Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Was that a farce?

I've accepted that the Tony Awards broadcast is primarily an advertisement for Broadway -- it's not really about honoring excellence in theatre, although that may happen, if there's time. I don't like it, and I still complain about it, but I understand that's how it works. But can't it at least be a good advertisement for theatre?

When you're putting on a big, live show in a world-famous theatre and, right off the bat, you have major microphone issues, that's a turn-off. I can't remember a Tony broadcast that wasn't marred by sound issues, but this year was a particularly bad one, especially since they were coupled with obvious lip-synching. I can remember many painful instances of off-key singing in the past (I guess it's hard to hear the band?), but prerecorded vocals are not an ideal fix when you are trying to convince people that live theatre in New York City is worth their time and money.

I did like Sean Hayes at the piano. Fun, and much less obnoxious than the song-and-dance numbers Hugh Jackman used to do. But when the opening number turned into a full-on Green Day concert, I wanted to say, You know, you don't actually get to see Green Day when you buy a ticket for American Idiot. The show does not have Green Day the band in it. Ostensibly it is still worth paying lots of money for. I have my doubts, of course, but that's the idea. And yet here we are, hoping an appearance from Green Day will give Broadway some television cred. It's that old, familiar note of desperation: Please give theatre a chance! Some famous people like it! So the whole thing feels like fundraising time on PBS. Here is some guy from the football Jets, generously agreeing to say that he likes musicals! Won't you please give?

I just don't think the motto of the Tonys should be "Broadway: It's Not So Bad!"

Other thoughts: I was amused to see Matthew Morrison with an aisle seat and constant reaction shots, now that he's a bona fide television star. I loved him long before Glee, but hey, now he's legit.

The Katie Holmes-Daniel Radcliffe pairing was unfortunate, huh? They couldn't find anyone petite for poor Daniel to stand next to? His head being as high as her armpit just called attention to her very ill-fitting dress, so the moment wasn't good for anyone. Except, I guess, ScarJo, who seriously went on forever with the thank-yous. Someone should have told her this show needs to end on time. This ain't the Oscars, movie star.

I keep forgetting that there's another revival of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway, and then I walk by the theatre and I wonder who's going to see it. No one I know. The number didn't change my mind, mostly because "The Best of Times" is just a chorus, and after the fifth repetition I've had enough to last me awhile. There was a great moment, though, when Douglas Hodge went down into the audience (the better to get some famous faces on the TV screen) and harassed whomever was seated in front of Bernadette Peters (Will Smith?), and his mic picked up a Bernadette chuckle. I want that laugh for my ringtone.

The presentation of the nominees for Best Play worked okay, I thought -- there's no good way to do it, not in the present awards-show format, and I liked the digital backgrounds. But the fumble at the end, with the off-camera voice telling Chris Noth to look at the camera and read the card, was disastrous. Did no one show up for the tech rehearsal? Did they even have a tech rehearsal?

And then there's Memphis: It seems like a well-meaning show. That Chad Kimball sure is adorable. But I'm sorry, it just looks dorky and terrible to me. (Although the choreography was impressive. And hey, they actually did a decent job filming the dancing this year!) That song! It made the Hairspray score sound like Sondheim. Don't let anyone steal your rock and roll... Or you might end up like this lame show! Zing!

Barbara Cook always looks sort of dazed, doesn't she? What's that about? Was she perhaps working hard to suppress her emotional response to being asked to introduce Catherine Zeta Jones singing "Send in the Clowns"? ("I'm nominated for a Tony too, you know. And I sing that same song in my show. Also, I am older than Stephen Sondheim, whose eightieth birthday I'm announcing. Anyone?") Or was it just the muumuu? And then... Oh dear... You guys, we have to talk about the Zeta.

First of all, let me say, she was not THAT bad when I saw the show, although she was bad in all the same ways. It was just turned way up for the Tonys. The movie-star-on-stage issues she seemed to be having with stillness. The weird musical phrasing: "Isn't it... rich? Are we... a pair?" ("Send in the caesuras," my friend Rich joked on Facebook.) The miscalibrated intensity. (Another Facebook reaction, from Marifran: "Why was CZJ so angry at the clown sender?") I suspect the presence of actual cameras, in addition to a live audience, sent her already confused instincts into overdrive, and resulted in the weird head-tossing we saw. She looked like she was tracking a fly and hoping to swat it. Does she think Desiree is schizophrenic? Is her version of "Clowns" addressed to the voices in Desiree's head? So many questions. My big one is, wouldn't it have been kinder to poor CZJ to pick a song where she wasn't up there all by herself? "The Glamorous Life," for example? I mean, why make it as embarrassing as possible for her when she has to accept that award? (On which more later.)

