Jammin’ With Jillers: Gerald Schoenfeld said it…

… I just didn’t want to believe it.

People who know me know that I am a huge Theater Geek: my mother used to sing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” to wake me and my brother up in the morning, back when we were in grade school, and my father actually works on Broadway (as a House Manager). While other kids my age went to see popular children’s movies, I was off seeing Broadway shows.

It goes without saying, then, that every year I look forward to The Tonys with the same fervor and reverence that some people have for The Emmys, Oscars, or Grammys. To me, nothing is more prestigious than a Tony Award, and it is something I have coveted since childhood.

That being said, last week’s presentation was apalling to me. It was a huge mess, and I will tell you why:

Just who was this award show being marketed towards? Everyone except the theater audience. Everyone except the people who care about The Tonys

This is an important thing to think about here. Whenever I saw promos for The Tonys it was always “See [x-movie star] at The Tonys!”… why would I care?

Now, I was outraged that Scarlett Johansson won a Tony, but I certainly can’t argue against the many glowing reviews she’s recieved… but some actors and actresses just rub me the wrong way.

What I will argue with is Catherine Zeta Jones’s win. I saw that performance she gave of “Send in the Clowns” at The Tonys, and for those who aren’t sure about this, there is a huge amount of rehearsal that goes into The Tonys – there has to be. A Tony performance should be, if not exactly what a person can go and see on stage the next night, then close to (or better than) that performance, because it’s all about getting people to see those shows. You want to show them the best of the best at that point. And CZJ… well, I never thought she was that great a singer to begin with. However, she was singing a Sonheim song, whose philosophy is that his songs don’t need strong voices so much as strong acting. But how does one act “Send in the Clowns?” Not by snapping your head in every direction as though there are actual clowns that could come out at any second. “Send in the Clowns” is a subtle song, about reflecting on your life with some dispair. Performed well, and it should bring tears to your eyes.

So, CZJ? I am sorry (no I’m not) you’re Tony was no earned.

But this brings me to a point I’ve been battling with for a very long time: Hollywood actors coming to Broadway, and the producers’ insistence that they always be headlined. Of course there’s an auditioning process, but if a producer knows that that name is going to bring in money, you can bet your ass that they’ll get the role because of their name, not their talent.

But then, not all Hollywood actors are guilty of being untalented, which leaves me in a precarious position: Denzel Washington certainly deserved his Tony, as he’s an amazing actor. Of course, he also started out in theater, and doesn’t seem to lean on his star potential (his name) to bring in the crowds. But the way The Tonys went this year, it seems to devalue this well-earned win. And I don’t want to be a hypocrit.

But I can’t just limit myself to Hollywood stars, as American Idol stars are also creeping into Broadway. Hair now has Diana DiGarmo (whose name I know from watching The Fairly Odd Parents, where she was in one episode) and some other guy. Which makes no sense whatsoever considering the material of the show. Of course, I was irked at Constantine in Rock of Ages, but at least it makes sense for a pop/rock singer to be in that show. American Idol contestants in Hair does not make marketing sense.

Why? Because Hair is about drugs, and sex, and politics. It’s not, by any means, a bad show. I love Hair, and saw it in Central Park last year when it was revived by The Public Theater. It’s a confusing show, as there’s no real linear plot, and instead focuses on the energy of The Tribe. Anti-war, pro-drugs, pro-free love. And a scene where everyone is naked. It is a musical that is sincere in its message (a message I understand but find it hard to put into words), but it is not something parents would typically want their pre-teen to watch. I say this, not because I know for a fact, but because in my general experience, people have a certain expectation of Theater. And when you mix Theater and Pre-Teen idol, you get a very definitive expectation: family friendly fun, not mature themes.

This marketing problem speaks to the bigger problem as a whole, which is that producers have no faith in the theater going audience, they want to appeal to a bigger audience. So now people like me, people who grew up living, breathing, theater, are alienated.

The Tonys this year just exemplifies the problem: Musicals based on popular music, A New York Jet introducing a category, emphasis on Green Day and anyone that was mainstream popular, and cut acceptance speeches. It’s a mess that serves no one: People who didn’t care about Theater aren’t going to suddenly start caring. Maybe they’ll see a show an actor they like is in, but for the most part, they won’t go on to watch an obscure play.  That may seem harsh to say, perhaps ill informed but think about it: If you like to read, and you follow a certain author, you may read a book they’ve written within a larger collection. Perhaps it’s a collection of short stories, or it’s a book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Sure you may go on to read the other works because you never thought to read any of the EU books, or you may find you really like short story anthologies, but for the most part, are you going to read every short sotry anthology you come across, or go on to read another EU book written by someone other than your favorite author? No. You’re not. And that’s not wrong, and I’m not criticizing people for doing this. I’m criticizing an industry that thinks this is a good way to make money.

While I have another rant about Broadway, for another time, I do recognize that the problem right now is the economy, which is something I don’t have the knowledge about to comment on. I do recognize it will always be about money, because as Gerald Schoenfeld told my father, “Broadway is commerical. Art happens Off-Broadway”.

Maybe one day, the pendulum will swing, and producers will start taking chances again. They’ll invest in a small show that’s not based on popular music, or a movie, and give a chance to soeone with a great idea. There will be a Tony Awards Show full of theater celebrities, big spectacular numbers, where the awards go to the people who deserve it. There will be a new golden age where Broadway becomes Art again, and people remember that it’s ok if main stream America doesn’t care about The Tonys.

Maybe it’ll become affordable again.

I can only hope at this point.

-Jill

Point of Interest: Hunter Foster has started a Facebook Group called Give The Tonys Back to Broadway, the description of which is:

[ Give The Tonys Back to Broadway is] A group for all actors, directors, writers and fans who want to see the Tony awards celebrate the excellence of Broadway by allowing those artists who have made theatre their livelihood to take a more active part in its yearly presentation.

We want the evening to be about Broadway and for the fans of Broadway. This group is about including more of those artists that we admire and look up to, so that it truly becomes an evening to celebrate.

Posted on June 21, 2010 at 15:48 by Jillian Pullara · Permalink
In: Opinions/Editorials · Tagged with: , , , ,

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