This year's Tony winners reflect our times
New York -- Survival of the performing arts seems to always be tenuous.
Unable to support themselves solely on earned income, they are hypersensitive to every hiccup and cough in the economy. If that weren't enough, they must also compete with popular cultural changes, which are now constant.
With Lady Gaga streaming to your phone 24/7, why do you need to spend big money and devote precious hours to sitting in a room?
Perhaps because I am most familiar with theater, it appears to me to be the most insecure of the major art forms. Its fragility and demise is regularly discussed and predicted. Hand wringing is continual.
This is why the 2011 Tony Awards, presented here a few weeks ago, are worthy of special notice. The big winners in both the musical and straight play categories are wildly different but strongly in step with this moment in time.
Neither "The Book of Mormon" (nine Tonys) nor "War Horse" (five) has a star in the cast. Common wisdom in recent years believed that at least one celebrity performer was necessary for a show to have box office success. But "The Book of Mormon" is a flaming hot ticket, and "War Horse" is doing well.
"Mormon" brilliantly captures the pulse of the great cultural divide over religion in this country. Its creative team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the folks who gave us TV's "South Park," along with Robert Lopez from past Tony winner "Avenue Q," should give you a firm idea of which side of the divide this show inhabits. Broadway has never seen this level of nasty irreverence.
Political incorrectness rules, blasphemy is blessed and the language is saltier than a New York street vendor's pretzels. If I were in the cast, I might worry a little about the karma I was putting out there nightly, and I would be very careful crossing the street.
And yet, when the final curtain falls, we take away from "Mormon" a message so fundamentally inspirational we can't help but be delighted and a bit awed about the wild ride we just took. The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote about the mix of reverence and ridicule that powers this show, and he hit the old nail right on the head.
"Mormon" was written for a generation that is not offended by the F bomb, perceives institutional cluelessness and hypocrisy, and still embraces basic human values that its elders often forget. All of this in a Broadway musical!
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