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When Tony Met Oscar

Where do the wonderful world of theatre and the world of film collide?  Thomas S. Hischak, author of The Oxford Companion To The American Musical: Theatre, Film and Television is here to document the scene. Hischak is a Professor of Theatre at the State University of New York College at Cortland. He is the author of sixteen books on theater, film, and popular music as well as the author of twenty published plays. In The Oxford Companion To The American Musical Hischak offers over two thousand entries on musicals, performers, composers, lyricists, producers, choreographers and much more.

There are only two shows that have won the Best Musical Tony Award and gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar in their film versions: My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. What does this say about the compatibility of the two awards? Well, it points out once again that theatre and film are two very different media. It also suggests that many great stage musicals were turned into less-than-satisfying movies. You might even go so far as conclude that Tony voters and Oscar voters have very different ideas about what makes an exceptional musical.

Let’s look at the champs in each medium. The Producers holds the record for winning the most Tony Awards, 12 including Best Musical. The film version however, which was a scene-by-scene replica of the Broadway production, won no Oscars. In Hollywood, the musical that won more Academy Awards (10) than any other is West Side Story. Yet on Broadway the original stage production only earned one Tony, for the choreography of Jerome Robbins. The Tony voters that season favored The Music Man in most categories; yet when it was faithfully filmed the year after West Side Story, it only won a lone Oscar, for best scoring. Of course the competition must be considered. The Music Man was up against Lawrence of Arabia (the Best Picture winner), To Kill a Mockingbird, The Longest Day, and Mutiny on the Bounty. West Side Story only had to contend with Fanny, The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg and The Guns of Navarone.

The obvious disadvantage in Hollywood is that musicals are nominated against all kinds of movies whereas on Broadway they compete against other musicals. Tony-winning musicals must be turned into satisfying films (no easy task, that) and then hope they open in a year when the comedies, dramas, and even Hollywood-grown musicals aren’t so impressive. Consider these well-made but unlucky movie versions of Tony Award musicals: The King and I lost to Around the World in 80 Days, Hello, Dolly! to Midnight Cowboy, Fiddler on the Roof was defeated by The French Connection, and The Godfather beat Cabaret. The many outstanding film versions of Tony musicals that were not even nominated for Best Picture include The Pajama Game, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Evita, Hairspray and Sweeney Todd.

Aside from My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, which stage-based musicals has Hollywood liked? The only others to win the Best Picture Oscar are the aforementioned West Side Story, the British Oliver!, and the surprise hit Chicago. While none of their stage versions won the Tony Award, they were all Tony-quality shows so it’s not too surprising that they made excellent films and won Oscars. Also, each was done on quite an impressive scaled, having been “opened up” for the screen. Oliver! managed to beat out such worthwhile films as The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, Romeo and Juliet, and Funny Girl (a Broadway hit but not a Tony winner). Chicago won over the less-impressive competition of The Pianist, Gangs of New York, The Hours, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Finally, one can’t help but heave a sigh of regret and look at all the Tony-winning musicals that were turned into disappointing films. No one spends much time wondering why Oscar nominations didn’t go to South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, Kismet, Bye Bye Birdie, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Man of La Mancha, A Little Night Music, The Wiz, A Chorus Line, Annie, The Phantom of the Opera, or Rent. As much as these stage works were (and are) beloved by audiences, theatre goers would probably agree with Oscar that the screen versions were lacking.

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