Five Things the Tony Awards Told Us About Broadway
June 10, 2013
1) The Tonys returned stateside last night with the American-made â€œKinky Bootsâ€ triumphing over the British import â€œMatildaâ€ in the fierce competition to be named Best Musical. Even though the former was based on an English movie about a failing shoe factory that finds solvency in fetishistic footware for drag queens, it had a domestic inter-borough pedigree: book by Harvey Fierstein of Brooklyn, a score by Cyndi Lauper of Queens, and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, a Broadway veteran. The show, which had 13 nominations in total, came away with six, including one for Lauper. â€œMatilda,â€ on the other hand, rode into the season on a wave of hype. The clever and complicated musical, based on the Roald Dahl children classic, had been developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and then moved to the West End where it won a record number of Oliviers, the British equivalent of the Tony. When it opened on Broadway, it also earned the best reviews of the season, giving it frontrunner status along with 12 nominations. But the 868 or so Broadway professionals who vote on the Tonys tend to favor the shows they enjoy the most rather than those that may have the greater artistic merit. There are no points given for degree of difficulty. Thus â€œMatildaâ€ had to suffice with four competitive Tonys. (An honorary fifth one was given to the four little girls who alternate in the title role.)
2) The Tonys have long had a conflicted relationship with marquee names. In this starry season, the nominating committee chose to snub a number of them: Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino, Jessica Chastain, Bette Midler, Alan Cumming, and Scarlett Johansson among them. Avoiding that fate was Tom Hanks, who was widely expected to walk away with a trophy for his Broadway debut in â€œLucky Guy,â€ a drama about the triumphant and tragic tabloid reporter Mike McAlary. He was brilliant in a play that many critics considered subpar, though it also won respect as the last work of the late Nora Ephron. The play was honored with three Tonys â€” one for Courtney B. Vanceâ€™s performance as McAlaryâ€™s beleaguered editor â€” but in the biggest upset of the evening, Hanks lost to Tracy Lettsâ€™s George in the much-lauded revival of Edward Albeeâ€™s â€œWhoâ€™s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.â€ This was Lettsâ€™s second Tony, by the way. He picked up his first as the playwright of â€œAugust: Osage County,â€ which has recently been made into a film starring Meryl Streep.
3) Even though the Tony Awards are considered to be Broadwayâ€™s biggest infomercial, the voters have indicated repeatedly that shows which have long been closed need not be out of the running. â€œVirginia Woolf,â€ which also won for Best Revival, was one of the seasonâ€™s biggest flops, despite the rave reviews. (Part of the problem was that there had been a relatively recent revival in 2005 of the Albee classic.) In contrast, â€œLucky Guyâ€ is a commercial juggernaut as is another play, â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last,â€ starring Bette Midler, which earned no nominations. What the voters proved is that they have long memories when something exceptional comes along. The Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago, which developed this 50th anniversary production, has long been a pet of the Tonys; this was its 10th Broadway import. On the top end of the hit parade is â€œMotown, the Musical,â€ whose popular brand has been earning it well over $1 million per week at the box office. Nominated for four of the lesser awards, it went home with zip.
4) â€œEverybody in the theater is gay.â€ Or so says Bette Midler as Sue Mengers in â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last.â€ Donâ€™t tell Mike Tyson who, having made his Broadway stage debut in a one-man show, could be seen on the telecast singing and dancing (sort of) in the opening number. However, it was a big night, as usual, for gays. â€œKinky Bootsâ€ has a warm spot in its heart for drag queens. And the Tony Award for Best Play went to â€œVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,â€ Christopher Durangâ€™s delicious comedy in which a closeted gay senior, played by Tony nominee David Hyde Pierce, tries to keep the peace in the Bucks County home he shares with his bitter adoptive sister (the hilarious Kristine Nielsen) when his aging and glamorous sister (Sigourney Weaver) returns home with a young muscle-bound boy toy (Billy Magnussen). Religious conservatives probably wouldnâ€™t tune into the Tony telecast in the first place. But if they had, they would have found their worst fears confirmed. Not only were there standing ovations for Larry Kramer, the fiery gay activist, and Lauper, known for her longtime support of the homosexual community, but also numerous â€œthank yousâ€ directed to gay spouses and partners. And, in one of the funniest moments of the telecast, there was host Neil Patrick Harris, an out gay man, French-kissing Sandy, the pooch from â€œAnnie.â€ Could you have any better proof that homosexuality leads to bestiality?
5) While Lauper scored on her first time out, it was mostly Broadway veterans who came trooping up to the stage. Persistence in the theater pays off. The most emotional moment of the entire evening came when, not unexpectedly, Cecily Tyson won Leading Actress in a Play for her tender portrayal in a revival of Horton Footeâ€™s â€œThe Trip to Bountiful.â€ It was a good night for both women and African-Americans and she encapsulated both. By the time the elegant Ms. Tyson was called to the stage amid bravos, directing trophies had gone to Diane Paulus for â€œPippinâ€ and Pam MacKinnon for â€œVirginia Woolf,â€ and acting awards to Vance (there with wife Angela Bassett), Billy Porter, for his black diva in â€œKinky Boots,â€ and Patina Miller for the role in â€œPippin,â€ which had also won a Tony for Ben Vereen. â€œItâ€™s been 30 years since I stood onstage and I really didnâ€™t think it would happen again in my lifetime,â€ said Tyson, whose age has been reported in the New York Times as 88. (Other reports claim she is 79.) â€œExcept I had this burning desire to do just one more â€” one more great role. I didnâ€™t want to be greedy. I just wanted one more.