I'm not a huge fan of award shows, but if they have to exist I want them to be done well. Given that the Tony Awards are one of the few chances theater has for a showcase on national television, I worry about how theater is being presented not just to the people who are buying tickets but to those who might want to work in it someday.
Please, change the Tonys.
Sunday night's Tony Awards did not televise important awards. Best Orchestrations, Best Choreography and Best Book were given out during a pre-show called the Creative Arts Tony Awards, and Best Scenic, Best Lighting and Best Costume Design for both plays and musicals were given out during commercials. Snippets of acceptance speeches aired in between segments, but not broadcasting a category feels as though the Tonys do not consider that category important, especially when it was part of the broadcast in the past.
If the book of a musical is important enough to be blamed for a failed musical, then wouldn't it be important enough to be honored in the regular Tony broadcast? It should be paired with the Best Score category anyway, as bookwriters, composers and lyricists usually collaborate to write a musical.
Even the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to producer Emanuel 'Manny' Azenberg, and the Isabelle Stevenson Award, given to actress Bernadette Peters, as well as the Special Tony to Actors Equity, were not shown at all. How can the theater community expect audiences to love or even become excited about Broadway if it looks as though the Tonys don't show respect for all those being honored?
Why is this happening? There seemed to be an imbalance between the amount of musical theater production numbers and the time allotted for the actual awards. I love watching the musical numbers -- even a cruise ship production of Hairspray -- but if the ceremony is overstuffed with them, then of course not all the categories can fit. Yes, many eyes are watching Broadway, and it is a great opportunity to sell tickets, which in turn helps shows stay open, but I've always seen these Tony production numbers as celebrations of wonderful work, not just advertisements.
It could be because I was eight years old, but the Tonys seemed better back when I first watched them in 1991, less about selling the shows and more about celebrating them. I recently re-watched the 1991 Tonys and saw that all the awards were broadcast, even the design awards, although there were fewer design awards back then and those winners did not give speeches but stood up at their seats when their names were announced. There were also musical numbers from shows that were not nominated (they were tributes to older shows) and they even also had the touring production of Bye Bye Birdie broadcast live from Seattle. It had many of the same elements as this year's show, but it was more cohesive, more balanced.
The Tony Award ceremony will inevitably change over time, but I wish the producers would find a way to include more if not all categories in the broadcast, whether that means cutting other elements or reworking the format of the show entirely. When the Creative Arts Tony Awards aired on PBS in the late 1990s, the design awards were presented creatively, and all categories were shown. Maybe my expectations for the Tonys are too high given the demands of producing a show on network television. Maybe the exclusion of these categories is imperceptible to most viewers. But as someone who grew up watching the ceremonies and wanted to see theater and work in theater because of them, I do not think it is too much to ask to show audiences that everyone who is honored on Tony night is deserving of viewership.