For a Broadway Torn by a Pandemic, a Split-Personalities Tonys


The streaming section of the ceremony actually did a more satisfactory job conveying the electricity to be in a theater than the CBS TELEVISION STUDIOS special billed as “Broadway’s Back! ”

It’s not surprising that the Tony a2z Awards ceremony on Weekend night got much more time and band width than usual, swallowing upward more than four hours which were split between two systems. After all, it had a huge agenda: to honor the particular shortened 2019-2020 season plus everything that came after, such as the ongoing pandemic and a social reckoning in the theater, as with the world. Also, of course , along with special urgency now, the big event wanted to encourage possibly skeptical theatergoers to buy tickets in order to shows by highlighting Broadway’s performers as they return to the particular stage.

With so much upon its to do list, how do the Tonys do? Jesse Green, The New York Times’s chief theater critic, talked about the presentation — or even, rather, the presentations: a single on Paramount+ and one upon CBS — with Wayne Poniewozik, The Times’s key television critic, and the factor Elisabeth Vincentelli.

JESSE GREEN The Tony Honours ceremony was deliberately damaged into two halves: the very first more like a private industry supper, on Paramount+, to give out there most of the awards efficiently; the 2nd more like a desperate advertising, on broadcast television, in order to lure tourists back to Broadway. (The second was actually called, somewhat ambitiously, “Broadway’s Back! ”) But do either of you feel, when i did intensely, that the 2 shows were almost psychotically different, even if they were created and directed by the exact same team? One half gave all of us the art form that desires to speak in serious the human soul and social change. The other gave all of us weak comedy bits plus bad timing.

ELISABETH VINCENTELLI It felt like among those horror films where a lab-made creature’s parts suddenly undertake a life of their own: Exactly what used to be an awkward — but often very enjoyable, in its own way — whole suddenly became split up into separate bits and pieces. Mind you, these bits and pieces meant that despite four hours of airtime, the show still leaped long!

ADAM PONIEWOZIK The 2 shows were undeniably various. I’m not sure I brain that, though, at least theoretically — we can get to the issues with the execution. Broadway was hit by the outbreak uniquely among art types, but the Tonys really have exactly the same challenge that all televised honours shows have now: Who is this particular production for? Is it for that die-hards or the casuals? Could it be for the artists or the market? Is it meant to honor the particular creative work of the previous year(s) or sell seat tickets for the next? The Tonys answer was essentially, “Why not both? ” There was clearly definitely whiplash for those people who managed to find Paramount+ and watch both halves. Yet I’m not sure how big that will audience was compared with the particular CBS-only crowd.

VINCENTELLI Splitting the awards through the musical numbers is what, I actually suspect, CBS had desired to do for ages: shove the particular awards to the side because no one (in the network’s view) cares, and focus on the particular fun stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if they carried on with that format in the future.

PONIEWOZIK That split, incidentally, is what the Grammys did on CBS for years — shunt most of the awards away from prime time and put on the big show for the common audience. That worked pretty much for them this year.

GREEN The difference, and what makes the divided feel more neurotic in my opinion, is that the theater, abetted simply by pretentious theater critics such as myself, often tries to think about it is upholding a more commendable tradition. Certainly it’s an old tradition. In any case, given the option to divide the honours, it’s surprising how the very first half managed to provide almost everything the second half was meant to — warmth, pride in a difficult time, Jennifer Holliday live! — and the second half mostly failed to, except in the documented segments from the nominated musicals.

VINCENTELLI The combination of Sheryl Lee Ralph’s introduction plus Jennifer Holliday’s performance associated with “And I Am Telling You I am Not Going” is bound to be a YouTube classic. CBS may be trying to turn the Tonys into the Kennedy Center Recognizes, which they also broadcast — they’re well placed to know that within 2019, the Honors have scored more viewers than the Tonys. So that’s the design: celebrity presenters of huge numbers. Having the awards by themselves on Paramount+ also testifies to the siloing of viewers.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

PONIEWOZIK I might question whether the theater much more inherently “noble” than TELEVISION or any other art form. Yet another argument, another day. Moreover, if the theater wants to commemorate its hard work and innovative spirit, you can rent a pleasant hall for that and do this privately. If you expect the broadcast TV audience, your own obligations are different — nobody is entitled to the attention associated with millions of people. But I concur that (to my surprise) the first, industry-awards part really did a better job of offerring the excitement and electrical power of being in a theater!

