And this year’s award for ♦
Most Long-Winded Awards Ceremony goes to....
Nearing the three-and-a-half hour mark at the Barrymore Awards, one of the presenters said: "Because of the time, let’s forget the script and just get to the names." A good idea, but it was too late. This was the most tedious Barrymore production ever, and a half-hour longer than last year’s.
It isn’t just that the proceedings were long and without an intermission. They were full of inside references that alienate most of the audience, including me (and I know many of the people who are involved, so imagine how it must put off the more casual theater-goer who doesn’t know the references). One of the main reasons for having an awards ceremony is to show off Philadelphia theatrical excellence to the public, to win new friends. This isn’t the way to accomplish that.
Who died, and how?
One example: A series of promotional videos for the nominated plays. When an unidentified face would appear on the screen, yelps and screams would rise from a few dozen delighted attendees. The rest of us didn’t know who was on screen, nor why.
Later, during a memorial salute to three members of the community who died in the past year, photos were projected while Rob Evans sang John Bucchino’s inspirational ballad, "Better Than I." But nothing was said, or projected, to explain who died, or how, or what they represented. If you didn’t know, for example, that Veronica Griego was a vibrant young woman who combined a wicked wit with writing, organizational and promotional talents, and that she died alone in an automobile accident coming home from a play, those photos were almost meaningless.
Vince Marini directed for the second year in a row. He used his contacts to bring internationally-known figures like Rob Evans, Jarrod Emick, Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy, and he demonstrated creativity and cleverness, as he did in 2005. But this year Marini failed to rein in some long-winded speakers, and the production plodded. Countless spokesmen told us that the Philly theater community is great. Won’t they please shut up and show us what’s great?
Uses and misuses of music
The Tony Awards learned years ago to use music to entertain the audience. The best directors in the world tried and failed to find ways of excerpting non-musical plays, or of explaining them. So now they avoid that and go to song.
The Kennedy Center also stresses music, even when inducting non-musical artists. Somehow they find singers capable of illuminating the contributions of the honored actor or writer. Watch the Kennedy telecasts and you’ll see that each honoree is introduced in a talking segment that lasts no more than two minutes; then we’re into the music.
In contrast, at the 2006 Barrymores the clock ticked off 52 minutes before we saw our first rousing musical number. (I deliberately exclude the innocuous opening song.) The Lifetime Achievement Award devoted almost 15 minutes to comments about Robert Hedley, who then took another 15 minutes to acknowledge the award. This from a man honored for his supposed sense of timing and theatricality.
Like a Bar Mitzvah
Another tedious interlude was the thank-you from ComedySportz for its "Special Recognition" as each member of its board repeated what others already said. They even exhorted everyone in the audience who ever saw one of their shows to stand. I thought I was at a Bat Mitzvah and the kid was going to ask all her friends to please come up and help light a candle.
There were some excellent moments: Ben Dibble winning the Emerging Artist award and leaping across the stage with palpable enthusiasm. A classy acceptance by Michael Hollinger of his deserved award as author of the year’s best play, Opus. Terry Nolen for his consummate professionalism.
And, yes, the music: Jarrod Emick singing, "I’ve Got Things to Say," which showcased the Broadway pizzaz of Waiting For the Moon. Hilarious Scott Greer and adorable Erin Weaver in a number that demonstrated the cleverness of A Murder, A Mystery, & A Marriage: A Mark Twain Musical Melodrama. Tony Braithwaite reprised his anthem from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Nova Payton showed clearly that she was the best actress in a musical – although the voters gave that award to someone else – as she belted "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going" from Dreamgirls.
And as for Winesburg, Ohio...
But the oh-so-serious ballad from Winesburg, Ohio failed to convince us that the show deserved to be Best Musical or honored for Best Original Music. Incidentally, how many audience members noticed that the orchestra couldn’t remember anything from the Winesburg score as its victory was announced, so instead the band played "My Shining Hour," a Harold Arlen tune from a 1943 film?
To be sure, there’s a certain sweetness to seeing young people who work in theater for meager wages dressing up in their prom gowns and enjoying a festive occasion. But they whooped indiscriminately for everyone connected to their home team. Host Mary Martello asked the cheerleaders to please "sit on your hands" and withhold applause until all nominees names have been read, but her request was ignored.
Martello was competent. But why not hire an emcee who seems born to be the emcee? Remember when the Academy Awards used Johnny Carson as its host year after year? Why not bring back Philly’s best Carson impersonator, the outrageously funny Tony Braithwaite? Bypassing him seems like a pointless change just for the sake of change.
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