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“Broadway’s Back!” exclaimed someone who did not tune into the Tony Awards

With misguided messaging and a lost attempt to make the audience feel nostalgic, the 2021 Tony Awards struggled to bring back theater to its audience.

Opinion by Benjamin Royer, Valley Life Editor

The haphazard 2021 Tony Awards lacked originality as it focused on the past, and not the future of what Broadway can be.(Graphic by Matthew Royer/The Valley Star)

In the middle of the show, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel combined their haunting voices for a duet of “For Good” from the award-winning musical “Wicked,” but the 2021 Tony Awards were anything but.

An embracing of “jukebox” musical culture, a type of play derived from the use of songs not originally produced for the stage production, but for historically popular artists. This caused the award show to put the wrong side of Broadway on display, showing the same old songs to its generally elder audience. Musical tropes seen in the Tony Awards past and a host in Leslie Odom Jr. that does not quite fit the grandeur of the night, the four-hour show felt like a look back of what Broadway was and not what it can be.

Paramount+ hosted the full four-hour show with most of the awards honoring plays and musicals that had become popular before the COVID-19 pandemic. CBS hosted a smaller spectacle with a focus on performances instead.

Usually, for what audiences would tune in for, the theater world got to see the full spectacle if they tuned into the lesser-known streaming service. A community that in the past has been slandered for its inaccessibility to the non-wealthy played into being not available to a general audience once again.

On the other hand, the CBS two-hour broadcast barely focused on the awards itself, having performances from across the theater world echoing the same message throughout the night. The theme of “Broadway is back” is a smart idea, especially since theaters finally reopened for performances as of Sept. 2.

The execution of the theme, however, showcased the opposite of what could have been the exciting future of Broadway.

Having to rely on past theater icons such as Chenoweth, Menzel, Josh Groban, Ben Platt, Norm Lewis, Anthony Rapp and more, the opportunity to show the up-and-coming performers of Broadway was lost in a love fest of stage productions’ past.

Two-time Tony nominee and 23-year-old actress Eva Noblezada was missing from the broadcast. If the message of Broadway’s return wanted to be televised, it should have featured one of its biggest stars. Starring in “Hadestown,” the Filipina actress showcases one of the most powerful voices on stage today.

Not one of the three musicals nominated for “Best Musical” at the Tony’s featured completely original music. “Moulin Rouge!,” though captivating, is based on the movie musical of the same name, with reworked songs to add more popularized music. “Jagged Little Pill” is all music from Alanis Morrissette catalog and “Tina” is only lyrics from music legend Tina Turner.

The lack of originality facing Broadway should be the focus heading into the 2022 musical season. As the same as reviving a TV show or creating a sequel to a popular film, the original concepts take a back seat at the box office.

Heading into the awards next year, there are a few productions with original music that could bring back the flare the Tony’s were missing this year.

Musicals such as “Mrs. Doubtfire” which is based on the movie of the same name, “Diana” which focuses on the life of Princess Diana of Wales, “Six” which presents the six wives of Henry VIII and “Paradise Square” that showcases the stories of black and Irish residents of New York City in 1863 all feature much-needed originality to the Broadway slate.

Broadway will be back and truly shown in 2022 when new directions get the spotlight.

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