It’s a statistic that surprised me when I first read it.
The main reason that people watch the Tonys is not to discover who’ll win, but to see the numbers from nominated shows.
I was only surprised for a second, for then I remembered that people who were living some distance from New York in 1971 wouldn’t say “Well, many think that Ronald Radd of ABELARD AND HELOISE will take Best Featured Actor in a Play, but I’m going with Ed Zimmerman in THE PHILANTHROPIST.”
So the musical numbers draw in the numbers. Because life right now isn’t normal, the nation was denied to seeing selections from the four would-be 2019-2020 Tony-nominated Best Musicals.
In recent weeks, many journalists, wanting to write at least something about the Tonys, waxed nostalgically about the Best Performances from the shows since 1967 when they were first broadcast nationally. That one opened with CABARET’S “Willkommen” – nicely metaphoric as the Tonys were welcomed into prime time.
I’ll instead ruminate on what we might have seen had the Tonys been nationally broadcast from the outset. Granted, precious few homes had televisions on Sunday, April 6, 1947 when the Antoinette Perry Awards were first dispensed. That’s only one reason why we’ll have to be satisfied with listening to the 1947-through-1966 numbers instead of seeing them.
Yes, a surf of the Internet will get you to the 1970-1971 Tonys, a silver anniversary retrospective that brought these legends to the Palace: David Wayne (“When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” FINIAN’S RAINBOW), Yul Brynner (“Shall We Dance,” THE KING AND I), John Raitt (“Hey There,” THE PAJAMA GAME), Robert Morse (“I Believe in You,” HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING), Carol Channing (“Before the Parade Passes By,” HELLO, DOLLY!), Zero Mostel (“If I Were a Rich Man,” FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) and Angela Lansbury (“Open a New Window,” MAME).
Alfred Drake went twice for KISS ME, KATE’s “Where Is the Life That Late I Led” (which you can now see on a DVD of the abbreviated show) and KISMET’s “The Olive Tree” (which you cannot). Richard Kiley and Gwen Verdon did “Look Who’s in Love” (REDHEAD); separately, he performed “The Impossible Dream” (MAN OF LA MANCHA) and she “Whatever Lola Wants” (DAMN YANKEES).
But these selections were hardly complete. To get all the music, lyrics and renditions, the original cast albums are the way to go. Yes, you can see Morse on film as you can with those Tony-winners who didn’t play the Palace that night: Dick Van Dyke in BYE BYE BIRDIE, Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY and Judy Holliday in BELLS ARE RINGING. But Holliday’s Best Featured Actor in a Musical Sydney Chaplin didn’t make the movie, so you’ll have to just hear how he won on the cast album.
By the time of the 1949-1950 Tonys, TVs were in substantially more homes so a national broadcast would have shown Tony-winners Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza in their “Twin Soliloquies” and Juanita Hall essay her “Happy Talk.”
Even in 1967-1968, we didn’t see Hiram Sherman’s Tony-winning turn in HOW DOW, DOW JONES for he was in many more scenes than numbers. Better to hear him on the cast album through his previous Tony-win in 1952-1953’s TWO’S COMPANY. Sherman performed “A Man’s Home” – probably the only song to criticize Frank Lloyd Wright – written by a just-starting-out Sheldon Harnick.
TV audiences wouldn’t have seen Sheila Bond, the 1952-1953 Best Featured Actress in a Musical (in WISH YOU WERE HERE) do her part in “Goodbye, Love.” The quintessentially fifties’ song had been dropped by the time the Tonys rolled around; luckily, it was still in the show when the cast album was recorded.
The recording of FANNY reveals that Walter Slezak, the 1954-1955 Best Actor in a Musical, was wonderfully touching as the aging Panisse who nevertheless believes that it’s “Never Too Late for Love.” You can hear his joy, though, after he discovers he was right and his business with soon be “Panisse and Son.”
