I recently had to contemplate the prospect of, for the first time in 14 years, missing the live telecast of the Tonys. And unlike most of those years, there wasn’t even going to be a VHS with the telecast recorded in its entirety for me to pop in any time I wanted. I was crestfallen. The Tonys are when theatre people all over the country sit down, forget our differences, and celebrate what we do and what we hope and dream. It is the culmination of a year of following what happens on Broadway, the most visible theatrical season in the world. It was hard to think about missing this experience until I realized that it only recently became about that for me. It started out as the best, and often only way to see production numbers from musicals.
Let me take you back to 2001. In a nutshell, there was no YouTube. When I first started going in search of the smallest taste of what was happening on Broadway, video footage was hard to find, it was often fuzzy, and the clips weren’t more than half a minute long. Broadway.com’s video features about rehearsals and opening nights provided me with most of it, and sometimes NY1 reviews were posted online, too. Occasionally, but not often enough, a musical number would be performed on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, the only talk show I watched at the time. So, when the 2001 Tonys came on (the telecast was split between PBS and CBS, and the transition, done that year by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, was hilarious), I had seen a very small fraction of anything that happened in the nominated shows. That night, I feasted.
That was before I even really knew what a play was, beyond being a musical without music. It was a couple of years before I started paying attention to the plays that opened on Broadway, and even revivals of musicals took a backseat initially. Eventually, though, I did briefly care who won which awards, although only once did a win actually cause me to leap from my seat and pace around in anger. I won’t say what it was, but it happened. The shows I rooted for in any given season rarely won, if they were even nominated, if they were even still open by Tony time. I once won a contest by predicting 19 out of the 21 awards given during the 2004 Tonys. You can probably guess what I got wrong, and I haven’t gotten that close since. I’ve never been too invested in that aspect of it.
Now I watch a lot more talk shows, most of which film in New York City and frequently feature performances from musicals. When I miss a performance at the time of airing, I know it will be on YouTube or the talk show’s homepage within a few hours, or on a different talk show the next day. Just today, I watched the charming children from Fun Home perform on The View at 11:45am, and then at 6pm I showed my roommate the video online. The increasingly original and exciting Tony opening numbers also end up on YouTube, though, I admit, those can be particularly fun to watch live. Even entire Tony ceremonies show up on YouTube, much to CBS’s displeasure, I imagine, so I’m not worried I’ll really miss any of what made them so important to me all those years ago.
And what of the feeling of sitting down “with” my fellow show people for the habitual viewing of the telecast and snarking about it on facebook? Well, there’s no replacing that, but unlike when I was first watching (when there wasn’t any facebook either, come to think of it), I live in New York City, now. I’ve seen two of the nominated Best Musicals, and a few other productions, and I stand a decent chance at seeing others. As great as it is watching a live television event “with” the community, I get to be in the thick of what’s happening on Broadway a lot more often these days.
Ritual is great, but so is freedom, and that is what my epiphany gave me. I will always love watching the Tonys, and I will always love hearing and reading complaints about them even more. But knowing that missing this year’s telecast will not be the end of the world is a huge relief. I encourage everyone who can to watch the Tonys live. They need the ratings, and it is the most exciting night of television all year (maybe I’m biased). Even if their meaning has changed for me, my relationship with the Tonys is still one of love and affection, so far one sided, and they are still Broadway’s best outreach to the rest of the world. They’ve come so far from lighters and compacts, and they continue to grow and blossom, even if they hit the occasional rough patch. That’s why, wherever I am two Sundays from now, and whatever I’m doing, I will be rooting for the Tonys. And Fun Home.