“New York, New York, a helluva town/ The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down”, goes the Comden and Green lyric in On the Town. And to paraphrase it, “the Tonys, the Tonys, a helluva night/ The winners are up, but the ratings are down.”
In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s awards, the good news is that, according to a headline in the Hollywood Reporter, the “CBS Telecast Exposure brings Hefty Box-Office Boost.” A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, for instance, which won the Tony for Best Musical, posted sales in excess of $900,000 on Monday – “roughly 10 times higher than any Monday in recent weeks since the Tony nominations were announced.”
As the report states, “The show’s four Tony wins stand to give it a significant push through the summer months.” And that, of course, is the ultimate point of the Tonys: sure, the recognition is nice, but the commercial value of the awards is even nicer. For Beautiful, the Carole King bio-musical for which Jessie Mueller won the Tony for leading actress in a musical, the Tony telecast saw it “on target to do close to $1 million in sales between Sunday’s broadcast and end-of-day Monday”; while Aladdin, which saw James Monroe Iglehart take the Tony for featured actor in a musical, was “on track to wrap just over $1 million in sales on Monday, which is around five times the standard for a weekday.”
On the other hand, Mothers and Sons – the Terrence McNally play starring Tony nominee Tyne Daly – immediately set a closing date yesterday of June 22, following its failure to translate either of its nominations into wins.
But amid these predictable trends, it was also disappointing to hear that the Tony’s registered a ratings slide, with an average viewership of 7.02 million, down from last year’s 7.24m. Its competition? Game 2 of the NBA Finals between San Antonio and Miami, which had an average of 14 million viewers. At least the Tonys scored higher than the Miss USA pageant, which attracted 5.5m viewers.
But while a basketball match may be watched in the moment, the difference with the Tonys is that they live on – forever. Thanks to youtube, you can watch them anytime, anywhere. On Monday, I was teaching at ArtsEd, and some of my students had already caught up with some of the awards coverage. Over the years, the Tonys have built up a formidable archive of Broadway’s best moments. I was recently asked by Playbill.com to choose my favourite Tony moments, which are here.
But my all-time favourite Tony clip isn’t a performance from the Awards themselves but one on the red carpet outside, when Triumph the Insult Dog offers a fantastic commentary on the arriving stars: “Tonight a celebration of the Great White Way… No, we don’t mean Elton John’s butt cheeks. We mean something even older and easier to get into: the Tony Awards”, he begins. And it gets worse from there, as he insults everyone from Angela Lansbury to Donna Murphy. Martha Plimpton scores big points for playing along so gamely.
The Tonys will also, of course, provide plenty of talking points for months to come, some frivolous, some serious. The most interesting of the latter was a reaction to Audra McDonald’s heartfelt, tearful acceptance speech on winning her 6th Tony, in which she thanked her mom and her dad up in heaven “for disobeying the doctor’s orders and not medicating their hyper-active girl and finding out what she was into instead and pushing her into the theatre.”
One commentator on Time magazine replied the next day with a piece that was headlined, “Sorry, Audra McDonald, My Son Needs His ADHD meds.”
As she writes in a personal letter to McDonald,
Nobody is thrilled to medicate their child. It’s not what anybody considers a huge parental triumph. We have no trophy cabinet for the expired bottles of methylphenidate. But if you don’t have a child whose talents are as prodigious and obvious as yours, it can be tough to figure out what’s best for them. So you’re left with trying to avoid what’s worst; and clearly not being able to learn is pretty high on that list. I’m sure that you were not personally judging me and other concerned parents when you thanked your parents for not putting you on Ritalin. I’m sure you weren’t trying to prescribe from the podium. And obviously, you have thrived, against some serious odds. But damn it, you’re not making it any easier to live with our hard decisions. There’s anxiety and then there’s Audra-induced anxiety, which is more dramatic and accomplished than the regular sort.
Yesterday, Audra replied in a thoughtful posting of her own:
If my speech in any way offended you, I do apologize. However, it was in no way, shape or form intended as a platform for me to denounce the use of medication for ADHD or any other psychological disorder. I myself have benefited from psychotropic drugs to help combat depression in my youth. The decision of whether or not to medicate a child is a very personal, difficult and subjective one. What works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another. But in the end, as a parent, all that matters is that you do everything within your power to help your child…. Every parent, when faced with a decision like that, makes it on the basis of real, personal and specific circumstances relating to their child. For some, the right decision is to medicate, for some it is not. For some it is a bit of both, and for some it is any one of a million other variations on the treatment options available.
Suddenly the Tonys – and Audra’s historic sixth win of one – have become about something even more important than recognition of talent but the recognition of parenting. And Audra, a parent herself, recognised this in the moment of her triumph. She is indisputably a great artist. But she is also something even more: a great human being, too.