Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Award for Least Relevant Award Show . . .

Stop your Sopranos griping. It’s over. As disappointing as it may have been, Sunday could have been worse, if say, you were producing the Tony Awards. Pending final numbers it may have been the award show’s record lowest rating. Two days after the fact, I just noticed my only rooting interest in the show, Julie White in The Little Dog Laughed, actually pulled off the upset, winning best actress in a play, despite having been closed for months.

What does it say that Americans turned away in droves from a celebration of Broadway’s finest? There is still money to be made there—just ask the producers of Jersey Boys. As an art form though, how vital are its signs of life? Jazz used to frequently adapt Broadway songs as vehicles for improvisation, and many classics of the American musical songbook remain in musicians’ repertoire today. Yet how many jazz versions of Grey Gardens songs have you heard? Who can even name a tune from Curtains? One has to wonder if Broadway can produce a hit song any longer.

During the late night Monday rebroadcast, some of NY1’s On-Stage commentators questioned whether there was a place for a Broadway award show on national television. The pessimist could conclude people are increasingly less comfortable with live entertainment that cannot be fast-forwarded, paused, or rewound.

Broadway book musicals and jazz have some common ancestry, rooted in the early Broadway revues of ragtime musicians like James Reese Europe and Joe Jordan. It would be nice to see both genres financially and artistically successful. (Broadway still has the former, while jazz claims the latter.) For those outside of New York it may well be harder to experience either in a genuine live setting, which explains the collective yawn for Sunday’s Tony broadcast.