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2012 Tony Awards Recap: The Year Broadway Sounded The Death Knell For Hollywood

Katie Buenneke |
June 10, 2012 | 10:49 p.m. PDT

Theater Editor

 Neon Tommy/Katie Buenneke
Neon Tommy/Katie Buenneke
Broadcast live from the Beacon Theater to Times Square and every television tuned to CBS, the 2012 Tony Awards were a theater-lover's haven for televised theater personalities. From the first ding-dong of "Hello" from last year's monolithic "Book of Mormon" to the ultimate crowning of "Once" as Best Musical following months of speculation, these Tony Awards were a font of entertainment—but all of it had an anti-Hollywood tinge to it.

Perhaps this is a response to the 2009 Tonys, when movie actors and their productions seemed to dominate the ceremony. This year seemed to be the opposite, though, with actors traditionally known for their work in the theater winning over big Hollywood names. Understandably, this was most noticable in the play categories, since it's nigh impossible to stage a play on Broadway without some big names to entice audience members to see a show without singing and dancing—that is, unless your main backer is Disney ("Peter and the Starcatcher"), or you already have a lot of positive buzz and a Pulitzer ("Clybourne Park"). "Starcatcher" and "Clybourne Park" were the big winners of the night, with the former taking home five awards, the most of any play, and the latter winning the coveted Best Play award. Also successful were "One Man, Two Guvnors," whose James Corden (who is a "name" actor in the UK, but pretty much unknown to Americans who don't watch "Doctor Who") won Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, beating out Philip Seymour Hoffman (considered by many to be the favorite), James Earl Jones, Frank Langella, and John Lithgow—all respected, established movie actors. Despite positive reviews, few expected Corden, a first-time nominee, to win, especially considering the other nominees have a total of seven Tonys, nine Tony nominations (before this year), an Oscar, an honorary Oscar, and six Oscar nominations under their belt. Corden's comedic performance was side-splitting, though, and he did very good work in "One Man, Two Guvnors."

Similarly "upsetting" was Christian Borle's win for "Peter and the Starcatcher." Borle, who was up against Andrew Garfield, Michael Cumpsty, Tom Edden, and Jeremy Shamos, turned in a side-splitting performance as Black Stache (the pirate who would later become Captain Hook), but it looked like Garfield's heart-breaking Biff Loman in "Death of a Salesman" was a strong contender to win. Again, comedy triumphed over tragedy—and I'm sure it didn't hurt that Borle was an established theater actor (the original casts of "Spamalot" and "Legally Blonde," the off-Broadway revival of "Angels in America") long before he joined the cast of "Smash." Garfield, despite having trained in the theatre in England, is considered by most people to be a Hollywood actor, due to his roles in "The Social Network" and the upcoming "The Amazing Spider-Man."

The anti-film and TV mentality carried over into the musical categories as well. In a year where so many new shows were based on movies, the big winner of the night with eight wins, the most of any show in 2012, was "Once"—which was based on a foreign film made for next to no money. It looked like its main competition would be "Newsies," which was blatantly produced by Disney (who are less conspicuous with their producer credit on "Peter and the Starcatcher," perhaps hoping that show will maintain some indie cred). "Once" brought home Best Musical and Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, two categories where it looked like "Newsies" had a very good chance to win. In fact, "Newsies" only brought home two awards: Best Original Score (a category in which "Once" was not eligible) and Best Choreography, both of which it was sure bets to win. Also passed over for most of its nominations was the thoroughly mediocre "Nice Work If You Can Get It," though it did bring home awards for Featured Actor and Actress (indeed, Michael McGrath's win was a surprise, though Judy Kaye's was not).

The real evidence of Broadway's disdain for Hollywood and musicals was in the technical categories though; lighting, scenic, and costume design. Those awards did not go to big spectacle shows like "Ghost" and "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," shows that are more like movies than stage musicals, but instead to "Once" and "Follies."

Speaking of "Follies," the fact that its only win was for costumes showed something else interesting about the Hollywood dynamic to the Tony Awards. "Follies" closed in Los Angeles last night, and the New York Post's gossip mongerer Michael Riedel predicted that the show would do well at the awards ceremony, since apparently something like 200 of the American Theatre Wing's 700 voters live in the LA area. That was not the case at all, with the more contriversial "Porgy and Bess" taking home Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, the two categories in which it looked like "Follies" had the best shot of winning.

All of this is not to say that the winners did not deserve their prizes; far from it, in fact. All of this year's winners were incredible, and I'm very glad they won. I'm just intrigued that in the races that could have gone either way, it was always the less "Hollywood" show that ended up the victor.

So this begs the question: if Riedel is right, and a quarter of the Tony voters live in the LA area, what gives? Are LA Tony voters sick of seeing Hollywood stars on stage? Or have the other regional and New York voters overpowered them with a strong rebuffing of Hollywood? Or is this all more a question of comedy vs. tragedy, and I'm reading too much into it all? Who knows. I certainly can't read 700 minds, and even if I could, I doubt there would be a clear consensus as to why this year's ceremony turned out the way it did. One thing is certain, though: the backlash certianly didn't apply to host Neil Patrick Harris, who rose to fame on "Doogie Howser" and, more recently, became a household name again from his work on "How I Met Your Mother." Then again, he constantly has one foot in the theater scene—he's been in three Broadway shows, starred in "Company" at City Center Encores! and directed "Rent" at the Hollywood Bowl. And that's before you add in his other two times hosting the ceremony and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

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Find more 2012 Tony coverage here.



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