Tony Awards mostly disappoint, performing their appointed function

Sondheim's 'Target' beats Sondheim; 'Porgy and Bess' beats 'Follies'

June 11, 2012

The most interesting thing to happen at the Tonys was this: Instead of honoring Stephen Sondheim–practically a full-time occupation for the past several years, as the composer turned 80–the Tony voters chose to stick a finger in his eye. Not only did they pass over the revival of his Follies–by all accounts as brilliant a rendition of that marvelous show as Chicago Shakespeare's own spectacular version–but they gave the award for Best Revival of a Musical to The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, which he decided to condemn sight unseen when he learned that the creative team planned to amend the book and score to make it more responsive to contemporary sensibilities.

It's not clear whether his letter to the New York Times meant to be condemning the artistic decisionmaking of adapter Suzan-Lori Parks, director Diane Paulus, music director Dierdre Murray and lead actress Audra McDonald on the grounds that they were uppity women (including uppity black women!), but it wouldn't be surprising if the objects of his no-holds-barred attacks took it that way. 

When comments started flying back and forth about the Sondheim letter, the entire teapot tempest was described in the press as a controversy about what Paulus and her gang had done to Porgy, rather than about what Sondheim and his pen had done to a colleague in a public forum. So it's refreshing to note that last night the Tony voters, at least, honored Paulus and McDonald (who won Best Actress in a Musical) and remained loudly unimpressed with Follies.

Of course, whether Sondheim is a jerk has nothing to do with whether Follies is a great piece of work–as the composer noted himself in Sunday In The Park With George. But I suspect his being a jerk has a great deal to do with the Tony voters' response to the show.

Other bits of news from the broadcast: Our local favorite, Jessie Mueller, lost Best Featured Actress in a Musical (On A Clear Day . . . ) to Judy Kaye, who has been giving stalwart performances in Broadway musicals since some time before Mueller was born. Never fear, the younger woman's turn will come!

Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, whose earlier plays all premiered at Steppenwolf and whom we're therefore entitled to treat as a Chicago product, won Best New Play. The honor should fit nicely on his mantelpiece, right next to the Pulitzer Prize.

Now back to the Chicago theater season, already in progress.