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the statuette at the center of the universe
this year's tony for most superfluous award show goes to....
by erik lars myers (@TopFermented)
pop culture

The Tony Awards were last week! Did you:

- See them?
- Even know they were going to happen?
- Read about them on your MSN start page the next day?
- Care about the results whatsoever?

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, I'm sorry to say, you may live outside of New York City.

In case you did miss them, let me give you a quick rundown of the major results.

Best Play was given to 219 West 48th Street, New York, NY, Best Musical went to 225 West 44th Street, New York, NY, Best Revival of a Play went to 242 West 45th Street, New York, NY and Best Revival of a Musical went to 1535 Broadway, New York, NY. Gosh. Such spectacular neighbors. It's a wonder anybody can pay the rent.

What's more important though is that Bill Irwin finally won the award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play -- after all these years! All those nominations! Always to go home empty handed! And this year? VOILA! Edward Albee comes through for him! Amazing. You may have heard of Bill Irwin. No? He's been in a bunch of shows on Broadway.

Ah! Sorry. You must live outside of New York City.

Billy Crystal won Best Theatrical Event. Did you know that Billy Crystal had an "event" on Broadway? No? Ah! Sorry. You must live etc., etc. Do I need to finish it?

Of course, I don't want to sully the fine people of New York and suggest that they have any idea what's going on in the theater world that oozes under their very noses -- at least the few with the 6-figure salaries who can actually afford to live in Manhattan. No. Far from it. What I want to sully are these absurd notions that good professional theater only happens in New York City.

And, no. I'm not just a bitter Red Sox fan with a chip on my shoulder about New York City. Okay. I am a Red Sox fan who was previously bitter and may have had an itsy bitsy little chip, but this doesn't affect my opinion on this topic one whit. Seriously.

No, the fact is, is that the theatrical culture of the U.S. still revolves around the ideas set forth by Gene Kelly during the big dance number in Singin' in the Rain in 1952. That idea? That New York City is the place to go to make it big. One might note that Singin' In the Rain takes place in Hollywood, and is about making movies. Just sayin'.

It turns out, and you might be surprised to learn this, that there are professional theaters in every moderately sized city in the country. Many of them put on shows that rival, and even far exceed their cousins on Broadway. Unfortunately, they don't have the street address and the giant marketing machine of The Big Apple to back them up.

To be fair, there is one award for theaters outside New York City. This year, the Regional Theater Tony Award® went to Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I couldn't tell you the criteria upon which the theater was selected, however, because it doesn't appear to be published anywhere. But, hey! Good for them! They got a pat on the head from the REAL talent in New York City. Way to go, guys!

You'd think that an organization calling themselves The American Theater Wing would at least attempt to do a review of the best currently running show in each major city. Why focus entirely on New York when there's a whole country out there?

I hear you. "Because it's New York! It's Broadway!"

Sorry. For the most part, Broadway is the Budweiser of theater. It's washed out spectacle that appeals to the board masses. It's created so that high school field trippers from Nebraska will plunk down $75 for a back row ticket where they can plug in the headphones so that they can hear the sound, watch the show through binoculars and be thrilled by the feats of technical wizardry performed by a tech crew behind actors that have all the chemistry of wet cardboard.

Certainly, there are exceptions. But when a show has a run of performances that number in the thousands, you're not seeing something ragingly brilliant. You're seeing a shitty rehash of "Phantom of the Opera" starring the sixth backup soprano -- sorry, the main Christine doesn't perform on Tuesdays. You want to see craft -- real true acting craft -- go Off-Broadway where people are doing it because they love doing it, not because they're getting paid for it. Where they have to leave each performance and go wait tables for the rest of the evening so they can pay rent. That's where you'll find the true brilliance.

You go to every other city in the country where the people who are acting are doing it here because they're tired of all the bullshit that says that New York City is the center of the theater universe and maybe if they're good enough, they can make it here, in St. Louis or Chicago or Topeka or Austin or wherever, instead.

