Facebook group rapidly gains members

As a contingent of legiters continued to grumble about what they perceived as an invasion of Hollywood celebs at the Tonys, a social-network group called “Give the Tonys Back to Broadway!!” began swiftly attracting members.

Group, begun by “Million Dollar Quartet” star Hunter Foster on Wednesday evening, had accumulated more than 1,850 members by late Thursday afternoon.

The high celeb presence at Sunday night’s Tony ceremony — underscored by thesping wins for Denzel Washington, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Scarlett Johansson — has provoked debate among many in the industry.

One faction argues the star turnout simply reflects the increasing traffic between the Main Stem and Hollywood, as exemplified by stage stints this season from Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Jude Law and Tony host Sean Hayes. Others, on the other hand, believe homegrown Rialto talent was overshadowed in the ceremony, which was broadcast on CBS.

The “Give the Tonys Back” page on Facebook includes the following description: “A group for all actors, directors, writers and fans who want to see the Tony awards given back to who it belongs to: US!! No more movie stars invading Radio City, no more rock bands playing more than one song; we want Broadway stars as presenters and Broadway people performing. And if that means leaving CBS for Bravo or Lifetime or TNT, then so be it! We’ve had enough!”Foster, who envisioned the group leading to an online discussion among a relatively limited number of friends and colleagues, said he was surprised at how quickly it gained traction beyond that. “Maybe if there’s enough people, we can do something about it as a theater community,” he said.

The thread of comments posted on the Facebook page includes a debate between those who agree with the group’s position and those who see the star-heavy ceremony as a healthy indicator of bicoastal talent pool that has always had a place on the Main Stem.Howard Sherman, exec director of the American Theater Wing, a co-producer of the Tonys, said that producing a diverse and entertaining telecast is essential to maintain the awards’ annual slot on network television — a spotlight that is seen as a marketing boon both for individual productions and for the Rialto as a whole.

“Maintaining a berth on network television has an enormous value for all of Broadway,” he said.

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