So the Tony Awards are over for another year, with the presentation of Broadway theatre’s biggest prizes to itself held last night at the Beacon Theatre — not a Broadway house, though it has an address on it (but way up between 73rd and 74th Street, and much bigger than any Broadway house, with nearly 3,000 seats), which is just the first anomaly amongst the ones that inevitably and ritually occur every year.
I was there yesterday morning for the invited run-through dress rehearsal (thanks to Heather Hitchens, the new executive director of the American Theatre Wing, co-presenters of the awards with the Broadway League). I then watched the live telecast at a private Tony party in a friend’s apartment — which can be more fun than actually being there, since we ordered pizza in and I’d already bought two amazing cherry and apple pies earlier in the day (the things that really matter in life)!
It’s difficult to over-estimate the buzz that seems to crank up around the Tony’s every year; and that’s exactly as intended. They are designed to get the world talking about the theatre. In fact, they probably mainly succeed in getting the theatre talking about itself.
They are, after all, an industry event, first and foremost — presented by the industry to itself. Even the voting is an inside job — there are some 851 Tony voters, mostly producers, former Tony winners, investors and tour presenters, with a handful of theatre critics who are members of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle also being given ballot forms — but that high number of voters does mean that making predictions as to how they all might vote are uncommonly difficult.
But since commercial interests are heavily represented amongst the voters, there’s often a tussle between art vs commerce, with the New York Times saying of the battle for the Best Musical Award last Friday, “Voters like to honor commercially successful Broadway musicals because the Tony imprimatur — the industry’s most recognizable marketing tool — can help turn a popular show into a powerhouse at the box office in New York, as well as propel subsequent productions and tours nationally and overseas. Such conventional wisdom should favor Newsies, which is already grossing nearly $1 million a week.”
But, it also went on to say, “for all the popularity that Newsies enjoys with audiences, a majority of Tony voters surveyed said that Once had more artistic innovation… pushing the form of musical theater more than the traditionally structured Newsies does. Several tour presenters also said that Newsies didn’t need their Tony votes to guarantee ticket sales on the road because the show already had an appealing brand name — its producer, Disney — that would draw audiences.”
In the event, art won over commerce, and Once was the biggest winner of the night, converting eight of its 11 nominations into wins including Best Musical, Best Director and Leading Actor in a Musical), with Newsies only winning two awards (against eight it had been nominated for) for Best Choreography and Best Original Score.
It’s useful, of course, to have a focal point for all that chat about Broadway to coalescence around, and it certainly also has immediate as well as long-term commercial ramifications. Even the nominations process, which saw them announced with great fanfare last month, about which I wrote about at the time here, mean something: when Seminar and Magic/Bird failed to register any nominations at that stage, they immediately posted their closing notices. With nothing left to fight for, they pulled out of the race in every sense.
One of the surprise nominees then was Leap of Faith, picking up a single Tony nomination in the best musical category, but it was hemorrhaging money so fast at the box office that it couldn’t survive through to the Tony’s themselves — but by a leap of faith itself, managed to resurrect itself, at least, to do a number on last night’s telecast, which may mean that the show could live to see another day away from Broadway.
While some shows had announced the end of their runs before the Tony’s, like Other Desert Cities and Venus in Furs (both closing on June 17, though each won nice acting awards last night), we can now expect a few more to follow suit after going home empty-handed last night.
One of them may well be Ghost - the Musical, which has been struggling to build an audience here; and although Baz Bamigboye tipped its London closure over a week ago, when he revealed that the new Spice Girls musical Viva Forever is planning on taking its place at the Piccadilly Theatre before Christmas, its producers have still not confirmed it. As Baz wrote last Friday, “The producers should level with the cast and crew. Perhaps Ghost’s producers should have worked harder to keep it going in London rather than opening a second version on Broadway. The wicked joke now is: Which Ghost will say boo and close first? London or New York?”
But another Broadway producer is proving far more transparent: Ken Davenport, who also writes a regular industry-facing blog called The Producer’s Perspective, has charted the show’s changing fortunes there, and cheered when, despite his show’s failure to get nominated for any Tony’s, it managed to secure a spot to perform on the Tony telecast. Now, however, he has admitted, “Godspell has a heck of a lot riding on that Tony performance, as well as tourist traffic over the next couple of weeks. If I don’t see a sizable uptick in sales? Well, in that case… Godspell may close on Sunday, June 24th.”
I also worry now for End of the Rainbow, for which Tracie Bennett — reprising her West End performance as Judy Garland — had been gaining a lot of traction, but who in the end lost out to Broadway’s newest darling star actress-in-the-making Nina Ariadna in the soon-to-shutter Venus in Furs, who took the Tony for leading actress in a play.
Elsewhere, the Tony’s spread their wealth. The revival of Death of a Salesman, which closed the weekend before last, took two (for Best Play Revival and Best Director), but the hotly-tipped Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman in that production lost out to James Corden, named Leading Actor in a Play for recreating his London performance in One Man Two Guvnors; while in the musical performance and revivals stakes, Porgy and Bess won out over Follies to be named the Best Musical revival, with Audra McDonald named Leading Actress in a Musical, and Nice Work If You Can Get It securing nice wins for featured actors Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye.
Peter and the Starcatcher took five awards, one for acting (and producing another Salesman upset when Christian Borle took the award for Featured Actor against Andrew Garfield), and the other four in technical categories of sets, costumes, lighting and sound; and there was one win for Other Desert Cities for Featured Actress Judith Light and one for Follies for costumes for a musical.
But now that the last season has been officially celebrated, the curtain is already going up on the next one: the first show of the new season that will be eligible for next year’s Tony’s, a revival of the 1940s Pulitzer prize winning comedy Harvey has been inviting critics to see it ahead of this Thursday’s opening, and which I duly attended last Thursday, a full week ahead of the opening.
Intriguingly, the original production in 1944 was also Tony anointed; not because it won one, but was actually directed by Antoinette Perry, for whom the Tony’s are themselves named! Perry was co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, who died from a heart attack during the original run of Harvey, on June 28, 1946, one day after her 58th birthday. The Tony’s were founded a year later in her honour.