Our very first Tonys

Tonight is both the Game of Thrones season finale and the Tony Awards ceremony, and until we reach the new-media future where we can combine the two electronically (adding singing to Game of Thrones, or more bloodshed than usual to the Tonys), we’ll have to be watching them separately.

I don’t have any predictions for the Tonys, though I guess Matilda will do well. (Update: Or not. Kinky Boots came on strong.) But here’s something to look at before the usual Sunday-night DVR pileup begins: the very first network telecast of a Tony awards ceremony. The awards had been given out for almost 20 years, but networks didn’t start carrying them until 1967 – which you could say is an example of TV networks’ ability to pick up on something just when it’s peaked: this was just after Broadway had lost the central place it had in popular culture in the ’50s and the early ’60s. (In 1960, a new hit Broadway musical was huge news, and the TV, film and pop-music industries all wanted a piece of it. In 1967, the changes in film and pop music meant that even a big hit show occupied a spot a bit to the side of pop culture trends; it didn’t drive popular culture the way Broadway did in the ’50s.) Also, as you can see from the big winner among nonmusical plays, Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, homegrown Broadway theatre was losing big-time to the more vital British theatre.

But it was still a pretty good year that featured one of the best of all American musicals, the original Cabaret. The original staging of “Willkommen” by director Hal Prince and choreographer Ron Field, combining new techniques with old-fashioned Broadway showmanship, has never been surpassed; every other version of Cabaret, including the movie, has tried to rub our face in the decadence of the cabaret, but the original made it seem fun, with only hints of the true evil the cabaret setting and the M.C. represent. As the play goes on, we start to understand this better, and the cabaret numbers become almost a commentary on the ability of traditional Broadway showmanship to desensitize us to what’s going on in the world.