Tuesday, June 8, 2004

The Tony Awards

Yeah, OK, I'm gonna get all Theatre-Geeky on you for an entry.  It happens.  Bear with me (or just skip the entry and come back tomorrow, when I'm sure I'll be whining about home improvement again).

I'm going to skip right past the bit where I complain about the really small percentage of people who actually watched the Tony Awards (and, really, more people should -- I mean, yeah, sure, you probably don't give a hoot about who wins awards for shows you haven't seen -- but the Tonys are an advance preview of shows that may be Coming Soon To A Theatre Near You, and it's always nice to get a free look so you know what you might want to see).

But what I want to talk about here is the difference between Tony voters and Oscar voters -- and how these differences are things to keep in mind when attempting to predict awards.

I think that, in addition to actual quality (which I'm sure is something of a factor), the two principles that govern who is going to win an Oscar are:  The Academy pays its debts and The Academy loves a landslide.

Both of the principles were on display this year.  Let's face it, Return of the King wasn't outrageously better directed than the first two Lord of the Rings movies (in fact, one might say it was the weakest of the three -- given that the battle sequences looked particularly computer generated, and the ending did tend to go on rather longer than it should).  But the point was, Peter Jackson was damn well owed a Best Director Oscar, and unless Return of the King stunk up the screen (which it didn't), Oscar voters were going to give it to him.  And, it ended up winning 11 awards.  Eleven!  Now, there certainly isn't always a sweep, but the Oscars seem to like them -- when they can legitimately give a huge pile of awards to a movie, they do that.  Seems like they think it's good for the movie business to have a big honkin' winner to get excited about.

Now, the Tonys work on a rather different principle.  Sure, there's that quality thing again, but in addition, we have the principle that Tony voters (at least in recent years) like to spread the awards around.  Take a look at this year -- there were four shows nominated for Best Musical.  The Boy From Oz took Best Actor; Caroline or Change took Best Supporting Actress; Wicked took Best Actress; and Avenue Q took Best Score and Book and (in a huge upset) Best Musical.  But nobody went home empty-handed.  And, in recent years, there has been an unusual history of one show winning Best Score & Book and another winning Best Musical (a split that, at first glance, seems contradictory).  But Urinetown and Thoroughly Modern Millie did it in 2002; Parade and Fosse did it in 1999; Ragtime and Lion King did it in 1998; and there were three separate winners for these three awards in 2000. 

The aberration, of course, was 2001, when the Tonys went against form and gave a sweep to The Producers.  A result which, at least from my point of view, made for an extremely dull Tony telecast (you could see the sweep coming as soon as The Producers won one of the early awards it had serious competition for).  In retrospect, it seems like the result was also bad for business -- the shows that went home empty-handed had a harder time staying open on Broadway and publicizing themselves on tour; and The Producers ended up with a "best thing that's ever been" reputation that it had trouble living up to.

I think Broadway is realizing that it is something of a niche market, so getting people interested in any show is ultimately good for business -- after all, it might lead to more people becoming theatre fans.  Which might explain the very high percentage of acceptance speeches Sunday night in which the award winner went on about how great everyone else in the category was (something you generally see once or twice on the Oscars, but which was pretty much the theme of the Tonys this year). 

So I think the Tony voters do make a conscious decision to spread things around -- and, moreover, I think they're right to do it.

1 comment:

annalisa135 said...

yeah, it's moments like this where i am in awe of your "cultured" side.  giggling.  

yep, "theatre-geeky" fits quite well.  but i still think you're awesome!!!