06/13/2012 08:41 am ET Updated Aug 13, 2012

The Tony Awards: Broadway's Most Religious Event?

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain," reads the third commandment in the famous Ten! I thought of this when watching the Tony Awards last Sunday night on TV. They opened with the super neat evangelical men from "The Book of Mormon" singing the name of Jesus as the first production number from a Broadway musical. And the cast of the revival "Jesus Christ Superstar" followed shortly after, with their title song. It was exhilarating or blasphemous, depending on your point of view.

As the late Christopher Hitchens opined -- because The Ten Commandments, ostensibly given by God to Moses, were supposedly set in stone that still doesn't make all the commandments crystal clear. Hitchens claimed that there are three or four wildly different scriptural versions of the famed "Ten." Hitchens also said that these commandments should be considered a "work in progress" because they differ from Exodus 20 to Exodus 34 to Deuteronomy 5 and have "additions" and "changes" in the St. James Bible and elsewhere, just as the River Jordan comes into view. Here's Hitchens: "As with the gold plates on which Joseph Smith found the Book of Mormon in upstate New York, no traces of any of these original or conflicting tablets survive."

So to say something is or isn't "written in stone" makes the commandments suspect, at least to the writer Hitchens. Saying the name of God could be blasphemy but Hitchens maintained it was just a case of "injured vanity" on the part of the Almighty, as in "Nobody knows how to obey this commandment, or how to avoid blasphemy or profanity. I say 'God alone knows' when I mean to say 'nobody knows.' Is this ontologically dangerous? Ought not unalterable laws be plain and unambiguous?" asks Hitchens.

And then, the holy one we saw sang about at the Tony Awards was Jesus and not everybody believes that he (He?) was the son of God? Maybe it's all a sign of a general revival of interest in religion and Christianity? But Jesus got more mentions at the Tony Awards than the Shuberts or Nedlerlanders or Jujamcyns or even of producer Scott Rudin!

  • Not everybody in New York sticks around all weekend in the five boroughs in order to be sure they see the Sunday New York Post. So I think I'm safe re-reporting something that has high interest if you are a Broadway baby or someone following the finances of NYC's theater which is worth almost 10 billion to the city. I'm talking of Post critic-columnist Michael Riedel's recently headlined story -- "The Man Who Saved Spidey." This usually tough-on-theater-hype writer was talking about press agent Rick Miramontez and his successful campaign to keep buyers coming for the once beleaguered "Spider-Man" musical. And reporter Riedel admits he'd been hard on the production through all of its troubles, backstage fights, accidents, and ongoing lawsuits. For a while there, nobody thought the musical could recover. Riedel then cited the genial Mr. Miramontez as doing such great publicity that he pulled the show out of the doldrums and made it a hit. Some folks from my office went to see "Spider-Man" last weekend. They took relatives from Ohio and all of them gave "Spider-Man" a huge rave. They could care less about the Tonys or the fact that the very smart Miramontez gave away tickets the day of the Tony Awards to people named Tony! None of them were named Tony so the story went over their heads. But not anyone who observed the damage reporter Riedel delivered in the past when he had an ailing "Spider-Man" in his sights. Now that reality has changed. And Riedel is first to admit it. So, if you haven't seen Spider-Man" yet, and you love theater--or, if you're one of those people who can't wait to see a man walk on a wire over Niagara Falls, be sure to get yourself to the Foxwoods Theater. "Spider-Man" the musical and the coming film of the series are all an important part of comic book entertainment history. The film, to star Andrew Garfield and be named "The Amazing Spiderman" will simply re-invent and hype interest in Broadway. There is nothing quite like a real live incarnation of "Spider-Man" sailing right over your head.
  • We've spoken recently about the coming movie "Liz and Dick." Well, there is a wonderful novel, just out, using the filming of the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie "Cleopatra" as a partial background in the Sixties. "Beautiful Ruins" refers to a forbidding section of the Italian coast down from Genoa where a romantic guy comes in contact with a movie starlet. I don't want to tell you more, but I see that in this very mise en scene -- Petrarch invented the sonnet, Byron, James, Lawrence wrote and Boccaccio invented realism, Percy Shelley created poetry and then drowned near here and Mary Shelley dreamed up the horror novel. So you just know that author Jess Walter can really write too. (He is known for his award-winning fiction and the acclaimed "The Financial Lives of the Poets.") And when it comes to a more modern day horror vision of Hollywood, where artistic writers settle for getting "a pitch" - a description where one tries to sell an idea for a great film or even a commercial movie - well, the author's been there'n'done that too. The Hollywood version of creative hell is all here for everyone who ever thought about it. "Beautiful Ruins" from Harper is well worth your time, especially if you THINK you have a fabulous idea for a movie.