A Chance to Fix the Tonys, and So Many Things to Fix

You know that hideous scrum of buyers storming the stage when their present is known as greatest play or greatest musical at the Tony Awards?

Well, they’re heading again except any individual stops them.

The 2021 Tonys, which due to the pandemic are literally the 2020 Tonys, will probably be awarded on Sept. 26. That will make 27 months since the final telecast, in June 2019: loads of time to rethink what has grow to be a reliably mortifying expertise. But to try this, Broadway could have to face up to the means it has historically favored the financiers over the artists in its shotgun marriage ceremony of artwork and commerce.

Take the 2014 telecast, on which Jennifer Hudson sang the bombastic title music from the musical “Finding Neverland.”

Was that present in the operating for any awards? No — it didn’t even open till the following season. Was Hudson at the very least supposed to seem in it? No, however she was extra well-known than anybody who did. Was the staging, wherein Peter Pan carried out a ballet in inexperienced camo whereas Hudson swanned close by in silver lamé, even remotely comprehensible?

Well, sure, should you knew that the producer of “Finding Neverland” was Harvey Weinstein.

Even when not being manipulated by moneybags, the awards have recurrently represented Broadway as a neurotic mess: defensive about its marginality, embarrassed by its critical works and insecure about its industrial attraction. In the opening quantity at the 2019 awards, the host, James Corden, spent greater than 9 minutes begging the CBS viewers to honor the liveness of reside theater, whilst he listed the many pleasant and much more accessible experiences accessible on tv, together with his personal CBS discuss present.

James Corden, flanked by Kelli O’Hara, Brooks Ashmanskas and different Broadway performers, throughout the opening variety of the 2019 Tony Awards.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Now is the time for the Tonys to pull their act collectively. Why ought to the greatest present folks by some means preserve making the dullest, tackiest hodgepodge of a present?

Which will not be to say it is going to be straightforward, particularly this yr. Aside from reflecting the catastrophe of the pandemic, which noticed Broadway darkened, its ranks thinned by illness and 1000’s out of labor, the Tonys could have to deal with, inside the context of an leisure product, the racism lengthy constructed into the theatrical ecosystem and the current requires change. That’s a narrative not very vulnerable to jazz arms.

With a lot to do, the announcement that solely three aggressive awards will probably be given out inside the two-hour CBS broadcast — the different 22 having been relegated to a two-hour preshow on the streaming service Paramount+ — could show to be excellent news as an alternative of the abomination it at first appeared.

That’s as a result of pushing most of the awards into one compartment and most of the singing and dancing into one other could permit the producers and writers of this yr’s present, a lot of them veterans of earlier Tonys, to have a good time each components of the Broadway package deal extra absolutely. The gravity and the razzmatazz can every have their say, in their very own model, as an alternative of combating for dominance and airtime, and shedding collectively.

There was a time when razzmatazz had no half in the proceedings. In the early years of the awards, which have been first televised, to a neighborhood New York viewers, in 1956, the ceremony was extra like a funeral administrators’ dinner, with little or no leisure, extraordinarily transient speeches and some very odd classes. (Best stage technician?) Coaxing potential audiences, particularly out-of-town ones, to see a Broadway present was not on the agenda, and tv itself, blurry and black-and-white, was no competitors anyway. The level was merely to honor the honorees.

Now we settle for that the Tonys are an trade advertising software, the honorees merely bait.

That will be enjoyable, and even highly effective, when staged with the wit and intelligence that the greatest musicals apply to the uneasy relationship between artwork and commerce. In current years, numbers from “Fun Home” (2015) and “The Band’s Visit” (2018) have been so fantastically conceived for the digicam — largely by their authentic administrators, Sam Gold and David Cromer — that with none lack of seriousness or subtlety they demonstrated why folks would possibly need to see the exhibits in the first place.

And with sufficient savvy, even a crushing loss may very well be expressed in prime time, as when college students who survived the 2018 bloodbath at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sang “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” on that yr’s telecast.

But for the most half, current musicals seem in a poor gentle in contrast to the classics of previous Tonys, not as a result of they’re essentially worse however as a result of the previous telecasts typically cushioned their alternatives in context and allow you to get to know their characters. Plays have it even worse: They are barely permitted to current themselves in any respect. “Choir Boy,” in 2019, was the exception that proved the rule, intercutting spoken parts of its story with an exciting model of “Rockin’ Jerusalem.”

Finally, at the backside of the pecking order, come the artists, beginning with main actors, then supporting actors, then administrators, choreographers, composers, e-book writers, designers and, properly, does anybody bear in mind the final time we obtained to hear an orchestrator say greater than 4 phrases on tv?

All of this may be improved in a break up present. With its elevated whole time of 4 hours — and particularly this yr, with fewer classes and nominees than common — the ceremony can honor the performs with significant excerpts, and the individuals who really make the work with recorded segments that assist us see what they do. The leisure phase can likewise be given extra time to breathe, permitting drop-dead manufacturing numbers and quieter, extra intimate moments to create a rhythm extra like the expertise you really get on Broadway.

And if the Tonys would deign to take some pointers from the creators of the Antonyo awards, which in the worst of the pandemic managed to honor Black theater artists with dignity and heat — or for that matter, this yr’s stunning Grammys — they may keep in mind that what they’re attempting to promote, particularly now, is human connection. The smarmy introductions and whirligig graphics and common aura of hectic oversell may very well be changed with a extra assured assertion of what theater, at its greatest, has been and will be.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas sang a shifting rendition of “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” at the Tonys ceremony in 2018.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times ORG XMIT: FST

I’m afraid meaning some drastic modifications. First, let’s do away with hosts whose Broadway cred comes principally from untutored enthusiasm and the wishful pondering that they may increase rankings. (It by no means works; for years, the present has drawn solely 6 million to eight million viewers it doesn’t matter what — and not too long ago even fewer.) Homegrown expertise — Billy Porter? Meryl Streep? — will do properly, thanks.

And whereas we’re at it, let’s do away with the overcaffeinated tv administrators, modifying as if to induce convulsions and framing all scenes as in the event that they have been sitcoms. Recent highlights have repeatedly proven what needs to be apparent: Theater administrators make the greatest televised theater.

Not that Broadway’s identification disaster goes wherever, even when we obtain the Best Tonys Ever. But to get to a more healthy, extra entertaining place, the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League, the organizations that current the occasion, have to cease favoring the industrial aspect so fawningly. Producers of particular person exhibits shouldn’t be allowed to form any content material however their very own; in any other case, the telecast winds up being hijacked by beamed-in celebrities singing songs from horrible musicals nobody’s but seen.

And as for these stage-swarming buyers? Let’s ban them too. The awards they bogart belong to the authors.

In different phrases, let the artists be in cost. Money could discuss, but it surely doesn’t sing.