My Gay Tortonto - We Recommend

Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks. And the Tonys.

- BY Drew Rowsome

The local theatre scene is buzzing with the great, and well-deserved, news that Buddies has received the most nominations, 16, by the Dora Mavor Moore Awards. That the visually stunning, thought-provoking and sadly under-attended Arigato, Tokyo is getting recognition is heartening. Bruce Gow in Of A Monstrous Child and Gavin Crawford in A Few Brittle Leaves were probably a given but also exciting. So much intriguing, vital and explicitly gay work, comes out of Buddies that to see it honoured is justice prevailing.

Another personal favourite, Atomic Vaudeville's Legoland, is also nominated. Being shows that I have seen, enjoyed and in many cases reviewed, I have a personal stake in the results of the Dora Awards. But why am I also so eagerly the upcoming gay Olympics: The Tony Awards? Most of us have seen none or few of the nominees but will still be on the edges of our seats and emotionally invested. Of course the Tony Awards do feature lavish production numbers, true divas (to their credit, the Dora Awards did previously nominate uber-diva Keith Cole and he could certainly upstage a Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters or even the late, great Ethel Merman), heartthrob Neil Patrick Harris and a consistently gay tone.

Peter Filichia, author of Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks, has a simple reason for the Tony mystique: gossip.
Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks is a fascinating read chronicling the history of Broadway musicals that did not win the Tony Award. Filichia states right on the cover that he is "opinionated" and he certainly is, which makes the read almost interactive: someone's treasured star or show will get slammed or neatly eviscerated. That is half the fun. Any awards show has lots of backstage politicking and skullduggery but unless one is part of the community - Filichia is a longtime theatre critic based in New York - one doesn't have access to the backroom machinations.

Filichia attributes Avenue Q's win over Wicked to a clandestine pizza party hosted by the puppets while also offering the "fact" that one cannot go 48 hours without hearing a reference to The Wizard of Oz (which apparently should have given Wicked the advantage, personally I also can't go 48 hours without referencing the Bad Idea Bears . . .). Veteran producer David Marrick's love/hate relationship with the Broadway community is dissected in detail with the failure of Sugar (a musical based on the gayer than gay movie Some Like It Hot). Why was West Side Story not a big Tony winner?
Why did the Tonys not embrace Angela Lansbury playing a promiscuous Prettybelle?
Why was Liza rewarded over Eartha Kitt, Madeleine Kahn and Frances Sternhagen? How did a fake tattoo sink Sweet Charity's chances? There is dish, dish, dish about stars and shows both familiar and enticingly new.

Many shows that were rejected by Tony voters went on to become repertory warhorses and to have long lives and much influence, and many Tony winners vanished into obscurity. Maybe it's the win or lose excitement that gives any awards show its appeal. Reading, or even dipping into on the beach for tantalizing tidbits, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks won't give any help in handicapping the upcoming Tonys (though who can help rooting for Kinky Boots with a drag queen lead, Harvey Fierstein's book and Cyndi Lauper's score?) but it does put it in a context that will make it even more fun.

Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks is available at Glad Day Bookshop, 598 Yonge St and the Tony Awards are on CBS on Sun, June 9.