There is no denying the decline of the Broadway show. Its attendance has been steadily decreasing for years, and its cultural influence has depleted with it. Remember when movies were made based on musicals? Annie, Chicago, and South Pacific come to mind as examples of when the musical’s creative power was in full force.
Nowadays, the opposite is true; Broadway producers are mining Hollywood for stories and actors. All this in an attempt to make the intimidatingly cheesy and/or high-brow aura that surrounds Broadway and wards off potential audiences to dissipate. Sunday’s Tony Awards exemplified and honored the many trends in Broadway that cater to the common, non-theater-loving folk.
This year’s telecast was chock-full of celebrities of screen and radio, many of whom have direct connections to this or previous season’s shows. Among this years famous presenters were Jesse Eisenberg, Zachary Quinto, Scarlett Johansson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, Jesse Tyler Fergueson, Cuba Gooding Jr., and many, many more. The star power of the event reflects the current bountiful crop of celebrities nominated for Tony’s this year, including Tom Hanks, Cyndi Lauper, Tony Shalhoub, and Nathan Lane. There was event an entire song dedicated to Broadway actors who made the transition to television … only to have their shows canceled. The Tony Awards chooses to play up its association with Hollywood to boost it in association.
Everything old is new again, right? That’s what Broadway producers seem to think. Musicals based on movies abounded this year. Three of the four Best Musical nominees had a “The Musical” slapped onto the end to distinguish them from their preceding movies: Matilda, A Christmas Story, and Bring It On. Even the Tony’s themselves highlighted the fluidity between screen and stage by making presenters out of characters from past musicals — musicals such as The Lion King, Chicago, Rock of Ages, Newsies, Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, and Mamma Mia, all of which are either based on films or have recently been made into them. Shockingly, this easy mixing of different types of adaptations did not give way to a Les Miserables number, nor even a presenter from the film — even Hugh Jackman, who I assumed was contractually obligated to attend every Tony Award show, along with Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters, and Nathan Lane.
God bless Neil Patrick Harris. In his fourth time hosting this prestigious event, he is comfortable slinging around pop culture references to wake up the audience lulled to sleep by a boring acceptance speech. He got in some timely and specific ones too, taking shots at Justin Bieber’s headline-making “Anne Frank would have been a Belieber” comment and Tom Hooper’s excessive use of extreme close-ups in the film version of Les Miserables. There was also a perplexing number of Mike Tyson jokes, as if they were determined to squeeze every ounce out of his nonsensical appearance on the telecast.
What do we go to Broadway to see? Spectacle, of course! From the golden age of film musicals and onwards, audiences have longed for the glitz and glamour of putting on a show — the costumes, the elaborate choreography, the lavish sets. The musicals showcased during this year’s awards show did not disappoint, complete with acrobatics courtesy of Pippin, cheerleading courtesy of Bring It On: The Musical, and ten-second costume changes courtesy of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Even Neil Patrick Harris got in on the action by incorporating audience favorites into the show: puns! Magic tricks! A puppy! This year, the Tony Awards’ entertainment value was off the charts thanks to these crowd-pleasing standbys.
When you think about it, it is surprising that the Tony Awards ran long, considering how many of its awards were handed out before hand, allowing producers to cut down these winners’ speeches into three-second sound bites. The sad truth is that no one wants to hear a lighting designer blather on about his favorite teacher growing up or kiss up to his producer bosses for a solid minute. The Tony people know this. And so, in true Broadway fashion, they give the audience what they want: more performances, fewer speeches. Is it fair to the winners, whom this night is really supposed to be all about? No, not at all. But does it up the show’s watchability? Certainly. After all, a night celebrating entertainment should be entertaining in and of itself.