I'm currently living with relatives on the West Coast because the Recession temporarily rearranged my life. When the Tony Awards live telecast began in New York City on CBS, it wasn't airing here in California. We got the delayed broadcast. A friend on Facebook messaged me from Manhattan where he was watching the live show in real time, "You've got to see Neil Patrick Harris' opening." My reply was, "I'd love to."
Now THAT'S entertainment.
This will be a short blog piece but I must mention how proud and overjoyed I was to see the black talent celebrated and awarded. You know how passionate I am about diversity in the arts. Hollywood take note: Last night four black actors won Tony Awards -- and not a single one played a maid.
Courtney B. Vance won for Lucky Guy, starring Tom Hanks. Mr. Vance was a guest on my old VH1 talk show back in the late 1980s. He was in one of the most thrilling nights of Broadway theater I ever experienced. I saw him play the son opposite James Earl Jones as the father in August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Fences. By the way, two of Wilson's plays won the Pulitzer Prize -- Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990). Neither one of those acclaimed works by the African-American playwright has ever been adapted into a Hollywood film -- not like plays by Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams. Arthur Miller and Neil Simon were. Vance was a Tony nominee for the role in Six Degrees of Separation that went to Will Smith for the movie adaptation. In Lucky Guy, Vance makes his point as the newspaper editor in the journalism drama.
Here's an idea: Star Vance and his wife, Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett as George and Martha onstage in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Besides Mr. Vance, Tonys also went to Patina Miller for the lead role originated by Ben Vereen in the revival of Bob Fosse's Pippin and the veteran film/TV/stage great Cicely Tyson, who is a diva in the best sense of the word and won raves for her performance as the visiting mother in The Trip to Bountiful. The film version of that brought Geraldine Page an Oscar for Best Actress of 1985. Billy Porter won for his fabulous work as the drag queen who brings a new attitude to a small town in Kinky Boots.
Vance, Miller, Tyson and Porter. That's more black talent than we saw in the regular casts of Friends, Seinfeld and that 2011 series Pan Am combined. And those were network shows about New York-based characters. That's more black people than we've seen named anchors of the weekday evening newscast on ABC, NBC or CBS in the 20th century and this 21st century so far. (Not since the late Max Robinson co-anchored the weekday evening news on ABC in the 1980s has one of the senior three networks tapped a black journalist for the anchor spot.)
I loved last night's Tony Awards. Instead of trying to be like the MTV Awards, the Oscars should take a lot of inspiration from the Tony Awards production. It was hip, relevant, reverent and entertaining. When I was a kid, my mother made watching the Tony Awards show required viewing. She wanted us to know about and experience live theater. I felt last night's show brought viewers into that same vibe. It made you want to experience and appreciate live theater. It had positive racial images that we really needed to see.
About the amazing Billy Porter -- I saw him on Broadway years ago in the revival of Grease. His comic timing stole scenes in the 2000 indie movie, The Broken Hearts Club, as he played a romantically devastated man turning to his friends for showtunes to help him make it through the night. I wish I had the level of talent Billy Porter does.
Everyone brave enough to enter into a showbiz career knows that it's a gamble. It's not a 9 to 5 steady job like our parents may have had. You can literally go from starring in a Broadway show to waiting tables or doing part time clerical work. In the summer of 2008 or 2009, I went to some job networking events held by SAG-AFTRA. I'd been full time on Whoopi Goldberg's radio show but the show got canceled. I was out of work. Keith Price of SiriusXM Radio and I attended one event. Most of us in this one room needed a gig. Who was seated behind me? Billy Porter. We chatted briefly.
Sometimes you can be a bit reluctant to approach people in person whom you loved onscreen or onstage. A warmth they may have had in performance may not be present in real life. What I vividly recall about my brief talk with Billy Porter is how gracious and honest he was. He needed work. I needed work. We sincerely wished each other well. He was a man keeping the faith when faith seemed to be the hardest thing to keep.
That was just a few years ago. Look at what happened last night. He won for Best Actor in a musical. His show, Kinky Boots, won the Tony for Best Musical.
Personally, I'd dig seeing Neil Patrick Harris host the Oscars.
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