MY FAIR LADY doesn’t have a supporting female role substantial enough for a Best Featured Actress in a Musical nominee. So viewers would have been treated to 1956-1957 winner Edie Adams – Daisy Mae in LI’L ABNER lamenting “I’m Past My Prime” because she was already a teenager and unmarried; Virginia Gibson (HAPPY HUNTING) singing the show’s hit “Mutual Admiration Society” with no less than Ethel Merman; Jo Sullivan, so lovely in THE MOST HAPPY FELLA (a title that describes what she made the show’s bookwriter-composer-lyricist Frank Loesser when she married him) and Irra Petina, showing she wasn’t typecast as The Old Lady in CANDIDE, for she was only forty-eight when she sang “I Am So Easily Assimilated.”
Of Gwen Verdon’s four Tonys, “only” three of them were outright wins; she tied with Thelma Ritter, her co-star in 1957-1958’s NEW GIRL IN TOWN. (Funny that Bob Merrill didn’t write them a duet.) Would Tonys’ producers have opted to put on TV the better-known-to-America Ritter singing “Yer My Friend, Aintcha?” (By the way, it contains a purposeful misplaced modifier that’s hilarious.)
Elaine Stritch gave a wonderful performance in 1958-1959’s GOLDILOCKS, but Russell Nype was the show’s only Tony-winner. A Best Featured Actor in a Musical is usually a character who loses the leading lady to the leading man, as Nype did. But he shows in two songs that sensitive doesn’t mean wimpy as he accepted his fate with dignity.
TV sensation Jackie Gleason won the 1959-60 Best Actor in a Musical race in TAKE ME ALONG for playing the alcoholic jet-black sheep of the family. He bested two castmates: Walter Pidgeon (who has the best reprise ever in “Staying Young”) and Robert Morse, who, involved in fewer than four songs and billed below the title, shouldn’t have been in that category. But the cast album reveals that he – and they – were quite fine.
Elizabeth Seal was clearly the leading lady of 1960-1961’s IRMA LA DOUCE; she was the only female in the seventeen-member cast. Hear her throw herself into the role and you may – may –
understand how she beat out Julie Andrews in CAMELOT. (No one could beat Richard Burton, though, in that Lerner-Loewe classic.)
The 1963-1964 ceremony would have undoubtedly opened with the title tune to HELLO, DOLLY! But the next morning many would have been talking about the Best Featured Actress in a Musical winner: Tessie O’Shea for THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER. She didn’t get the show’s eleven o’clock number but did get eleven minutes in the first act via a medley of Cockney-infused songs that had vintage British Music Hall flavor (or shall we say “flavour”?) although they’d been freshly minted by Noel Coward.
No quarreling with Mostel’s “If I Were a Rich Man” in that twenty-fifth anniversary show, but if he’d done “Do You Love Me?” with Maria Karnilova, we would have had seen both of FIDDLER’s Tony-winners. That 1964-1965 season saw Liza Minnelli make a big Tony-winning splash in FLORA, THE RED MENACE. Hear how she sold songs by the newly teamed John Kander and Fred Ebb: soaring (“Sing Happy”), dynamic (“All I Need Is One Good Break”) and beautiful (“A Quiet Thing”).
Before the Tonys went national in 1967, some ceremonies were broadcast on local New York City stations. Guess what song opened the 1959-60 ceremony? Merman doing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” given that she and GYPSY were nominated? “Do-Re-Mi” with Mary Martin, all those von Trapp kids and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, all up for awards, too?
No. The 1960 broadcast began with a song whose melody was then already 180 years old, albeit with a lyric that had been written “only” 146 years earlier: “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In the decade to follow, John Stafford Smith’s melody and the first five words written by Francis Scott Key would be heard in three Broadway musicals: ALL AMERICAN’S “Melt Us,” the title song of HAIR and “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” in 1776. O say can you hear them? Sure! All their original cast albums can be found here at Masterworks Broadway with all the others.