What London Can Learn From the Tony Awards

Monday June 10th 2013

'It's Bigger' exclaimed Neil Patrick Harris during the breathtaking opening of last night’s Tony Awards and my God it really was. The Tonys celebrate all things Broadway and, for a musical lover like me, are a great televised platform for the biggest new musical theatre productions to dazzle audiences with show-stopping medleys and a real taste of what they can see live on stage. While tearful acceptance speeches and awkward introductions always seem to labour awards ceremonies, it’s the entertainment segments of the Tonys which set this show above its awarding colleagues and which are a real lesson to London on how we could make the Olivier Awards something worthy of the primetime TV slot many of us think it deserves.

A look at the opening number alone instantly sets the bar high. While Sheridan Smith’s rendition of Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend was fine as the opener to this year’s Oliviers, the song had no connection to any show currently playing in London and made no comment on the British theatre industry. ‘It’s Bigger’ lauded, poked fun at and commented on all the nominated Broadway shows, as well as featuring performances from their companies and other productions currently playing on the Great White Way. Think of the fun we could have had at the Oliviers with an opening song sending up arts funding, the fact that all of this year’s ‘new’ musical nominees were based on existing material and, most of all, that while many people here snub musicals as light-hearted entertainment, their performances are necessary and integral to actually making the Olivier Awards an amusing and engaging evening...

There seems to be a stiff-upper-lipness about theatre in the UK with us all taking ourselves a bit too seriously, while Stateside the Tonys saw various Broadway stars who’ve recently featured in axed TV shows poke fun at themselves for leaving Broadway for LA and Audra MacDonald, a singer who is just at home in opera as she was in the Disney remake of Annie, sing a re-written version of Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind to close the show with Neil Patrick Harris.

The affectionately known NPH, as I’ll call him from now on, is the real star of the Tonys. As famous on TV (he was an adolescent star playing Doogie Howser and is now on his eighth series of How I Met Your Mother) as he is on Broadway (with starring roles in the musicals Company, Assassins and Rent) he’s a real triple-threat performer with the additional threat of being a household name and consequent all-round desirable host. I’m not sure we’ve a UK star with the same credentials as Harris, although as soon as I get a primetime TV role I’m willing to take up the gauntlet...  

NPH’s wit and charm as host outshone the at times painfully scripted jokes Sheridan Smith and Hugh Bonneville had to deal with at this year’s Oliviers and, alongside stellar performances and other big names, made for an evening of entertainment that would have convinced any non-theatre goer to call the Box Office of every show in New York to bag a ticket. 

Having visited New York earlier this year I was struck by how proud New Yorkers are of their theatre industry and it’s something we could learn a lot from in London. With the Broadway Channel, trailers, interviews and show clips are on loop all day to showcase what’s on, Broadwayworld.com makes stars of cast and crew members with video diaries, blogs and photo spots, the New York Times and New York Post cover every story from Broadway (perhaps a luxury they can afford being ‘local’ as well as international papers) with critics such as Ben Brantley and Michael Riedel being a real authority on all things theatre-related - from hardline criticism to casting gossip - and numerous opportunities for the Broadway community to get together and showcase their talents to the public away from their playhouses, on TV, in cabaret and of course at events like the Tonys. 

An awning Anna spotted and was inspired by in NYC

We need to remember that it isn’t 'art' alone that sells tickets, but the actors, writers, designers, composers, publicists, directors and musicians that make that art and hold up the industry. Without making stars of this support team, as they seem to on Broadway, we will never reach out to quite so many people and instill National pride in what is a remarkable and worthy theatre scene. Broadway seems to have got this down, and it’s time London upped its game...

- Anna