We are a society that loves to label people, usually with a negative connotation. He’s a Liberal. She’s a Conservative. Feminist. Jock. Geek. Environmentalist. After this week’s televised Tony Award ceremony a new label is now circulating through cyberspace – Hollywood, as in “they’re from Hollywood.”
Anyone who viewed the Tonys knows there was a heavy presence of A-List Hollywood actors, both in the audience and in the winner’s circle. Carrying away the prized medallion were Denzel Washington (Best Actor in a Play for Fences), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Best Actress in a Musical for A Little Night Music) and Scarlett Johansson (Best Supporting Actress in a Play for A View From the Bridge). It’s no wonder that a backlash against “those people” has been building. Actor Hunter Foster has even started a Facebook group, Give the Tonys Back to Broadway!! Over 6,300 people have joined.
But has Hollywood really taken over Broadway? This past season there were many actors more associated with the film industry on stage then in year’s past. However, while movie stars sell a lot of tickets they don’t always receive the accolades and awards. Were either Hugh Jackman or Daniel ‘James Bond’ Craig nominated for their performances in A Steady Rain? Antonio Banderas, while nominated in 2003 for a Best Actor in a Musical Tony for his performance in the revival of Nine, lost out to a theater stalwart, Harvey Fierstein. The list can go on and on.
More importantly to the discussion--is the Hollywood label even accurate or fair? Let’s examine a couple of high profile examples. First, Angela Lansbury. Would anyone doubt Ms. Lansbury is anything but a person of the theater? She’s won five Tonys. However, she came to the world of musical theater when she was just about 40 years old, having first made a splash in such films as Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Manchurian Candidate, among others. She was 41 when she starred in Mame. Were people hopping mad that this film star was taking away plum roles from theater veterans? Or should we label Ms. Lansbury a television personality? She did star in Murder, She Wrote for 12 years. The point is Angela Lansbury is an actress who easily moves between film roles, the stage and TV and, rightfully so, should not be pigeonholed into one specific category.
Next up—Hugh Jackman. We all know Jackman epitomizes movie stardom, with big budget action films and romantic period pieces. But Jackman began his career as a musical song and dance man in his native Australia, appearing in such shows as Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard. He hit the big time playing Curly in the acclaimed 1998 National Theatre’s production of Oklahoma in London. From there, the movie industry beckoned and two years later he was Wolverine in the blockbuster, X-Men. The rest, as they say, is history. So, when Jackman makes his occasional foray to Broadway is he seen as a Hollywood interloper, or a multi-talented actor looking to vary his career opportunities or go back to his roots? Remember, he did wow Broadway in his Tony award winning performance in 2004’s The Boy From Oz.
A more productive argument should be about the appropriateness of a role for an actor—remember Madonna in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow--as opposed to silly arguments centered around classifying and labeling. All three “Hollywood” stars who won Tony Awards this year received rave reviews. They were well-suited for their roles. So, shouldn’t we be celebrating the opportunity to see them live instead of whining about “them” taking away plum roles from “theater people?”