June 13, 2007

Tweaking the Tonys

O.K. So, the ratings for Sunday night's Tony Awards broadcast, which faced-off against both the finale of "The Sopranos" and the NBA finals, were down 20%. And it's true there were only a few surprises when the awards were announced because, as predicted, The Coast of Utopia and Spring Awakening took most of the prizes. But it was still a terrific celebration of Broadway.

I loved the wacky way Julie White burbled on when she accepted the Best Actress award (which was a surprise) for the long closed The Little Dog Laughed; and the exultant little jig Bill T. Jones did when he literally danced down the aisle to collect his award for the cathartic choreography he created for Spring Awakening; and the defiant passion of Bill Haber's explanation about why he decided to produce the WWI drama Journey's End despite the fact that no production of the 78 year old play has ever made money; and Frank Langella's eloquent tribute to his fellow actors when he claimed the Best Actor award for his performance in Frost/Nixon [click here to read all the speeches]; and the movie trailer-style film clips of all 35 shows from the past season—the hits and the misses. I just wish there had been more award categories.

I'm not suggesting that the Tonys go the way of the Grammys with 3,917 different categories or the Olympics which is so eager to appear hip that it seems ready to declare a competition for one-handed fry pan sautéing. But as Broadway adds new elements to make itself more relevant to 21st century audiences, I think the people who create those parts of its magic should be recognized along with their peers. I'm speaking primarily of the projection designers and the sound designers, particularly those who compose scores for straight plays. This isn't a radical proposal; the Tonys have a history of creating awards—and abolishing them (Best Conductor got pushed off the podium after 1964). There are currently 25 categories and there were only 11 when the prizes were first given out in 1947. A Best Play award wasn't included until the next year and one for Best Musical wasn't introduced until 1949 (Kiss Me, Kate got that one). The award for lighting was added in 1970, one for orchestrations in 1997 and the Special Theatrical Event, won this year by ventriloquist show Jay Johnson: My Two and Only, was established just in 2001.

If the Lighting Designer deserves a nod, and I totally agree that Kevin Adams contributed to the gestalt of Spring Awakening, then why shouldn't the Sound Designer be eligible for one? And it's not just because my husband K is a pit musician that I think the guys who write what's called the "original music" for straight plays should be recognized. The swirling overture Mark Bennett wrote for The Coast of Utopia played when each of the show’s record 7 awards was announced on Sunday night and hearing it transported me instantly back to the experience of that remarkable trilogy. In movies, they call it a soundtrack. The people at Ghostlight Records are calling Bennett's score "music from the play." Whatever. They released an album of it yesterday. Like me, you probably missed the launch party at the Lincoln Square Barnes and Noble in Manhattan but all of us, even the people who determine Tony categories, can get the CD at a local B&N or at Amazon.com.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes! I completely agree that it's about time the Tonys award distinguished contributions for both sound and projection design.

Now that I've finally had a chance to view most of the awards (thanks to Tivo and a friend in Providence, RI), I agree that the awards ceremony was pretty entertaining from the speeches to the musical numbers (although I doubt Christine Ebersole's number will encourage many in the audience to rush out and by tickets - it didn't translate well on TV).


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Cheers to you for advocating a sound design award. I'm thrilled by the Tony news. Next stop: projection design and, what I'm also hoping for, an ensemble award.