Theatre yesterday and today



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This week’s Tony Awards were presented on the evening of a day when in the morning the world woke up to yet another senseless mass shooting (the worst in U.S. history as it would turn out). While watching the broadcast, I found it remarkable that almost to a person, the Broadway community rose to the event and brought us what they do best: an innate ability to be present in the moment and create something out of nothing, capable of entertaining and lifting our spirits.

Sure, one or two winners may have expressed emotions at receiving a Tony Award better reserved for the delivery room when a child is born. But those tears are often shed out of the sheer joy of hard work being paid off and in being recognized by their peers in such an open fashion. Some even made a point of mentioning that it was the first time they had been singled out in such a way after more than forty years in the business. Not Frank Langella (this was his fourth career Tony Award), but the other three acting winners in straight plays were over the age of sixty. A very nice showing for the AARP set, and all richly deserved.

This was also the 70th Tony Awards ceremony and the 49th shown live on network television. Though only ten years old at the time, I can remember watching that first ABC telecast back in 1967 vividly. Yes, my memory has been aided over the years by sources friendly to me who purloined ancient VHS tapes of those ceremonies that I used to study is if they contained some kind of hidden theatrical equivalent to the Da Vinci Code. Most of these vintage early broadcasts can now be found on YouTube and they are both instructive and important history lessons. Their main purpose is that performances once restricted to only those lucky patrons fortunate to have seen stage veterans live and in-person like Angela Lansbury, Robert Preston, Mary Martin and Pearl Bailey were able to do so in their own homes, even if they would never see a Broadway show for the rest of their lives. It also preserved for posterity moments never equaled or duplicated. Countless millions have seen Jennifer Holiday sing “I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” since she sang it on the 1982 Tonys, and if it weren't for that broadcast, the only way to have gotten the chance would have been to pay that year's exorbitant price for the best seat at the Imperial Theatre of $40.

In light of CBS’s Sunday show which ran overtime and clocked in officially at 3 hours and 15 minutes (with commercials), it is important to note that the first broadcast was in a one-hour time slot on ABC (also with commercials). It was so quaint, that instead of an original opening number it had an overture. True, there were only 16 awards then as opposed to 24 today, but they still had time to showcase the four Best Musical nominees and put on a great show. Compact and briskly paced, its running time was aided by speeches much shorter than those given on Sunday night. Upon receiving her Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play, Marian Seldes offered one brief sentence as her thank you: “I have the prize because Edward Albee wrote that part.”

One last perspective: The Best Musical of 1967 was presented to Cabaret by Barbra Streisand, who was on hand Sunday night to present the 2016 Best Musical to Hamilton. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Congratulations to all the nominees and the winners.

If you would like to comment on any of these posts, please do so below. I look forward to hearing from you.