I will readily admit that I’m not one for awards ceremonies. It’s likely because the two that I used to watch the most — the Grammys and the Oscars — have descended into self-aggrandizing, shockingly unaware satire. I don’t usually watch The Tony’s, although every now and then I catch a bit of it because my wife, a joyfully enthusiastic musical theater geek, will always watch. Last night, I watched for more personal reasons, namely, my sister Liesl Tommy was nominated for Best Director of a Play (for Eclipsed). She didn’t win (although her astonishingly talented costume designer, Clint Ramos did), but that’s cool. As I said last night, she’ll be back. I ain’t worried about that, nor am I here to talk about that (frankly, I’ve not-so-humblebragged about my sister enough).
Instead, I wanted to talk about the ceremony itself, and how utterly alien it was to watch an awards ceremony that was so full of joy and glee and unfettered, unapologetic fun. The Tonys are everything that the Oscars are not — where the Oscars feel stiff and staid, the Tonys are loose and enthusiastic. Where the Oscars are plodding and overwrought, the Tonys are briskly paced and full of nonstop activity. The Tonys felt like a freight train of love and laughs, while the Oscars are so up their own asses that it just sort of solemnly lumbers along, wallowing in its own self-importance. And when the Oscars do try to lighten things up, they fumble gloriously as they overreach and overdo it with hosts like Seth MacFarlane.
There’s a sense of arrogance, as if the Oscars are the center of the universe. And for theater folks, the Tonys are the center of their universe, but rather than weigh themselves down under their own importance, the Tonys instead feel more celebratory. Admittedly, last night this was partially due to an exuberant host in James Corden, and the presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who seems to be gleefully devouring life at every turn. But beyond those two, the Tonys, while also managing to be profound, amazing, introspective, intelligent, and interesting, were just damn fun.
But most importantly, at least when we talk about this year’s Tony Awards, the Tonys are diverse, while the Oscars remain a stolid celebration of white achievement in film, with the occasional dark skinned person to cloud their sunny, Caucasian skies. Last night, people of color won all four acting categories. Fourteen people of color were nominated. Hamilton, one of the most diverse productions ever, got 16 nominations and 11 wins. Eclipsed, the first play in history to be directed by, written by, and to star exclusively women of color only, received six nominations, and Clint Ramos, its sole winner, hails from the Philippines. The Color Purple snagged a couple awards as well. Spring Awakening was revived, using a cast of hearing and non-hearing actors, and netted three nominations. The 2016 Tonys were a hallmark of diversity and, hopefully, a glimpse of the future.
As for the Oscars, well, just head over here.
The thing is, despite a sister who has dedicated her life to the theater, I watch very little actual theater (other than her productions, of course). Whereas movies and music are a huge part of my everyday life. But the awards ceremonies for film and music have lost their way, and become either plodding leviathans or bread-and-circus foofery. I watched the Tonys last night, hypnotized by the sheer, unbridled joy that infused everyone involved. Watch the tape, Oscars. Learn something. Learn how to do it better.