'Never gayer' Tony Awards

Posted: Jun 16, 2003 12:00 AM

For those who enjoy televised awards programs, the Tony Awards show was once an event of the television season, part of a quartet. The Oscars celebrated movies; the Grammys, music; the Emmys, TV; and the Tonys, theater. Those days are now gone.

Today we're awash in entertainment narcissism, with an endless stream of awards shows blanketing both broadcast and cable TV. Starting with the American Music Awards and the People's Choice Awards in the 1970s, it's proliferated into the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the Teen Choice Awards, the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, salutes to anyone who ever starred in anything, and on and on and on.

Ironically, just as awards shows explode in popularity, the public is fleeing from the celebration of theater. For all its fizzling ratings, it's amazing that the Tony show hasn't been moved kit and caboodle from a major network to PBS or Bravo. This year's show attracted its smallest TV audience on record -- 7.86 million viewers. That's the second-smallest audience for a trophy show this year, beating out only the NAACP Image Awards.

Why the collapse in public support? Perhaps it's because the public has become disgusted by the Tonys' sexual agenda.

This year's show could have been advertised in the TV listings as "Gay Celebration Tonight." "Never gayer," crowed the gay Web site GFN.com. On the Baltimore Sun's message board, a debate erupted when one parent complained: "Frankly, it seemed to this observer that this event is almost totally controlled by gays. It seems gays dominate the winners (and obviously the judges), and the Tony awards should not be used to advance their agenda. I was embarrassed for my 8-year-old daughter to hear some of the language on this program tonight."

In response, the more sexually enlightened side was unequivocal in its stance, incredulous that Broadway might be considered anything but gay. "I suppose the next post will be that there were too many blacks in the Million Man March," wrote one, "or that there were too many Catholics at the Pope's last Mass in America."

Nobody's going to deny that theater has been historically populated by homosexuals, but before sexual liberation hit in the 1960s, theater was not a stage from which to preach the homosexual lifestyle. In recent decades, from Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" to Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" rants, gay-themed fare has become common and celebrated. Only 28 judges nominate, and 724 vote, yet this minority was adamant that everyone else accept and pay homage to the gay agenda.

The smash hit of the season is "Hairspray," a musical making the transition from the cinema, in this case the 1988 movie by sleazy Baltimore auteur John Waters. As in the movie, the mother of the lead character is played by a transvestite, for which Harvey Fierstein won his fourth Tony. (Did no one find it a bit ... odd ... that the Best Actor award went to a man playing a woman?) He proclaimed with his trademark guttural flourish that "I adore each and every one of you, I want to have your children, and I promise to raise them well." Tony voters also honored gay director Jack O'Brien and gay music composers Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Shaiman kissed Wittman on the mouth after he gushed that "We're not allowed to get married, but I want to declare I love you, and I'd like to live with you the rest of my life." Associated Press reported that applause erupted when the kiss was mentioned during a commercial break.

The Tony for Best Play was awarded to "Take Me Out," a "locker room drama" about a star baseball player who comes out of the closet. The work was also honored for Joe Mantello's direction, who cooed from the stage, "I think I just saw two guys kiss on CBS, which is cool!" Denis O'Hare, who won for playing a gay financial consultant who learns to love baseball, thanked "my beautiful boyfriend," and later remarked "It's Gay Night out there! It's amazing!"

Michele Pawk, who won a supporting-actress Tony, proclaimed: "I have never been more proud to be a member of this community. Men kissing each other on stage. Drag queens. Children. It's a perfect world. As it should be."

Even the Tony show's host, married Australian actor Hugh Jackman, has a gay connection. He'll debut on Broadway this fall in "The Boy From Oz," a musical based on the life of the late bisexual Australian songwriter and performer Peter Allen. The entire show seemed to announce that the powers that be in the theater community are steering the industry from mass culture to subculture. Broadway is no longer a stage. It's a sewer.