COLUMN: Theatre of the Absurd

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

<em>“…and if you got some sugar for me, Sugar Daddy bring it home.”</em>

—From the Broadway musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

As I watched the Tony Awards this past Sunday, a question came into my head that might confirm my snide, condescending attitude that I have been accused of having towards many things Utah.

The Tony Awards are given annually to the very best in Broadway theatre. The televised show is a must watch for those who want to see musical numbers from the nominated shows. And so, as I sat mouth agape watching Neil Patrick Harris in drag rubbing the microphone between his legs while performing a song from the musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, I could not help but propose a hypothetical in my head.

That being:

If the television broadcast rights for the Tonys were owned by NBC instead of CBS, would local NBC affiliate KSL-TV broadcast them?

I really do not know the answer.

The Tonys are what some might call “pro-gay.” And Broadway musicals have a reputation for being adored by homosexuals or someone like me, who then is labeled being gay for such an entertaining proclivity.

While even the theatre community likes to self-deprecatingly poke fun at its overt gayness, I still must defend my ability to be a flaming heterosexual whilst simultaneously defending my tearing up every time I hear “On My Own” from “Les Miserables”.

I love Broadway tunes. There! I said it!

But back to Utah for a bit. KSL-TV is owned by Mormon Church through its communication wing, Bonneville International. In recent years, KSL has flexed its moral muscle by refusing to air programs from NBC, its corporate overlord. These shows have been refused airtime by KSL for various reason. Namely: sex, violence, gambling and, of course, showing homosexuality in a positive light.

So, yeah, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that if NBC showed the Tonys that KSL would be aghast at what is on stage on the “Great White Way” for eight shows a week, two matinees.

Why is the Mormon Church living in a constant state of fear about homosexuals? I never understood it. But then I was raised in a large city surrounded by the gay community. It was normal to me. Because I never had an instilled loathing of them as different from myself in most ways, I was never able to think of them as freaks…or that I was somehow superior to them simply based on my sexuality. My 10 years living in the Beehive state has been an enlightening experience regarding why homophobia is so prevalent in these parts. A lack of good theatre.

And so if I was to bet $5 on whether or not KSL would air the Tonys, I would offer a 3rd wager. They would show them at 1 AM, when the impressionable young eyes of unsullied children would be safely asleep in their beds—unaware that catchy tunes are being sung on a stage by performers who appear to be having the time of their lives.

And that is a gosh darn shame; because they would have missed a great show. Besides NPH leaving it all out on stage, the Tonys featured a song from the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”, which won the award for best new musical at the end of the show.

I did not know much about “Gentleman” before watching the Tonys. But the song picked to perform was funny and I have been humming the melody all week. I have slated some time this weekend to listen to the entire cast album.

And then there is the immortal Idina Menzel. A Broadway darling for two decades, Menzel finally broke through outside of theatre circles last year when she gave voice to Elsa in last year’s hit film “Frozen”. The cult following of that film, coupled with Menzel’s rendition of “Let it Go” frightens me. On Sunday, Menzel sang the song “Always Starting Over” from the musical “If/Then”.

It is a hauntingly beautiful song about the breakup of a long-term relationship. But how many would refuse to listen to the song because at the beginning it contains a vulgarity? Even at the Tonys, the curse word was replaced with another, slightly more palpable curse word. Overall, it would be a shame if oversensitive morals disallowed anyone from listening to that song.

I love the Tonys. I love great art. And theatre is art.

As a counter to anyone who may think I am just making another left-wing, amoralist argument, allow me this indulgence. Theatre was at one time as clean as a nursery. And many great shows from that era have held up and been sustained by their brilliance. As a teenager, I performed in “The Sound of Music.” I still perform the songs in the shower (is that creepy?). And others like “My Fair Lady” and “Fiddler On the Roof” still hold up over a half century later.

Clean theatre is not bad; and politically active theatre that may or may not have lurid content is not always good. Look at the musical “Rent”, which opened on Broadway in 1996. Long considered a pioneer of bringing the issues of AIDS, homosexuality and the lack of diversity to the Broadway stage, the musical itself is 2 hours of unadulterated crap. A perfect musical for the 1990’s, a decade with little of substance and few examples of artistic excellence in any genre.

We live in a great world. I can sit on my couch in front of my obnoxiously large television in Logan, Utah and watch the greatest performers in New York City entertain me with the best the musical theatre has to offer.

And if many of the performers are gay—and if they perform bawdry numbers that spit in the face of “family-friendly” entertainment—well, so be it. Anyone can choose to ignore such amazing performances by simply refusing to watch it.

Unless it is on KSL-TV. In which case, they will make the decision for you.

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