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The 2015 Tonys: The play’s not the thing

🕐 3 min read

Watch Fort Worth’s Tommy Tune’s acceptance speech and his shout out to his sister, Fort Worth’s Gracey Tune.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM1R5S9UQg8

More about Gracey Tune:

www.artsfifthavenue.org/

NEW YORK — Bravo to the Tony voters, all 700 of them. The four productions named Sunday night as the best of the season were truly deserving. As for the awards show itself, well, everyone deserved better.

The disconnect this year was especially grating. Based on the work singled out in 24 award categories, Broadway gave the impression of — who’d a thunk it? — being artistically adventurous, of being a place where innovation can thrive. “Fun Home,” chosen as best musical, advances the form as a conveyance of poignantly intimate melodies and the stories of complicated families. Best play winner “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” creates stunningly original visual pathways to portray the unusual circuitry of a boy on the autism spectrum. In the revival categories, “The King and I” and “Skylight” are meticulously acted, directed and designed showcases for the extraordinary depth of the theater’s archives.

Still, the ceremony meant to celebrate them sees itself as nothing more than an enabler of Ticketmaster. I love a show tune as much as the next person, but the producers of the three-hour telecast on CBS have concluded that a television audience cares about nothing else. Certainly not about about how or why plays and musicals are made. And although more than half of the 37 productions that opened on Broadway during the 2014-15 season were not musicals, CBS has in effect declared Broadway a one-way thoroughfare, open only to vehicles that sing.

Midway through the festivities from Radio City Music Hall, the news, it seemed, could be suppressed no longer: There actually are plays in Times Square. This information was crammed into a rapid-fire montage that should have been narrated by John Moschitta Jr., the motormouth from the old FedEx commercial. The award for best play was dispensed with a few short minutes later, and then it was back to more pressing matters. Such as presenting — for the second year in a row — a number from the ghastly “Finding Neverland,” a show produced by Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein that the Tony nominating committee had recoiled from en masse, as if it were catching. (The special consideration given this musical gives rise to a new awards show tradition: the do-over slot.)

Even more dispiriting, perhaps, was the demeaning treatment of the so-called technical awards. It has now become a CBS hallmark to dole out these “minor” awards before the broadcast or — wait for it — during commercial breaks. For all TV viewers are aware, someone could be tossing the Tonys for sets and costumes and lighting to their grateful recipients out of a bag in an alley next to Radio City.

Never mind that the Tonys’ own administrative committee has done away completely with the awards for sound design. And shame on them for that. (The Oscars, meanwhile, still manage to bestow awards in categories you need a master’s degree to fully appreciate.)

Among the categories deemed too arcane for prime time were those for book, music and lyrics, orchestrations and choreography of a musical. So as musical medley after musical medley was rolled out, the impression was communicated that the work of creating them was performed by magical elves at little tables in the back. Might it not be an edifying use of time to reveal to a generation coming of age who the gifted people are, making the lights flash and the lyrics rhyme?

Certainly, the co-hosts of the 69th Tonys, Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, bore no responsibility for these serious flaws. They proved to be suitably bubbly major domos for the art form that first propelled them to fame, and about which they remain passionate. Although the gags written for them were pretty standard issue, they managed to project a childlike joy: kids in the Radio City candy store. So why, oh why, can’t the ceremony be as sweet?

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