Monday 10 June 2013

Why the Tony Awards were so much better than the Oliviers

The above video shows a scene from Family Guy in which they parody a performance from the Tony Awards in which the ever-increasing number of performers sing ‘If more people join in, the song will get better’. They soon are walking in the aisles and chanting how their close proximity to the audience can trick people into thinking it makes for a better performance.

Watching Neil Patrick Harris’ truly spectacular opening number to this year’s Tony Awards makes me wonder if there was a touch of self-consciousness and self-parody in the routine. I fear that non-theatre lovers will rate the performance as cheesy and self-indulgent without fully appreciating the underlying tone of the performers and audience together embracing the in-jokes and light self-mockery alongside the unapologetic showmanship of it all. The Barnum-like Patrick Harris led the routine which featured Mike Tyson, cast members from quite probably every Broadway musical and an incredible magic trick was a brilliant tribute to the past season.

Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots walked away with an impressive six awards including Best Musical, Best Choreographer and Best Actor in a leading role. Although it beat Matilda the Musical, they should also be proud of their five awards including Best Book, Best Design and Sound Design, Best Actor in a featured role and Special Achievement awards for the four Matildas. However, they didn’t do as well as perhaps expected and certainly didn’t match their record-breaking number of Oliviers.

For plays, the Chekhovian Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang and starring David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver, was awarded Best Play and the 50th anniversary production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf won best revival along with Tracy Letts winning Best Actor. We also learnt that Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy, which sees Tom Hanks (don’t forget to thank him!) making his Broadway debut, is not planning a West End run at the moment, even if it did win awards for Best Actor in a featured role for Courtney B Vance and best lighting design for a play. Other success stories of the night were The Trip to Bountiful, Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Pippin (Best Revival of a musical) including Sister Act’s Patina Miller winning Best Actress in a leading role in a musical for the latter.

The Tony Awards have more categories than the Olivier Awards in some aspects, which makes it fairer for the ‘Featured/ Supporting’ awards. But also where the Olivier Awards seem to go wrong is in its coverage. After all, I think that a Tony and an Olivier are equally prestigious but you wouldn’t think so when watching them. The pride and glamour on show at last night’s ceremony made this year’s Oliviers seem apologetic to be televised as if we had to be grateful for the little airtime that they received. And what about the content? No mash-up or tribute for London theatre. Instead we get the ubiquitous Sheridan Smith singing a song from a Broadway musical that hasn’t been seen in the West End since the early 1960s and which now almost always sounds dated. We may get performances from musicals but not quite to the same quality as some from the Tonys (although judging by the pretty poor offering of new musicals for this year’s London ceremony it might not be a bad idea to save some money in that area).

So, Society Of London Theatre, please take note to last night’s Tony Awards – it needs to be bigger and perhaps a giant replica Olivier will help!

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