Tony Award Winners: 1969, 1776

30 Mar


The late sixties were not kind to the Broadway musical–more and more, musicals seemed to be irrelevant.  Rock music was peaking in becoming an artistic artform, and  Broadway was not prepared to take that on.

Not that I have anything against 1776–it’s a good work–it just seems like it was written by your high school history teacher.   You see people doing their best impressions of the founding fathers as we know them through paintings, copying many famous scenes.  Through it, you can see the show pointing at things like “see, see?  These people aren’t all that different from us!  They still were lustful, and silly, and political.”   To give it credit, the show was a hit.  However there was that other hit that nobody wanted to talk about–Hair.

Hair was the biggest hit of the previous season, still going strong.  Hair wasn’t eligible until 1969 due to a technicality.   (It really should have won the year before, where Hallelujah, Baby looked quaint in comparison.)   Funnily enough, despite the rock music soundtrack and lack of a real plot, Hair met all the other qualifications for a smash.  It was the first show in a long time to have hit songs on the radio (and many of them), it had a very successful tour, and it really met the zeitgeist of the time.  I’m not saying that Hair is the best musical ever, in fact it dates quite badly, but at that time it was the most important thing on Broadway, and by turning their backs on it, the Tony awards set Broadway for a whole series of failures.

You see, rock music was desperate (like the generation that listened to it) to be taken seriously.  The stage is a place that can give a type of music a sense of legitimacy.  It should have been a marriage made in heaven.  However, faced with aging theatre owners, and composers much more comfortable with the Jazz/pop type of composition, the theatre community was not about to encourage this sort of thing.

In the end, Hair was a one-off anyway, the trend in musicals didn’t really move in that direction in the long term.   However by embracing this new sort of music, rather than shunning it, they could have opened up Broadway to a greater range of options long before they were forced to.

As for 1776, it’s a pleasant enough show, and I bet the Tonys were very relieved that they had a bona fide hit to put over Hair that year.   They could even justify that 1776 because of its historic content was the one  more likely to last.   The songs are ok (if a bit corny).   However, even though the Hair style musical was not the wave of the future, the History in Action piece certainly was not either.

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