Hot take: Every production that plays on Broadway for an extended period of time should be REQUIRED to provide tickets to Tony Awards voters.
Though various shows over the years have opted out of this prerequisite to qualify for official consideration, the first instance that really bothered me occurred last season. The revival of Sunday in the Park with George was my single favorite Broadway production of the year. And yet, since Jake Gyllenhaal’s busy schedule only afforded him to star in it for a few months — closing before the Tony Awards ceremony — and since his celebrity ensured that the limited run would sell out without the financial attention garnered by Tony nominations and wins, the producers decided to recuse the production from eligibility.
The problem with this thinking, at least from my idealistic perspective: Economics should not be the sole consideration of the the Tony Awards. Yes, they can make a difference for the life of a show, but they also (imperfectly, of course) record for posterity the best of theatre from decade to decade. When my granddaughter looks back through the list of winners to educate herself on Broadway’s past, this worthy revival of Sunday in the Park with George will be nowhere to be found. And that’s a damn shame. Gyllenhaal may not have cared about an award, but how about his less famous co-star Annaleigh Ashford? Or Sarna Lapine, whose career could’ve really benefited if her Broadway directorial DEBUT had been crowned with an award?
Yes, these are all concerns about individuals, but this season presents a situation closer to my heart that could deeply alter the future of the entire Great White Way:
Springsteen on Broadway.
I might be mistaken, but I’m fairly sure that the deadline already passed for the Boss to invite Tony Voters. As such, his show will not contend for any prizes come June. And that’s an indefensible decision on his part (I’m sure the Tonys will present him with one of their “special” awards, stroking his ego AND ensuring he appears on the broadcast, thus increasing the number of eyeballs that tune in to the perpetually-unwatched ceremony; Bruce fans are nothing if not loyally obsessed, willing to watch Bruce wherever he may pop up).
Who knows if Tony Voters even would’ve been progressive enough to seriously consider it in all musical categories (it deserves to contend for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Lighting, Best Scenic Design, Best Sound Design, Best Orchestrations, Best Direction, and, yes, Best Actor. If you think he’s only playing himself, then A) You didn’t pick up on the elements of the show that subtly describe the multiplicity of the self, and B) You’re severely underestimating the difficulty of acting naturally on a stage under lights in front of 1,000 people).
Though the Broadway musical landscape has admittedly become way more diverse of late — with cutting-edge work transforming its previously-monotonous image consisting only of mindless spectacle — acknowledging Bruce’s undeniable artistry as firmly belonging to the genre (which it unequivocally does; there’s a reason some fans have been upset that it’s more of a full-on theatre piece than a normal solo concert) could really shake up the form for years to come. If Bruce won a Tony, more musicians — and even artists from other artistic mediums not commonly associated with the Great White Way — would be inspired to take their talents to Broadway with outside-the-box concepts.
You could claim that money talks louder than awards; those artists will be much more inclined to come to Broadway to take home Bruce’s $2.5 million per week, trophies be damned. But winning a Tony Award will always mean something, especially for harmlessly-egotistical celebrities. Plus, voters continuing to exhibit their unconventional tastes could give musical theatre composers and producers more confidence to pursue their wilder ideas.
There’s only one reason that Bruce has withheld tickets from voters: $$$$$. It’s bad enough that every single week Bruce’s average ticket price hovers around $500, a full $150-200 more than Hamilton’s, the most lucrative Broadway show in my lifetime. I know, the $10 founding father offers more seats and more performances, but he also has to pay waaaaaaaay more people than the Boss, who basically just pockets all the money himself (especially since the Walter Kerr’s theatre owners apparently cut him a cushy deal compared to the norm). And if you want to make the argument that Bruce can charge more than Hamilton since he won’t be on Broadway as long, let me remind you that the average ticket price for Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! — a fellow limited run — is LESS than Hamilton‘s.
Bruce really couldn’t part with a few hundred tickets for voters AT ANY POINT IN THE RUN for the betterment of Broadway?
When the show was first announced, I was actually a bit peeved that Bruce decided to take up an uber-valuable Broadway theatre. There are only a handful, and almost all Broadway ventures — a long line of which are currently waiting for a theatre — rely on them to be brought to life for a variety of reasons. Bruce, on the other hand, could’ve performed this show in any smallish, old venue in the world (The Beacon Theatre, which would fit the bill, is located only 15 blocks north).
After seeing the show, I retracted that naysaying opinion; it undeniably belongs on Broadway. He tells a story through music — what else constitutes a musical? Think of it as a super artistic, stripped down, and personal version of a jukebox musical in the vein of Beautiful and Jersey Boys, albeit one where the only performer abstractly chronicles the life story of a beloved musician who just happens to be himself. But if Bruce is going to occupy a theatre for such a long time, then at the very least he could try to implement some long-lasting, positive change for Broadway.
Not every show mounted in a Broadway theatre should be asked to fork over tickets to voters. Quite commonly nowadays, microscopically-brief engagements are booked for a few weeks if theatres have short, often unexpected vacancies between productions. Since taking away hundreds of seats for such runs would basically prevent them from turning a profit — thus making the whole enterprise not possible — those can get a pass.
But since Bruce is clearly raking in the dough right now considering his nonexistent overhead, the least he could do is sacrifice a few dollars in the name of what’s right, not for the Boss, but for Broadway.