A week from tonight is the big night: the 2012 Tony Awards live at 8 PM on CBS! In honor of Broadway's night of nights, we have been counting down the greatest Tony Awards moments of all time and today we have a twofer still sure to inspire the ire and ignite the passionate fire of Broadway babies the world over almost thirty years after the decision (and minor controversy) - Jerry Herman's LA CAGE AUX FOLLES versus Stephen Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.
Rarely in Tony Awards history has there been as close a race for the big awards as in the case of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES versus SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at the 1984 Tony Awards - true, GYPSY battling it out with THE SOUND OF MUSIC and FIORELLO (the latter two tying for Best Musical and FIORELLO going on to win the Pulitzer Prize) was an anomaly; and, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN versus THE WHO'S TOMMY was too close to call, as well; then, there was the epic battle of NINE versus DREAMGIRLS, recounted recently in this very countdown column; and, of course the titanic match-up of INTO THE WOODS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA; but, '84 was something special that would signal the artistic direction of the future. Yes, what makes the 1984 pairing so fascinating is that one show represented the old guard and the polish and pizzazz of Broadway as it was at its height - LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Harvey Fierstein and direction by Arthur Laurents - and the other show seemed to stand for the future and the, well, "so many possibilities" of the theatrical art form and what it could potentially be - SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book and direction by James Lapine. As the particularly celebratory ceremony went on - the theme of that year's Tonys was saluting the composers/lyricists of the Best Musical nominees; all of them repeat nominees/ winners - the early technical wins for SUNDAY seemed to point to its favor, but, just as quickly, LA CAGE swept in and took many of the big prizes - George Hearn for his magnetic gender-bending turn, taking Best Actor In A Musical; Laurents for Direction; and, perhaps most famously, Jerry Herman for Best Score; as well as the show winning Best Musical. While Herman's seemingly well-meant words when taking the stage were taken out of context in the ensuing years, his pointed comment had an unmistakable slight sting - intentional or not. While Broadway babies will forever debate the merits of the wildly different shows and that infamous Tony moment - and the even more disparate composers themselves; to say nothing of the themes of each show and their pertinence to theatre, society and beyond - we can all agree that both LA CAGE and SUNDAY offered some of the finest theatre moments of the 1980s and both act as solid proof that Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim were still at the very top of their abilities - which is to say, the best of the best of Broadway; now or ever. All in all, those reasons alone are reason enough to regularly return to these two landmark productions and recount the ways they changed the theatre for the better - effects we are still experiences to this day - and perhaps find a place in our hearts for both.
So, take a look at the sleek style of the original Arthur Laurents production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and take part in the French flair and glamour of Zsa Zsa and those dangerous, dazzling Cagelles, and, also, travel to the park of La Grand Jatte in 1884 and witness Georges Seurat and his mistress, Dot, make art history right before our very eyes - and ears. Plus, tributes to the legendary composers of each show - and Kander & Ebb, who were in competition with that year's THE RINK - featuring a bevy of the brightest Broadway stars.
Enjoy the tribute performances to Kander & Ebb, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman in this thrilling series of clips, all from the 1984 Tony Awards - as many aficionados would argue, maybe this is the very best broadcast of all time.
Part 1 - featuring Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Raquel Welch in the Kander & Ebb tribute, ending with Dorothy Loudon's "Broadway Baby" from Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES.
Part 2 - featuring Julie Andrews, Tony Roberts and Robert Guillaume in the rest of the Sondheim segment of the show; then, Carol Channing, Leslie Uggams and Dorothy Loudon (once again) paying homage to Jerry Herman.
Take a peek at the original Pulitzer Prize-winning production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE as represented on the 1984 telecast - with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.
Now, see the final portion of the composer tribute musical montages, closing with the striking and utterly stupendous LA CAGE medley.
As a special LA CAGE bonus, view original leads Gene Barry and Tony-winner George Hearn - this time, in full-out Zsa Zsa drag - perform a sparkling medley of "We Are What We Are" and "I Am What I Am" along with the ferocious Cagelles on THE Merv Griffin SHOW in 1980. Oh la la!
As a final bonus, see the riveting finale sequence from the original production of SUNDAY as represented on the superb video capture of the show, now available to own on DVD.
So, who wins in 2012 - LA CAGE or SUNDAY? Who really should have won way back when? What show has had the biggest impact on Broadway in the almost thirty years since? What score is superior? What lead performances are the most memorable of all? Or, really, do we really even need to compare them at all? Without a doubt, they are totally, wildly dissimilar! We can suppose it's part of the fun of Tony season to stack up the competition and see where our favorite shows stand - and we are now entering into the hottest week of the year for Broadway betting. Stay cool!