(This was the original Tony-night story, complicated by a late change. FX dmped “Greatest Showman” — it’s now set for June 19 — and replaced it with “Selma.)
Once a year, TV viewers get a window into Broadway.
Usually, it’s fresh and fun and frothy; this year, the window is closed. Instead, we’re supposed to watch Hugh Jackman being Barnum (shown here) or John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John being cute.
The Tony Awards show has been a delight, each June. But this year has no awards and no show.
As an alternative, fans of musicals are supposed to sing along with “Beauty School Drop-Out” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night” and such. If you’ve forgotten the words – you probably have – they’ll be onscreen.
That’s the best TV could manage, when the Tony telecast – set for June 7– was postponed. Instead:
– CBS has the movie “Grease” (1978) at 8:30 p.m. – complete with lyrics on the screen, so we can sing along with Travolta and Newton-John and friends.
– FX has “The Greatest Showman” at 8 and 10 p.m., with Jackman as P.T. Barnum.
Both movies have some credibility with Tony fans. “Grease” is adapted from a musical that ran on Broadway for eight years … and will run an eternity or two at high schools and community theater. And “Showman”? Its songs are from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won Tonys for “Dear Evan Hansen”; it stars Hugh Jackman, who has won a Tony … has hosted the Tonys … and is scheduled to do “Music Man” – his fifth Broadway show – this fall.
Both shows are fun, but share a common flaw: They’re kind of stupid.
“Grease” is deliberately so; it celebrates the dippy, giddy days when aspirations could be fulfilled by obtaining a black-leather jacket. For “Showman,” it’s inadvertent stupidity: The film celebrates Barnum’s good points (rogue, optimist and, yes, showman) and ignores the others (liar, cheat, etc.).
Besides, few movies could match the zest of the Tonys, which pack the best of Broadway onto one stage. Any alternative would be disappointing.
Back on March 12, Broadway was shut down because of COVID-19. Tentative plans have it re-opening on Sept. 6, but there’s no word on whether shows will do that. Disney, for instance, quickly decided to close the Broadway “Frozen” (a 2018 Tony-nominee), but continue its tour.
Since many shows tend to open in the spring (just before the Tonys deadline), the timing was awful.
A few new musicals – “Moulin Rouge,” “Tina,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “Girl From the North Country” – had already opened, but several others were about to. They included “Six,” “Sing Street,” “Diana,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Flying Over Sunset.”
Among plays, it was the same thing: “Slave Play” and “The Inheritance,” for instance, had opened; “The Lehman Trilogy” and “Hangmen” hadn’t.
Among revivals, that trend continues: A few big ones – “A Soldier’s Play,” “West Side Story” – had already opened; others were getting ready to.
Complicating things, some of the judges hadn’t seen everything before the shows suddenly closed.
Yes, CBS could have put together a dandy alternative show using a social-distance format – just as it did when the country-music awards were delayed. For a previous special, it has already taped a terrific “Dear Evan Hansen” number. Now it could have taped songs by some of Broadway’s biggest admirers – Jackman and James Corden and Lin-Manuel Miranda and maybe even Streisand and Gaga.
Instead? Well, we can all sing along on “Born to Hand Jive” and “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”