Michael Kape (a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy®)
When I was a mere lad of 10 years, CBS broadcast the Tony Awards for the first time. It was 1964, and my family gathered around our big, new RCA color television (a novelty back then) to watch the proceedings. It was an exciting show, with live re-enactments from top Broadway shows—both musicals and plays. I don’t remember too much from the broadcast (c’mon guys, it’s been more than half a century), but I remember saying, “Someday I’m going to be there.”
Well, it took a while, but I did make it a few years ago when two plays in which I was an investor were nominated for four Tonys between them. Didn’t win a single one (we should have won for Best Play, Time Stands Still, and Best Musical Revival Finian’s Rainbow—but I digress). Still, I was able to cross “Go to the Tony Awards” off my bucket list.
In the years before and since, I’ve endeavored to watch the telecasts. I’ve missed some years. When I was in college I didn’t see some of them though I had seen almost all the nominees. After my partner died 10 years ago, I made it a point to be at a theatre (always Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway). We had made such big deal out of watching the telecasts together I couldn’t bear to watch it alone. If you’ve ever been widowed you’d understand.
These days, I’m living out in the desert, 100 miles from Los Angeles. I rely on touring productions. Yes, I still watch the telecasts. No, I don’t really care all that much.
The likelihood of seeing any of the Tony-winning performances in Los Angeles is slim to none (except, of course, when a Tony winner is angling to get noticed by Hollywood producers). Unless a show is going to be sitting for a few months in one theatre (like Hamilton or Aladdin did this season at the Hollywood Pantages), we’re likely to get a scaled-back version of the Broadway production. Most tours are designed to fit a stage depth of no more than 29 feet. Why? Because the Fox Theatre in Atlanta is a major touring house and its depth is, you guessed it, 29 feet. Many Broadway houses are well over 30 feet deep. When they go on the road, they scale the sets back to fit the Fox. Speaking of touring houses, those producers have an outsized influence on what and who wins the Tonys. They actually make up a large chunk of the Tony voters and their judgment is influenced by what they think would play best in their cities—not necessarily what might be the best shows or the best performances. Oops, did I say this? Yes, I did. It was told to me by one of those touring house producers in a freak moment of candor.
I guess I should get to my point—why I’m no longer particularly excited by the Tony Awards. I’m not going to be able to see any of the scaled-back winners for at least a year or two (or more). In a rare treat (really), I get to see last year’s Best Play, The Humans, next year, a wait of just two years (but not with the Tony-winning cast, which included an old friend from my high school days—who finally won the Tony he so richly deserves). Next year, we’re also getting last year’s Best Musical Revival, Hello Dolly, but of course we don’t get to see the Divine Miss M in her Tony-winning performance.
This year, the big competition in musicals seems to be between Mean Girls and SpongeBob Square Pants. What about Frozen you ask? Heck, Disneyland has been running a scaled-back (surprise) live version of it for many months now. (Yes, I saw it. No, I wasn’t impressed. But I wasn’t impressed by the animated feature, either. I’m the wrong demographic, obviously.) None of these is on the schedule for the 2018-2019 season at any of the four local touring houses. Sadly, neither is The Band’s Visit, the likely winner this year for Best Score. But we’re getting repeat revivals of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon (ugh), Cats (no way I’m wasting any time to see this for a fifth time; four times was bad enough), Fiddler on the Roof (a show I first saw back in 1964—jeez), Something Rotten (it was just here this season, but the bus & truck is out there now), Jersey Boys (for the fourth time), Phantom of the Opera (for the umpteenth time) Spamalot, and Evita. Alas, we will never get to see Groundhog Day or Bandstand.
And this gets me to my biggest gripe. I fully expect Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to win for Best Play and dominate most of the design awards. Will it ever tour? With a cast of 40 and a five-hour running time (spread out over two seatings), not bloody likely. I’ve read the published script (it’s simply incredible, of course). I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and would really like to see it. But it’s sold out years in advance in New York and the sheer, massive logistics make it impossible to tour. Unless there’s a scaled-back (ugh), cut down to three hours (double ugh) production. It just won’t be the same.
So yes, I’m going to be watching the Tonys this year—at home in the desert. Am I going to be all that excited? No, not really. I won’t ever see any of the winning performances live. I won’t see the same show as it’s being done on Broadway when I eventually have it on one of my subscription series.
The Theatre Wing (which presents the Tonys) touts how the telecast promotes live theatre in the hinterlands (you know, places like Los Angeles or Chicago or the place where you live if you’re not in the New York metropolitan area). And touring houses promote some shows as “the Tony-winning production of [show name],” but fail to mention the Tonys were for performances, not the show itself. What, a tour producer over-hype a show? Impossible.
You know something? This frustrates me and makes me grumpy. And you know you should not make me grumpy. It isn’t pretty (but neither am I, so how can anyone tell the difference).