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No Tony Awards on CBS, but Musicals Can Still be Found
June 7, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

Once a year, TV viewers get a window into Broadway.

Usually, it's fresh and fun. This year, alas, the window is closed.

The Tony Awards show has been a delight, each June. But this year has no awards and no show.

Instead, fans of musicals are supposed to sing along with "Beauty School Drop-Out" and "It's Raining on Prom Night" and others.

That's the best TV could manage, when the Tony telecast, set for June 7, was postponed. In its place, we get a sort of musical double feature: From 8:30 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET, CBS – which was going to air the Tonys – has the movie Grease (1978). That's complete with lyrics on the screen so that we can sing along with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

And at 11 p.m. ET, we can switch to FX. It has The Greatest Showman, with Hugh 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, and it stars Hugh Jackman, who has won a Tony, has hosted the awards show, 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 reopening on September 6, but there's no word on whether shows will go along. Disney, for instance, quickly decided to close Frozen on Broadway (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 had already opened (A Soldier's PlayWest Side Story), and others were getting ready.

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, the network had already taped a terrific Dear Evan Hansen number. It could have taped songs by some of Broadway's biggest admirers – Jackman, James Corden, 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.

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