THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: TV's First Tony Awards
In honor of the 2014 Tony Award nominations this week, we are shining a special spotlight on the first national broadcast of the Tony Awards, which occurred way back on March 26, 1967, with CABARET becoming the big winner of the night (and back on Broadway this season, as a matter of fact).
We Do! We Do!
While every single season on Broadway has its own wholly unique vibe, tone, relative quality level and historical merit, the 1967 Tony Awards were a particularly important year in the long legacy of theatrical entertainment in America - if only for the simple fact that it was the first Tony Awards broadcast on TV across the country. As a result, a whole generation of young theatergoers could be and would be exposed to the incomparable theatrical WORLD of Broadway and the Big Apple that contains it. Plus, what would a Tony Awards telecast be without some sensational performances? Kicking off a tradition lasting to this very day, eventual Tony-winner Joel Grey started off the proceedings with a spirited and ingratiating take on a soon-to-be classic that premiered on the Great White Way that very season - none other than "Wilkommen" from legendary John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff musical CABARET, originally directed by Hal Prince. Who could honestly ask for a better opener of the first Tony Awards telecast than that?!
Of course, CABARET is back on Broadway this season in a revival of the rapturously-received 1998 revival spearheaded by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, starring Alan Cumming and Broadway newcomer Michelle Williams. While this historical parallel is undeniably delicious, it also reinforces the theory that many plays and musicals continue to entertain, impress and instigate deep discussion continually, many decades after their debut. Plus, how many shows have simply been ahead of their time and not quite embraced as they probably should have been by critics and audiences alike? Fortunately, that is the not the case at all for CABARET, since it won many major awards back in 1967, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Featured Actor, Best Featured Actress, Best Direction Of A Musical, Best Choreography, Best Scenic Design and Best Costumes. Even then, CABARET was a winner!
Nevertheless, Tony Award telecasts provide immeasurable value not only in the performances highlighted and various awards won, but also act as a compelling and vivid moving portrait capturing a season more or less as it was seen by the public at large at the time of the specific ceremony. Look no further than 1967's Tony Awards show for proof that I DO! I DO! was clearly an idiosyncratic tailor-made two-hander of major importance - going on to win Best Actor In A Musical for Robert Preston and scoring many other nominations - while the odd duck three-act THE APPLE TREE was a top shelf star vehicle for Best Actress In A Musical winner Barbara Harris. Furthermore, THE HOMECOMING by Harold Pinter was undoubtedly as much a progressive and important drama for the time and for those lucky enough to be attending it that season as CABARET was a daring musical experiment, especially when looking back on the great theatrical pantheon all considered. Two classics in one season, with Edward Albee's A DELICATE BALANCE, to boot!
All in all, after viewing the 1967 Tony Awards in full and knowing full well that it was the first national show ever televised, we are left feeling: Wow! What a way to start!
View the complete telecast of the 1967 Tony Awards below.
So, what exactly is it about Broadway's biggest night that keeps us tuning in almost 50 years after the first national Tony Awards telecast hit TV screens? Is it the glamorous guests? The sensational showstoppers? The surprise wins? The dazzling atmosphere? Whatever makes the Tony Awards worthwhile remains just as much now as it did way back in 1967. Clearly, June 8 can't come soon enough!