Variety editorial

The hills are alive with the sound of Tony Award soul-searching. For the sake of the venerable legit legions, we hope that the rejuvenation effort has positive results.

Seeking to stop a steep decline in ratings, producers of the June 8 kudocast have made a wise move in enlisting the amiable Hugh Jackman as host for an expanded three-hour edition.

Scheduling, however, will permit the Aussie thesp only one day to rehearse. His heart, presumably, will be into the task, given his upcoming Broadway debut in “The Boy from Oz.”

Hosts do not always hold the key to kudos success, as a few Oscar turns by the much-beloved Billy Crystal have shown. More essential is that audiences connect with the nominees.

The once-strong connective tissue between those onstage and the large pop-culture following needed to sustain a nationally televised event is starting to fray. Box-office receipts for the 2002-03 season set a record, but attendance did not. Several national tours of Broadway hits are viewed as risky even in the low-percentage legit world.

It is all too easy for Joe and Jane Public to tune out of the Tony race and tune out on the big night. Kudos organizers might want to consider some “outside the box” ideas to woo back the Publics. Playwright Mayo Simon, in his new book “The Audience & the Playwright,” offers some instructive thoughts on the widening gap.

“All playwrights everywhere have had to deal with the same problem — how to keep them in their seats — which they have all solved the same way, by giving the audience a powerful role,” he observes.

Such is the task for the Tonys.

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