I was happy Christiane Noll got a chance to show CZJ how a real stage actor sells a number, even if it was cruelly truncated (and not nearly as good a song). I was not happy with the hip-hop play montage. Why are they so eager to strip all the dignity out of nonmusical Broadway plays?

I saw Collected Stories that very afternoon, so I was happy to see Linda Lavin nominated for Leading Actress in a Play -- what a wonderful performance. I was also happy, however, to see Viola Davis take the Tony, and give the evening's best acceptance speech, and look fierce in her dress (even though I didn't like the color). Eat your heart out, Katie Holmes. I was glad to see Denzel win, too -- he gave a worthy performance. It would have been nice of him to take the speech-making duty a little more seriously, though. And I would have liked to see him thank the rest of the cast, or at least Stephen McKinley Henderson, instead of just Viola (and just as an afterthought).

Fela! Should I see it? Because what I saw on the Tonys -- plus that whole "interactive with the audience!" thing -- is telling me no. I'm going to stick with my gut unless you can talk me into doing otherwise.

I was happy Fences won the Best Revival of a Play award, but: Carole Shorenstein Hays, nobody wants to see you perform. Can we start a tradition where someone other than the producers accepts the awards for the shows? I guarantee it would make for better TV. The people from Red made a much better showing -- they were prepared. Too bad Scarlett Johansson took up all their time.

The Glee tribute was this year's most desperate pander to the channel-surfers at home. (Yes, more desperate than bringing out that guy from the Jets!) I mean, I love me some Matthew Morrison, and I definitely love "All I Need Is the Girl." (Let's not talk about Lea Michele's thing.) But plugging Glee in the middle of the Tonys, with two stars who weren't on Broadway this year (because they were in Hollywood)? This isn't even the right network!

Raquel Welch cracks me up. Way too much sexy shimmy in your presentation there, Raquel. But don't ever change.

Billie Joe Armstrong was sort of an ass, wasn't he? I've been getting that same "Whatever, we're too cool for this, but we'll take the money and acclaim" attitude from every bit of Green Day promotion surrounding American Idiot. But honestly, dude, they just cut the producers of La Cage aux Folles off midsentence to make time for you to do your spiel. Don't waste our time. As for American Idiot, the number was shrill and irritating, and the strobe light was enough to keep me away forever. I think American Idiot is to Spring Awakening as Memphis is to Hairspray.

And now, the acceptance speech of CZJ. She's endearing, I must say. I like her in spite of myself. But I just want to say two things: first, when she mentioned that her parents were there, and the camera cut to them sitting next to Michael Douglas, were you struck by the icky realization that her father and her husband are basically peers? I was. And because of that, her parting line about how her husband is "a movie star, and I get to sleep with him every night!" was just...yeesh, don't remind us.

All in all, a pretty dismal year, I must say. Having Memphis play us out with that dopey song felt sadly appropriate. Most years I turn off the Tonys with a list of a few shows I want to see (or regret having missed). This year it's hard to get excited. Ah well. As CZJ would say, "Maybe... next year."


CarrieM said...

Just wanted to say, loved this post. I was embarrassed after the disastrous performance CZJ gave, that she beat the other women in her category (including the unnominated but game Bebe Neuwirth, no matter how stupid her show may be). I love to see stars from the screen on Broadway, but we shouldn't give them Tonys to say thank you.

P Goyan said...

Who the hell are you?

Sorry girlfriend, but you just come across as rude and bitchy.

Why don't you listen to a number of Barbara Cook's recordings, perhaps starting with her 1975 and 1980 Carnegie Hall records. She was to die for.

And she has aged with grace, providing each of us with a fine example of how to grow old.

Lay off all the crap. You don't sound so hot yourself. (And neither am I!)

Mollie said...

Thanks, Carrie.

P Goyan, I know firsthand how zeal for Barbara can consume one, but for heaven's sake, hold the friendly fire. You're preaching to the converted.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Memphis? i'd be interested if you saw it and then read your opinion.

Wanders said...

@P Goyan: Mollie is one of the biggest theatre fans I know. I totally agree that the Tony Awards barely come close to what's special about Broadway. What always bugs me the most is the sickening self aggrandizement. It's three hours of "Aren't I great? I sure think so."

Wanders said...

er, rises *above.

Wanders said...

I'll only add... Sometimes it rises about the petty... but there's always plenty of petty so it isn't difficult to do.