detesting cheap sentiment. Wailing over the dead and gone while literally pushing the living off the stage, denying them their moment. Ah well, I guess when they’re dead, everybody will sing and look mournful for them then.
Theater is a hard business. I know this because I know many people who work in the theater, including both my children. And people come to New York to try to break into the New York theater scene, which for most still means Broadway. And all these talented, visionary, artistic people were told by Broadway’s big night of self-congratulation that their gifts are not valued, not in the least. And that’s why I won’t watch the Tonys again: I don’t watch a show with no heart, a show that disrespects its subject and disparages its audience.