And will you find a Tony award? Hell no. New York City only. It's in the rules. Broadway only. Off-Broadway is not considered. In fact, if a show premieres Off-Broadway or in another city, does fantastically, and then is re-done on Broadway? That's in the running for Best New Play. Oh no, honey. Nothing even exists before it happens on Broadway. And that, my friends, is total bullshit.

How do we fix it? Stop supporting it.

Haven't I written this part of the column before?

Seriously. Did you watch the Tonys? Shame on you. You could have been out at the theater, instead. I bet they would have appreciated the ticket sale. Instead, you parked your lazy ass in front of CBS and let them force feed you a big greasy spoonful of, "Don't you wish you lived here."

So long as anybody gives the impression that they care about something as obtusely superfluous as the Tony Awards, the vultures in New York City will continue to rip at the dessicated remains of the theater industry to add three more blinky lights to the front of the Majestic. You want to hear about the plays? Subscribe to the New Yorker. At least they occasionally write about things outside of "The City." But please, help CBS or whoever gets the rights to it next year lose money on broadcasting this weak attempt at metrocentrism. Change the channel. Rent a movie. Go to your nearest urban center and watch a play for crissakes. If you want to support theater, support all of it.


Writer, beer drinker, brewer. Not necessarily in the order. For more, check Top Fermented and Mystery Brewing Company.

more about erik lars myers


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topic: pop culture
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tracey kelley
6.15.05 @ 1:03a

Oooo, Heather is so going to smack you... oooo.

But isn't Broadway the Hollywood of the stage? a veritable industry without which no other form of the art would exist? Oh sure, sometimes the indies matter, but it's the mainstream that pulls success, yes?

I haven't been to a stage performance in quite some time. I am, indeed, lacking.

And no - I could give a hoot about the Tonys.

stephen cook
6.15.05 @ 2:33a

Everyone must plan a trip to NYC to see a show. You don't know what you're missing. You can get the vibe in your home town if a play is touring though. Check out RENT.

Now if you can.

drew wright
6.15.05 @ 2:59a

The Light of the Piazza had its debut here in seattle back in 2003, does that count. Long way from broadway. The place that it debuted is tiny also.

erik myers
6.15.05 @ 8:19a

Stephen, the only good shows I've seen in NYC are Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.

Those don't count for the Tonys.

My feeling about Broadway, as someone who has studied acting through my life, is that it's more important for people who watch theater than people who are actually in it. I think most actors view Broadway as a way to get paid more for their work, but it's not like it's some artistic pinnacle that one needs to climb for the most success.


They buy into the spectacle.

So, yes, in a sense it's like the Hollywood of the Theater world in that 95% of what they churn out is utter crap that's meant to appeal to widest masses to turn the biggest buck, but not necessarily the best *theater performances* out there.

My point here is that the level of talent on might expect on Broadway is found in MORE places than on Broadway, and I find it baffling that their awards show is so egotistical so as to only include theater performances in a 6 block radius and yet it's shown on national television and people go completely freakin' crackers over it.


sandra thompson
6.15.05 @ 8:44a

You aren't suggesting that there's something other than wilderness and savages west of the Hudson, are you?

sarah ficke
6.15.05 @ 10:01a

I think the point isn't even that there isn't good theater on Broadway, but that the good theater that starts somewhere else - Chicago, or Off-Broadway, or wherever - is always going to run off to Broadway given the chance because that is where the marketing is. And then there are the Broadway shows that are just crap.

tracey kelley
6.15.05 @ 10:44a

I can get wine in the lobby of the Des Moines Civic Center, so thhhppt.

Rent. I saw it once. That was enough. Like Phantom, it's WAAAAAY over-rated.

We don't need to go to Broadway. If we wait long enough, a touring production comes our way, and it's usually pretty good. My problem is that I'm not going out to enough small productions locally. The last one I saw was a take off Bogsian's "Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead", in which the players here turned the monologue into in 12-part piece, and I thought that was pretty cool.

