Silly season on Broadway

I don’t understand why so many of those very smart people who write about the stage in New York waste so much time and space analyzing the Tony nominations every year.
In a city where much of the best theatre is not produced on Broadway, a media spotlight continues to be turned on a crassly commercial prize that is restricted to the relatively small number of productions that appear in Broadway houses each season.
Efforts have been made to include off-Broadway and off-off Broadway shows in the Tony race, but the real estate operators and producers who control Broadway don’t want to lose the box-office “bump” from the annual Tony PR bonanza. If the field was opened to include any professional productions in New York City, non-Broadway shows playing downtown or crosstown would probably steal away many of the prizes on the nationally telecast awards show every June.
With only several dozen new shows opening each season on Broadway, the nominators are so desperate to fill out categories that crazy flops like “Cry-Baby” get nominated in the best new musical category, and the best revival category includes this season’s umpteenth staging of that 1972 warhorse, “Grease.”
No one would take a movie or book award seriously if the voters could only choose from 100 or so titles released by the most powerful companies, but this is exactly what happens every year when Tony season rolls around.
The Tony Award made some sense 50 years ago, when the Broadway theatre was humming with new musicals and plays — and the commercial and non-commercial off-Broadway sectors were not as strong as they are today — but to continue to pretend that winning a Tony represents the best that New York theatre has to offer is ridiculous to anyone who ventures to non-Tony eligible venues such as Second Stage, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons and many more.
As the number of new musicals and plays produced on Broadway dwindled in the 1970s and ’80s, the organization behind the award had to cook up the “best revival” categories, since revivals now outnumber new productions most seasons.
Because of the dearth of great new musical parts for performers, next month Patti LuPone will probably become the third actress to win a Tony for playing Rose in “Gypsy” (indeed, every actress who has ever played this part on Broadway has been nominated for a Tony — originator Ethel Merman and recent revival star Bernadette Peters lost in their races, but both Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly won Tonys in the years they headlined revivals).
The Tony voters lump the stars of revivals in the same categories as the actors who originate new roles so you get such grossly unfair situations as Kerry Butler’s brilliant comic performance in the charming but fluffy diversion “Xanadu” (above) going up against LuPone in “Gypsy,” Kelli O’Hara in “South Pacific” and Jenna Russell in “Sunday in the Park with George.”