I wouldn't believe it generally, but sometimes I suppose I can be far more cynical than necessary. I realize I've suddenly been writing (relatively) a lot about the Tony Awards, and considering that said prize covers an even smaller amount of important theater than the Oscars cover film, I almost feel like I've been mentioning them more than they deserve. But since I've been bemoaning the pending Tony sweep by Wicked over what is in my opinion the best new musical I've seen in at least the last five years, I was obviously incredibly surprised that the show which features stars made of felt and songs with titles such as "Schadenfreude," "If You Were Gay," "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," "The Internet Is For Porn" and "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" would win the prize for Best Musical. But tonight, Avenue Q was in fact the little David that beat the big, powerful, commercial Goliath. (Seriously, if you're in New York, go see the show. I've yet to give this recommendation to anyone and not have them love it. And if you're not, thankfully this win will help guarantee a national tour, so enjoy it when it comes to your town.)
Certainly, not that many people care. When Hugh Jackman joked during the show tonight (yeah, I even watched it) that 6,000 people were watching, relative to most awards shows, he wasn't kidding. The Tonys regularly receive low ratings. Part of the reason is because the show is so damn bad. Even the parts that should be entertaining -- the performances from the nominated musicals -- are often ruined by overdirection: too much cutting and too many closeups. These scenes are created for the stage; not for camera closeups, and a big production number such as "Defying Gravity" from Wicked was absolutely ruined onscreen because they didn't know how to shoot the damn thing.
Broadway theater is not what it once was. Whereas theater used to influence film with Broadway hits becoming fodder for big screen adaptations, these days Broadway producers are switching direction and the hot trend is to adapt movies into theater whether musicals such as The Producers, Hairspray and the currently in-the-works Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or stageplays such as The Graduate. Sure it still goes in the other direction too -- The fantastic Proof, a Tony winner for Best Play, will be released as a film later this year featuring a cast including Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis and Jake Gyllenhaal. (Sadly, they chose to use Gwynnie instead of Mary Louise Parker, a much better actress who brilliantly created the role both Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club and then later when it transferred to Broadway.) And thanks to the success of Chicago, everyone wants to make a musical now, so along with Rent (we know how I feel about that little project), we're also getting movie versions of The Producers starring not only Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but also Nicole Kidman.
But more importantly, Broadway is not always the big goal anymore. Many shows are perfectly content with smaller commercial productions that may not make as much money, but also won't stand to lose what most Broadway productions do. And the truth is, there is often (might I even say always?) better theater Off-Broadway or even Off-Off-Broadway and around the country in small regional theaters than there is on the "Great White Way." Certainly the risky, daring and challenging live theater rarely makes it to Broadway, which is why when a show like Avenue Q that is incredibly original is able to beat-out a huge commercial hit like Wicked, that's a good thing to me.
I don't see as much theater as I used to or I would like to. Broadway, especially, is just too damn expensive. When I moved to New York nearly eight years ago, the top price for an Orchestra seat at a musical was $65. Now, the usual price for Orchestra or Front Mezzanine seats are $100 or more. And personally, if I'm going to spend $65 for balcony seats, I might as well spend $100 to actually be able to see the damn stage. Are Broadway shows worth that ticket price? Mostly, no. And I don't have the money anyway. In a former job, I was able to expense all my theater tickets, so I saw everything. I also subscribed to several rep theaters around town and tried to attend a lot of smaller Off-Off shows too. But sadly, now I'm not in that position.
So I can't comment on Caroline, Or Change, of which I've heard both great and negative things, and which has a lot of fans. Who knows? Maybe I would think it's even better than Avenue Q (although I doubt it because sadly I see way too much of myself in the latter show), but I did see Wicked, and all I can say is, Thank you Tony voters for giving credit where credit is truly due and for, as one of the utterly shocked producers of Avenue Q said in his acceptance speech, "Thanks for voting with your heart." In the world of Broadway and commercial theater, that is often not the case.