Would I have liked to see Erik McCormack portray Prof. Harold Hill in the Music Man on Broadway? Sure. But if I won't pay $100 to see U2, I'm sure the hell not going to sit in the nosebleed seats to see McCormack do what Robert Preston did best anyway.

russ carr
6.15.05 @ 11:00a

Some -- no, MOST -- of the best theater I've seen has been community theater. And while no, I haven't been to Broadway, I've seen "original Broadway cast" tours of stuff in other towns, and it's fine. Not earth-shatteringly different.

Today's Tony winners were yesterday's rep trodders. Are you going to see The Producers because it's funny, or because Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are in it? Remember the Bard: The play's the thing.

jael mchenry
6.15.05 @ 11:17a

I've seen good and bad stuff on Broadway, and good and bad stuff here in DC. And good and bad stuff in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

I guess I don't get up in arms about the Tony Awards because I don't watch them, I haven't heard anyone in my office mention them, and most of my friends, like me, didn't even know they were on.

The Oscars don't really reflect quality in movies; why should the Tonys be any different? Do the Grammys reflect quality in music?

Does anyone else have trouble typing "Tonys" instead of "Tonies" even though they know it's right?

brian anderson
6.15.05 @ 11:31a

The Academy Awards are at least more open than the Tonys are. The Regional Theater award that Erik mentions in his article is not even selected by the American Theatre Wing; the American Theatre Critics Association, which has a much larger purview than Broadway, recommends that award.

The Tonys, by being limited to Broadway, are simply considering the mass-audience large-expense productions: the Oscars don't limit themselves, for example, to movies that only opened on 3000 or more screens (technically, a film is eligible for an Oscar by running on one screen in LA).

Not all good plays make it to Broadway, due to the nature of the beast. Sequels are what sell well in movies, and by the same token revivals and musicals are the bread'n'butter of B-way (the Tonys have a "Best Revival" award). In addition, it's *expensive* to put a Broadway production up: Neil Simon, of all people, has had a play open off-Broadway because it was simply too expensive to produce on-. All this means that Broadway is geared to spectacle and comedy rather than experimentation or drama.

All that said, Bill Irwin has a *wonderful* physical presence.

heather millen
6.16.05 @ 12:32p

OH-KAY. I've been contemplating where to begin. First of all, it is ludicrous to suggest that the Tonys honor theatre country-wide. On a sheer logistical note, it's impossible. Many larger cities have their own version of awards (in Boston it's the Elliott Nortons) which I think do a fine job of honoring all ranges of theatre in their communities ranging from small companies to touring productions.

Good stuff does happen on Broadway. And first-run tours are wonderful restagings that spare no cost. I'll be the first to admit that tours that have been going for years suck. I recently sat through Phantom and they have officially ruined everything that was good about it in the beginning. Which is fitting, since they're now turning it into a 90 minute Vegas sideshow (no lie!) And I do not endorse non-equity tours. We have freakin' ANNIE coming... with Mackenzie Phillips, for chrissakes!

But then there's something like Wicked that comes along which is just freakin' brilliant. The music, the story, the way that it deviates from the usual camp of Broadway musicals and is just incredibly smart. Or I Am My Own Wife which is BRILLIANT and moving and a performance you will long remember.

There is some great regional theatre out there, but there is also a whole lotta CRAP. Just because it's "outside the box" or not part of the spectacle, doesn't make it any better by an artistic standpoint.

I agree that people should support theater more. ALL theater. Because there's nothing like the connection that you feel as part of a live audience and TV and movies do not provide that.


erik myers
6.16.05 @ 3:39p

First of all, it is ludicrous to suggest that the Tonys honor theatre country-wide.

I couldn't agree with you more.

However, by broadcasting the Tonys nationwide, the NYC theater scene is getting WAY more attention than it necessarily deserves, and other cities are being slighted.

I also agree that a lot of regional theater churns out a bunch of crap, but no more than NYC churns out, so why are we focusing there?

