Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tony Award Post-Mortem (Literally)

Alright, I think I've recovered from Sunday night.

(And first off, sorry for the two week layoff of posting. For reasons that will become clear soon, what little creative energy I have was already taken, and blogging wasn't going to happen.)

I've been watching the Tonys yearly since 1994 (taping the show when I was too young to stay up for it), and this may be the worst ceremony I've ever seen. There are many reason, and I'll go into them, but we need to start with the primary problem:

The Tonys are a niche show. The best of that year's Broadway season will never have a wide audience, because most people simply don't care. We can try to get the word out, we can pray, but it will never have the same cultural centrality that it once did. So let go of this idea that by putting famous people with minor connections to theatre onstage, you can get people to watch. There is no fan of Will Smith rabid enough that they will watch a 3-hour award show because he is one of the presenters. Some rabid "Glee" fans might have tuned in because Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele performed, but they would probably have watched anyway. So what results is a show whose essential identity, a celebration of Broadway theatre, is constantly obscured, pissing off the people who actually care, while doing absolutely nothing to bring in people who don't give a shit. So please, CBS and producers, stop pretending. It won't work. Satisfy the people who will actually enjoy it.

(And by the way, why were they humping Green Day that hard? It's nice that they performed 2 numbers, but added to the song in the medley and the full production number, that's four in the total evening, which is pretty excessive. They fail to realize that Green Day doesn't count as edgy or revolutionary anywhere outside of 44th Street.)

But if it has to be that conceptually flawed, can't it at least be done competently? The sheer number of technical mistakes on this show was horrifying. Mikes went out repeatedly, lip-syncing got catastrophically off, shots revealed other cameras more than they did the stage, Sean Hayes sort of cut off Memphis' acceptance speech, and, in my favorite moment of the night, Katie Finneran won Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, while Karine Plantadit's name was displayed on screen.

And even when there weren't technical snafus, it was just poorly made: most of the numbers were shot in such a way as to minimize their good points (Fela! for instance had only a fraction of the electricity as its number that was on "The Colbert Report" last fall), the camera swung nauseatingly during the Play and Play Revival description segments, and the weird "scenes from plays remix" thing was just unfortunate.

The hosting was okay, I guess--Sean Hayes was a pleasant personality, and did a decent job with the lines he had. (Him showing up dressed as Billy Elliott with a gigantic bulge was a little tasteless, though.) Most of the actual laughs involved Kristin Chenoweth, his costar in Promises, Promises, who is hilarious. (Her dead faint on finding out she wasn't nominated for a Tony was priceless.) But Neil Patrick Harris was sorely missed. Presenters were a mixed bag, with Angela Lansbury, Nathan Lane, and Bebe Neuwirth being the most entertaining. Acceptance speeches were generally lovely, with Katie Finneran, Scarlett Johansson, and Viola Davis giving the highlights.

But the essence of the problem was...the season for musical sucked. There were, notoriously, only two musicals with original scores on Broadway this season: The Addams Family and Memphis. The score for the former is not as bad as its reputation (if nothing that special), but the number from the latter that we saw was sorely disappointing. The music and lyrics were so generic that I honestly can't recall them at all, except for the fact that the lyrics were dumb, and eventually just gave up and went "na na na na na na na".

And that left the jukebox shows. (And didn't we think they were on their way out?) None came off that well in performance: Million Dollar Quartet looked perfectly fine, but not that exciting (though Levi Kreis' Jerry Lee Lewis playing the piano backwards was pretty nifty), Come Fly Away looking more athletic than inspired (though my lack of fondness for Sinatra may be a factor), and Fela!, as I said above, not nearly showing off to its best advantage. American Idiot sounded good, and was certainly intense and stimulating, but I spent the whole number thinking how Spring Awakening and (especially) Passing Strange did it all way better.

As for the musical revivals, the brief number from Promises, Promises was eh, La Cage Aux Folles looked like fun and showed off Douglas Hodge, but "The Best of Times" is just not a very interesting song. Remarkably, the shortened "Back to Before" from Ragtime ended up the evening's best, simply because it didn't get fucked up by distracting camera movements.

And Catherine Zeta-Jones singing "Send in the Clowns"...well. She made strong choices. Unfortunately, they just came off weird. Perhaps because her scene partner wasn't on stage, she was whipping her head around like a lunatic, overplaying all of the emotions (and there are few songs less amenable to overplayed emotions), and generally coming off very strange. (And she gave the word "next" at least three syllables, which is an achievement of some kind, I suppose.) There was some surprise when she won Best Actress just after.

So yeah, a compromised core, an incompetent production, and a mediocre set of performances. At least I had friends over and good food. Because the show was pretty worthless


Monica Reida said...

I might have to find a video of Kevin Adams acceptence speech because that and Marian Seldes' were the best speeches of the night.

Pushing a presenter like Will Smith or a performance by Glee cast members doesn't work. The ratings were down 8% this year for a reason. Pushing those things alienates theater people and pisses them off while the fans of those celebrities keep thiking, "Come on, when are they going to appear?"

"The Best of Times" isn't the best choice. "La Cage Aux Folles" is a better number. Or even "Masculinity."

Also, na na na na na na na na.

Ed said...

Me and my friends were making fun of Catherin Zeta-Jones's 'next' for like twenty minutes after that. We kept 'singing' "Maybe neh......cks..........tuh" again and again. Hysterical.

Jessica said...

Don't forget Chris Noth standing for five minutes on camera waiting for a signal.

And Zeta-Jones's head turns were a very special thing.

I'm just glad we had several different kinds of pizza.

Sugarmama said...

Yeah, that was the worst ever, for all the reasons indicated! My biggest gripes are the really LOUSY tech. and the fact that they seriously could have used more rehearsal time---way too many episodes of confusion and error!! Also, the lights may have been wrong for HD TV....unless it was just my cable, some of the lighting effects ruined the picture; sure it is a stage show, but it is being produced for TV. So glad I recorded it for next day viewing & did NOT waste my beauty sleep on this dreck!!!

David Caban said...

Great analysis, Zev, and I agree on many of the points.

Yes, many of the presenters seemed to be wrong choices ... like the guy from the NY Jets. (Because he was a fan of Memphis???? C'mon.) I do feel on the one hand that Will & Jada "fit" because they are producers of Fela! ... but they are not stage actors and therefore didn't fit.

I agree on a poor song choice from La Cage. There are better choices, but considering La Cage was just revived 5 years ago and nominated for awards, I just kept thinking, "not La Cage again."

I laughed out loud at your description of Catherine Zeta Jones' performance. I thought the same thing ... it was just plain weird and overdone.

I also think Green Day overstayed their welcome by playing one song too many. Last year we had Poison hyping "Rock of Ages". This year Green Day. It looked so incorrect to see these "alternative" rockers playing to an audience of tuxes and gowns. It just seemed the Tonys Producers were pandering to a younger, hipper TV audience with Green Day and Glee cast members. (and Lea Michele overdid it IMHO).

I was talking with Bill Rudman about the show at lunch on Monday, and we were in agreement that the Tony's broadcast never seems to know what to do with plays. Every year, they seem to present them so poorly.

Finally, all those technical goofs really stood out to me. Maybe the sound quality and miking was different to those sitting in Radio City, but for an industry so well known for "great theater experiences", the TV broadcast didn't do it justice.