The 2015 Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live on CBS on June 7, are filled with controversy regarding which parts will be seen live and which will be only available via YouTube. At this point, Tommy Tune’s remarks regarding his Lifetime Achievement Award have been relegated to the Tony Awards YouTube channel. Creative awards, including those for Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Scenic Design, Lighting Design, and others are given off air with clips of acceptance speeches shown to the live audience during commercial breaks and the full speeches available later on YouTube. The award for Best Play and Best Musical is not accepted by the writers of such, but by the producers.
Whose Awards Are These?
These decisions regarding which recipients are seen and which are not raises questions as to the reason for and intention of the Tony Awards. The awards are supposed to “celebrate excellence in Broadway theatre.” However, more and more they have become commercials for current and upcoming shows.
Let’s face it, this is the only national audience to which Broadway has access, and it makes sense for producers to use it to create interest in specific productions as well as get people across America thinking of Broadway in general. But should that occur at the price of actually compromising the intention of the Tonys?
Simplicity and Then Complexity
The Tony Awards started simply. The original awards were held at the Waldorf Astoria on April 6, 1947. Winners received a scroll and articles of jewelry. Medallions were not awarded until 1949. Then, 20 years after the Tonys originated, things changed in a major way.
The awards ceremony was originally overseen and presented by the American Theatre Wing. The Wing is “dedicated to supporting excellence and education in theatre.” In 1967, the Wing joined with The Broadway League to present the awards. This was also the first time that the Tonys were broadcast live nationwide.
The Broadway League is a very different organization from the American Theatre Wing. Comprised of theatre owners, general managers, and producers located in New York City and 250 other cities across North America, The Broadway League is the national trade association for the Broadway theatre industry. This marriage between League and Wing, as noted in an earlier Broadway IQ feature, is an uneasy one, and over the years it has switched the focus of the awards from a celebration of excellence to a three-hour long marketing extravaganza.
Movements for Change
Over the years, various organizations and individuals have tried to get the Tony Awards to shift their focus back to their original, and still stated, intent. This year is an exceptionally busy one for such activity.
One involves the Lifetime Achievement Award. It has been the practice to not show the remarks of the person receiving this award. That, of course, may seem like an odd choice for the Tonys. Here you have someone such as Tommy Tune, nine-time Tony winner in four separate categories and an amazing creative force on Broadway, and yet he won’t be allowed to have access to the full public forum.
In the New York Daily Post in a piece entitled “Tell the Tonys to give Tommy Tune his due!”, entertainment columnist Michael Riedel writes “In the past, some lifetime achievers have been relegated to the pre-telecast ceremony, their speeches appearing only on YouTube.
“This shouldn’t happen to Tune!”
Also, to the end of having Tune appear live, theatrical blogger Richard Skipper has started a petition at Change.org that notes, “”I am addressing the fact that at The Tony Awards, The Lifetime Achievement Award will NOT be presented during The Tony telecast. I would like to change that! Can you weigh in with your thoughts? Please sign the petition and pay it forward.” That petition can be found via this link.
Another petition has been started to get the Tonys to broadcast the categories of Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. The petition, which was originated by those associated with The Interval, which is “a theatre website, founded to be a virtual home for female voices of the theatre,” is in response to the nominations of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron for Fun Home. Tesori and Kron wrote the score and Kron the book.
This petition questions, “When girls across the country turn on the Tony Awards, what do you want them to see?
“We want them to see that women can write musicals, and we think an important step in achieving this is that the Tony Awards broadcast the categories of Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical this year.”
That petition may be found here.
The Point Being
These movements to change what is broadcast live at the Tonys focuses on the fact that the point of the Tony Awards has been lost. If we cannot celebrate live those who have created the live theatrical events that are to be honored, then perhaps their needs to be truth in advertising. If the Tony Awards are a showcase for Broadway, then be honest and forthright about it. If they are a celebration of excellence, then make them such and honor those creative people as they should be. The Tony Award lineup for the CBS broadcast up has not yet been finalized. But it will need to be soon.