Three Backstage Scandals To Understand When Watching The Tonys Tonight

The one night theater dorks theater people get to shine yearly is here: The Tonys (SPARKLEHANDS) are starting as I write this! Like every year, though, the inner-scandal behind the scenes always exceeds the show's entertainment factor without fail.

The New York Post's Michael Riedel - who, if he wrote about anything other than theater, would be the most dangerous gossip in America - always manages to get a few great Tonys scoops and blow them up without fail each year before the show. This year was no different. This year's three Tony scandals:

1. Touring Musicals: Last year, a few musicals that weren't nominated (or even: new, and thus eligible for awards) performed at the Tony's for the first time. Now, touring musicals - Legally Blonde, Jersey Boys, and (agh) Mamma Mia - are going to get to perform, too. Last year it was Grease and The Lion King: at least those are (respectively) familiar and good. The idea here is to drum up interest for the touring production, which comes to your town, America! which then prompts you to come to New York and spend money here. But musicals never - never - look a fraction as good on TV as they do in person, and they still have yet to hire the right person (Rob Marshall, maybe?) to solve that problem when directing the Tonys.

2. Airtime Issues: Awards for lighting, sets, and costumes - which have always made the broadcast - aren't making it this year. Playwrights - rockstars in the theater world, for what that's worth - routinely get screwed by their own producers, who all pile onto the stage when Best Play is announced (as well as Best Musical). Let's say there're 25 people on stage (this often happens): one's the playwright, four are the lead producers, and the other 20 are investors. Take it away, Michael Riedel:

Veteran producers say that many of their biggest investors now have it written into their contracts that if the play wins the Tony, they get to share the stage with the author.

"The chance to be on the Tonys for 10 seconds has become an enticement to invest," one producer says. "It's ridiculous, but that's what they want." Another longtime producer says: "You should attend a producers' meeting sometime. We sit around deciding who's going to speak and in what order. But did we write the play? What we wrote was the check. Maybe there should be a Tony for Biggest Check. Then we can all go on stage."

But the musical-people (bookwriters, lyricists, orchestrators) all get to make speeches without having a cabal of lecherous producers behind them. Not fair! Except they're no longer giving awards on the air for book writers. Or lighting, sets, and costumes. Ouch. They also tried to take Best Revival of a Play off the air, but Kevin Spacey shit a brick and now everything's fine.

3. America Up In This! My favorite Riedel item: the producers of some of the American plays were sending out letters to Tony voters asking them to vote for their plays because they were, well, American, which Best Play favorite "God Of Carnage" (written Yazmine Reza, who's French) and Best Revival of a Play favorite "The Norman Conquest" (written by Alan Ayckbourn, a Brit) aren't.

The producers of [Neil LaBute's] "reasons to be pretty" recently sent out a letter begging Tony voters to support their show because it's "American." That's a thinly veiled swipe at the competition — "God of Carnage" — which is, quel horreur, French. Lincoln Center also sent out a letter saying that its two productions — "Dividing the Estate" and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" — are "deeply rooted American plays."

There's other stuff: all the inner-politics of any entertainment industry's awards show gone haywire, naturally. But the Tonys are a well behaved, almost completely non-political, non-controversial affair on camera. Theater people are (with good reason) too scared to do anything that might risk alienating their marginal, fussy audiences. To the rest of America, it's a song-and-dance show that borders on getting turned off for a CSI rerun. To a very small subset, it's a life-or-death, sink-or-swim affair.