The Tony Awards had a real Jesus fixation this year. There was not just one musical performance centered around Jesus but four. Broadway is in the midst of a religious trend, from last year's The Book of Mormon and Sister Act to this year's Jesus Christ Superstar, Leap of Faith, and Godspell. This makes sense. Broadway relies heavily on out-of-towners buying tickets. Many of these tourists come from parts of the U.S. where religion is central to their environments. These folks want to see a Broadway show while in the big city, so why not choose one that shares their values and faith?
Many award shows, not just the Tonys, abound in Jesus love. Winners stand before the audience, clutching their newly won prize, tears in their eyes, thanking Jesus and God for all His mercy for receiving this award (except for Kathy Griffin, of course, who famously stated, "Suck it, Jesus!" when receiving her Emmy.) Singers and dancers praising Jesus on the Tonys, then, is not all that surprising.
What is ironic about the Tony Awards telecast featuring so many religious numbers is the fact that the Tonys are gayer than Mary Poppins' umbrella. Openly gay Tony host Neil Patrick Harris joked at the top of the show, "Welcome to the 66th annual Tony Awards, or as we like to call it, 50 Shades of Gay." It is no secret that Broadway, and theater in general, is populated with a large percentage of gay people. I would presume that many of the shows catering to religious tourists have their fair share of gays onstage and off. Some of these tourists, after enjoying their Jesus-on-Broadway experience, will go home to their homophobic communities. Will their views change? Do they even know that they were surrounded by gays during their trip to New York?
I am a member of the larger theater community, and I can report that, on the whole, the theater world is devoid of homophobia. Straight allies abound, and they work side by side with their gay colleagues.
Why are so many gay people drawn to work in theater? Two reasons, in my opinion:
- Theater accepts everyone and values diversity. The more unique and different you are in life, the more special you are onstage. The overweight kid bullied in high school is gorgeous in the spotlight. The gay boy who can sing and dance is not an object of ridicule onstage; he is appreciated and applauded.
- Gay people are forced to be creative and to play roles from a very young age. Acting becomes part of our nature, because we are forced to be who others want us to be rather than who we may really be on the inside. Gay people are good actors because we have been practicing all our lives.
Neil Patrick Harris asked in his Tony opening number, "What if life were more like theater?" Well, one answer to that question is that, if life were more like theater, gays and religion would coexist in harmony.
Kristin Chenoweth, the brilliantly talented Broadway star, exemplifies this idea. Ms. Chenoweth is a proud Christian and speaks often of her strong faith. She is also a staunch gay-rights advocate. Her vocal support for the gays resulted in the loss of some of her Christian fans. However, she did not yield to the pressure. In an interview with Piers Morgan, she reiterated her support for the gay community: "If it was a sin to be short, what would I do? Well, I'd be right on the hell bus ... I don't believe God makes mistakes, and that includes a person's sexuality."
So, if life were more like theater, then more Christians would be like Kristin Chenoweth. Churches and preachers would not draw battle lines and cause such pain and heartache for the gay community; they would send messages of love and support.
Who knows? Maybe life is becoming more like theater. Just this week country-music star Carrie Underwood (a serial God thanker on the award-show circuit) cited faith as the reason that she supports gay rights: "Above all, God wanted us to love others ... We're all different. That's what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It's not up to me to judge anybody."