Watching the Tony Awards always makes me feel a bit excited and a bit embarrassed. It's as if CBS let all my relatives put on a TV show for three hours, and they decided to perform skits about all our inside jokes. Since these shows that we're honoring haven't been around more than a year (most of them only a few months), and you can only see them in New York (for now, at least), they've only played to a hundred thousand people or so, and many of those people are probably watching the Lakers game anyway.
How many people could possibly be interested in this, other than the few dozen in Manhattan who work between 41st and 51st Street or who live between 59th and 92nd Street? What kind of awards show has a presentation from Barry Bostwick, whoever he is? What kind of awards show has to trot out the network's morning news anchor (Julie Chen), because they can't find other more famous celebrities? Why does CBS let them get away with it?
Adding to my embarrassment is that sometimes the Tonys isn't even displaying the best that theater can be. In each category, instead of picking among hundreds of choices, as you do for the Oscars, you have about a dozen. Half of those dozen are bad on the face of it, maybe three or four are fair, and maybe one or two are good and perhaps one is great. So nominations -- and song presentations on the Tonys -- are given to shows that most people agree were only ok or outright bad, and occasionally awards are too.
You see a little bit of the network's reservations shine through in the number of awards announced before the live broadcast -- the best play revival isn't announced on CBS live? -- but for the most part, they let these theater folk run free.
That being said, this year I was very impressed at how the shows looked on TV, especially "Passing Strange," "In the Heights" and even "South Pacific." Some shows had it tough -- "Xanadu" didn't show off how funny the show really is, and I'm not sure how that particular show could have, in only four minutes. The song from "Gypsy" was fantastic for us musical theater fans but to outsiders I feel like that show comes across as an "in" thing that only musical theater fans can get (maybe that's because before I actually saw and loved the last two Broadway versions, I remember seeing the Bette Middler TV version as a kid and being totally bewildered as to what was going on, and why she was called a stripper but didn't strip).
And if you told me in advance that Lin-Manuel Miranda would rap and Mark Rylance would recite a poem in their their acceptance speeches, I might have made a point to use their categories as bathroom breaks, but they actually came across as very charming.
I guess I should give the audience some credit. Even if some poor schmoes are roped into watching it because their girlfriend made them, or they want to see that cute drug dealer from "Weeds," or their remote control is broken, no one's forcing anyone not to turn off the TV.