The new production of Terrence McNally’s farce It’s Only a Play is more of a rewrite than a revival. The play is about the after-party on opening night of a Broadway show, and is chock-full of up-to-the-minute insider jokes about the theater scene. Therefore, doing a major revision made a lot of sense.
Having heard about this, I wondered whether this blog’s muse, Tommy Tune, would still be mentioned in the new version. The play has a character named Gus, the young man in charge of bringing everyone’s coat up to the hostess’ bedroom. In the original 1985 script, Gus walks in at one point struggling with an incredibly long fur coat. The character James, a jaded actor, quips, “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Tommy Tune, right?”
The other night I attended a preview performance of the new “It’s Only a Play.” It’s absolutely hilarious. And the Tommy Tune joke is still in. However, the jab has been extended and updated in an unfortunately nasty way. Gus brings in the fur coat. James makes his quip. But now Gus looks at him blankly, and James has to explain who Tommy Tune is, calling him a brilliant director and choreographer of musicals who “hasn’t done anything in twenty-five years.” Cue big laugh.
Yes, yes. It’s just a joke. And McNally is writing in James’ voice, not his own. But it’s also a nauseating reminder that, to some in the culture of Broadway, there is no other “real” theater. Tune has been very busy for the past quarter-century, creating shows for ZinZanni Theater in Seattle, for a national tour, for the Goodman in Chicago, for Holland America Cruise Lines, and for the University of Miami. That’s not to mention two years headlining in Vegas and the solo memoir show that he’s currently touring.
So, McNally’s new joke is as preposterous as imagining Tommy Tune in a full-length fur coat. Oh, wait…