Because at some point, some jackass decided that NYC was the center of the universe, and therefore the Tonys should be broadcast and not, say, the Elliot Nortons.

You see what I'm saying? The average American believes what their television tells them. You tell them that Theater-with-a-capital-T only happens on Broadway and that's frickin' gospel.

I'm not saying that Broadway doesn't have good shows. On the contrary. There are some great ones; I'd LOVE to see Avenue Q and Spam-A-Lot AND Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, for instance. However, the vast majority of what goes on is crap. Shit, sometimes shows get nominated for Tonys just because there's been no other new shows in their category that year, and then they get to put a Tony on their poster, and then they get more tickets sales because people saw them on the Tonys and... bullshit.

The focus that the Tonys bring to NYC is VERY unbalanced and really gives most of the rest of the country the excuse to avoid watching theater in their own area because they're given the opportunity to believe that nothing regional could possibly live up to the Tonys.

jael mchenry
6.16.05 @ 3:42p

The average American believes what their television tells them. You tell them that Theater-with-a-capital-T only happens on Broadway and that's frickin' gospel.

I bet you $5 the average American has never seen a Tony broadcast.

erik myers
6.16.05 @ 3:46p

Oh, come on. On a Sunday night on CBS?

It's the lead in from.. what.. 60 Minutes?

heather millen
6.16.05 @ 4:08p

I'm IN theatre. We had the tryout of Virginia Woolf and I still only watched half of the Tonys. I'm willing to double Jael's bet.

I don't see how it's different than any other awards show. In that mindset, the Oscars are keeping people from watching Jimmy Sprinkle's independent film that he made for his thesis in theatre arts at Emerson.

erik myers
6.16.05 @ 4:20p

You don't think that's true?

erik myers
6.16.05 @ 4:21p

Let me re-attack that.

You don't think it's true that people are more likely to go see a movie if they know it's being considered for an Oscar?

heather millen
6.16.05 @ 4:53p

I think that it might encourage SOME people. But the mass population you reference actually shys AWAY from Oscar movies, considering them "boring." They're too busy waiting in line to see Independence Day for the 7th time.

erik myers
6.16.05 @ 4:59p

Then why do marketers plaster it all over the posters?

You see my point? My point (one of many, it seems) is that the Tonys are absurd and superfluous because they represent a very small percentage of the amount of GREAT theater out there.

You do theater in Boston - don't you think ticket sales would go up if the Elliot Nortons were televised?

And for the record, Jimmy Sprinkle's indy film is nothing compared to Annie Sprinkle's indy film. And neither have been considered for Oscars.


heather millen
6.16.05 @ 5:50p

It is good marketing. But not a particularly good or watched show. And if they televised the Elliot Nortons, I think no one would watch. That shit is boring.

Interesting tidbit, Wicked doesn't use the word "Tony" in any of their advertising. And they sold out in Chicago in 10 days.

erik myers
6.16.05 @ 6:10p

That's because it didn't win a Tony.

heather millen
6.17.05 @ 4:09p

It won 3 Tonys and had 10 nominations. Just not Best Musical. Avenue Q did. Which brings up another smart, unique Broadway musical. Not just powerhouse trash.

Many shows I've dealt with even use nominations as marketing clout.


erik myers
6.19.05 @ 8:19p

Well.. people from the show won Tonys. Best Actress, Best Costume Design, and Best Scenic Design.

But once those people are no longer with the show it's not exactly something you can tout.

"An actress doing this show won a Tony - you can watch her replacement!"


Anyway - so you're agreeing with me.

heather millen
6.21.05 @ 5:12p

Are you telling me how to do my job, bucko? Cause you can tout it all, baby, and they won't spend a split-second questioning it.

mike julianelle
6.21.05 @ 5:15p


erik myers
6.21.05 @ 11:10p

Cause you can tout it all, baby, and they won't spend a split-second questioning it.

I just questioned it!

But it's okay, because you're just agreeing with me. :D

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