Oscar vs Tony

This past Sunday, things reverted to form.  Kazzy watched a basketball game, and I watched an awards show.

Yes, this past Sunday was the 2013 Tony Award ceremony.  And, as per my usual, I watched despite having seen none of the nominated productions and knowing few of the nominees.  This has in part to do with my love of awards shows in general, their glamor and their pageantry and such.  I love seeing famous people in fancy dresses.  (More on the dresses in a minute.)  Plus, there is a undeniable charm and talent of its host.  Not only is Neil Patrick Harris adorable, he is undeniably gifted as a master of ceremonies.  If you didn’t catch his opening number, it was magnificentThat is how you host an awards show.

But I love the Tonys for more than that.  It was watching the Tony Awards when I was in medical school that helped cement my decision to move to New York City.  (A certain best friend will always deserve top billing in that regard.)  I thought “If I lived in New York, I could actually see these plays and musicals for myself!”  Indeed, when I traveled to the City to interview for residencies, I made a point of getting tickets to one of the winners that year, and was treated to an incandescent performance by Audra McDonald in “Ragtime.”  Frankly, if anything watching them now makes me wistful and a bit melancholy, having had that access and let it go to move to Maine.

It’s not even that I was lucky enough to attend the ceremony one year.

Let me put it this way — the Oscars are to Madonna as the Tonys are to Cyndi Lauper (who won this week!).  I love them both, and would be delighted to meet either.  But I could only imagine myself being friends with one of them.

When you watch the Oscars, you’re watching an industry celebrate itself.  When you watch the Tonys, you’re watching a community.  Over and over and over you hear presenters and winners talk about the warmth and camaraderie of the Broadway community, and I believe them.  Both Ms. Lauper and Tom Hanks (a nominee this year), though somewhat faded now, have been superstars in other entertainment industries, and both of them spoke sincerely of the uniquely welcome nature of Broadway.  (Which isn’t the same thing as saying everyone loves each other all the time.)  These are people who work very hard, few of whom ever get all that famous or particularly rich.  They do it because they love performing, and it shows.

You can even see it in the dresses they wear.  The woman who won (if memory serves) wore a not-particularly-flattering little black dress  that no woman would be caught dead in at the Oscars.  Andrea Martin, accepting her award, thanked the designer who gave her a dress to wear, as nobody else would.  Designers fall all over themselves lending dresses to any nominated actress for an Academy Award.

And how great is it that Andrea Martin won another Tony?  And Judith Light?  Women who, in Hollywood, would be hard-pressed to land one of the few roles open to women of their age are doing wonderful, award-winning work on stage.  The winners and nominees are far more likely to be older, have more color in their skin and be a lot gayer than their film counterparts.  I love that.

Would I be at serious risk of dying for joy if someone offered me tickets to the Oscars?  Yes.  Yes, I would be.  But if I want to watch a show where the people on stage are there because they enjoy the sincere affection and admiration of the people in the audience?  It’ll be to Tonys every time.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. You’re going to have a really hard time convincing me that the Danza doesn’t deserve a Tony with Judith’s picture gracing this post.

    • Rather than pedantically pointing out that Mr. Danza’s award show would be the Emmy’s (though Wikipedia tells me he has appeared on Broadway), I will simply use this opportunity again to say how nice it is that Judith Light is getting work and respect.

      • Heh… I believe when the topic of the Tony Awards initially came up, I (jokingly?) thought they were an awards show for people named Tony. Of which Mr. Danza is a fantastic specimen.

  2. I’d like to echo you in saying that NPH was epic in that opening. I had several straight friends praising fate that the man is a homosexual lest he steal ALL their girlfriends away.

  3. It is totally a community!!! That is exactly what I loved about being involved in theater (from 4th grade though three years of college). Totally about the art and the people, not about an industry. Surprisingly I’ve only see the Tony’s a couple of times. I would have missed it this year except that I tried to go dancing at a gay club in Chicago for my last night and instead of the usual dance club everyone was gleefully glued to the Tony’s. Ahh, theater brings everyone together. I didn’t even know they were on and so I only caught the last half :(. I used your link to watch the beginning. Amazing! I love NPH.

    I try to catch as much theater as I can here in Portland, but I would have to go every weekend if I lived anywhere near Broadway.

  4. Andrea Martin, the least funny performer from SCTV, and Judith Light from soap operas and Who’s the Boss both won awards? What this suggests to me, honestly, is that Broadway is Japan, where washed-up major-leaguers go to extend their careers.

    • You’re using decades-old performances in totally different media as a gauge of these women’s talents and applause-worthiness today? What an unfortunate and uncharacteristically churlish conclusion to draw. Shall we assess Hillary Swank’s career based on her role on “Beverly Hills, 90210”?

      Judith Light has been getting wonderful reviews for her performances on stage for years. I saw Andrea Martin in “The Vagina Monologues” (itself a production I did not care for), and she was wonderful, as was she in a small part in the film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” What you call “washed-up” seems to me more an indictment of Hollywood’s ill regard for women of a certain age than an indication of whether Broadway features quality performances or not. Are you attributing the fact that both of these women have won multiple Tony Awards to charity?

      • “Shall we assess Hillary Swank’s career based on her role on “Beverly Hills, 90210″?”

        No. We should base it on “The Next Karate Kid”.

      • Are you attributing the fact that both of these women have won multiple Tony Awards to charity?

        No, to weak competition, though that’s purely speculation.

        • Huh. Having not, as noted in the OP, seen any of the nominated performances, I can’t really comment with authority. That is not the conclusion I would have drawn.

          And with that, I think I will withdraw from any more commentary on this subject. I’m getting surprisingly angry about this, and I’m too fond of you to want to continue a conversation that’s going to make me angry unless there’s a particularly good reason to do so.

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