GREEN The “concert” fifty percent, not a bad idea theoretically, was in fact so badly routined and timed it erased all the gains from the “awards” half. The final half an hour, which felt like an entire extra day, was a train damage of bad calls: ballads, duets, redundant improv through “Freestyle Love Supreme” — when what you really desired in that spot was the particular “Moulin Rouge! ” kickline and confetti cannons .

VINCENTELLI I don’t believe I ever need “Moulin Rouge! ” anything. Nevertheless, that number worked on TV and may even well have done its work, which is to sell tickets.

GREEN I’m not a large fan of “Moulin Rouge! ” myself, but I think it looked fantastic within the screen, using the cool moderate to tone down the manic red hotness. Even though it hadn’t won ten awards, the most of any kind of show, it would have done alone a lot of good with that overall performance.

PONIEWOZIK The circulation of the CBS portion has been just weird. The “concert” wasn’t an awards display, but there were three main awards, and the last one particular was given out a half-hour before the end, sabotaging the particular momentum. I also question if the song choices — between general nostalgia of the manufacturing and Broadway’s reliance upon jukebox musicals — do much to sell an viewers on experiencing new movie theater. (Disclosure: I already have seat tickets for “Caroline, or Modify. ”) You’re telling myself to feel excited (and safe) going back to a movie theater in 2021, and providing me a selection of songs I can have heard on one nights “American Idol” in 2006.

VINCENTELLI And as upon “American Idol, ” there is no mention of plays, that the Tonys still don’t understand what to do about. Unless We blinked and missed this, there was no attempt to actually describe them, let alone feature excerpts.

PONIEWOZIK Yes, Elisabeth! 4 hours (plus overtime!!! ), and you can’t even provide us a taste from the plays you want us to return to Broadway for?

GREEN Generally you can’t return for the plays; they’ve shut. But the world of Broadway is changing, even when the particular awards don’t. “The Inheritance” swept the big play groups, winning four main awards , and “Slave Play, ” its major competition, got skunked — but it was “Slave Play” that has announced a positive return Broadway engagement , beginning in November. I’m stunned “Slave Play” didn’t earn, but there’s no stage in litigating the voters’ choices; they are always unintelligible and, as far as television is involved, beside the point. Unintelligibility may even become a plus. Drama!

Sara Krulwich/The New York Periods

VINCENTELLI In terms of the overall tone, I used to be very happy to be spared the typical self-conscious posture of theatre, which thinks of alone as a beleaguered band associated with misfits toiling for an underappreciated art form/industry and responds with a bizarre mix of self-importance and defensiveness. Theater people feel like the Marvel plus “Star Wars” nerds associated with yore, before they grew to become the de facto rulers of popular culture. Weekend night had a much more fascinating, and overall healthier, stability of positivity, eagerness plus joy. Of course at times there was clearly frustration and anger, as well, expressed most starkly within Daniel J. Watts’s spoken-word number, but that’s work out let passion speak.

PONIEWOZIK To me, the job from the whole shebang was to share through TV the exhilaration of seeing theater reside, in a room. What do that well? Jennifer Holliday’s performance, of course — not merely because she’s a tale, but because it was a theatrical performance. She was in personality . (Whereas too many of the particular duets, however beautifully being sung, simply felt like watching 2 celebrities I like enjoy becoming back together. ) I believed the recorded performances from all other theaters might kill the particular live vibe, but it assisted that they had audiences. As well as the buzz of the first honours portion — you could simply feel how pumped everybody was to be in the room — in such a way recreated the live encounter better than some of the performances.

GREEN Yes: What was great was whatever felt like reside theater, not like an “I Love New York” industrial. Still, it’s very unusual to me that the main matter all these Broadway creatives could not pull off was a Broadway enjoyment spectacular. (Who puts all of the socko material at the beginning, causing none for the end? ) I think it’s time to provide other writers and company directors a chance.

VINCENTELLI The 2nd half of the show experienced a little rote because some thing changed over the past 18 months with regards to access. The Tonys was once the only place we could capture Broadway stars do a number on the screen. But in 2020, we all streamed them a lot, as well as the newness of watching, state, Kelli O’Hara or Audra McDonald slay a number had been dulled — because all of us watched Kelli O’Hara plus Audra McDonald slay lots of numbers online last year.

PONIEWOZIK It would not be awful for that Tonys (and other awards) to learn a little from loading. The most entertaining work associated with theater I saw during the outbreak may have been Annaleigh Ashford carrying out an insane version associated with “Mr. Mistoffelees” from “Cats” while cooped up at home for Miscast21.

VINCENTELLI Yes! The particular Tonys need a good dosage of that freewheeling social-media soul.

ECO-FRIENDLY And maybe, listen to me out, it should stick to a TikTok length.


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