Battlefield Art: In Defense of “The Normal Heart”

By Anne E. Johnson

Today I heard from an intelligent, usually sensitive person with a great deal of experience watching theater. While his email was in praise of a local production of Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, I was distressed by his contrasting of that play with Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, which he called “a ham-handed political rant…which I hope never to see again in my life.”

This was my response:

“The Normal Heart and Mothers and Sons are, to my mind, not in the same genre, so I would not compare them. Kramer’s play is an accurately excruciating portrayal, not only of the time and society it represents, but of the playwright himself. It is autobiographical, and Larry Kramer has a shrieking, damaging personality. As much as anything, the play is a confession of that fact. And there was nothing subtle about the political Auschwitz that New York gays found themselves in during the 1980s. This does not mean you should like the play. It’s supposed to be almost impossible to watch, just as the period was almost impossible to live through. It’s an entirely different perspective from that of well-off 21st-century gays with the right to marry, or from a mother’s sorrowful memory.”

In other words, when a play is written in the middle of a real battlefield, the pages will likely be splattered with blood and skull fragments from the corpses tumbling by. But as gruesome and uncomfortable as that paper is to look at, the writing on it is still art.


Tommy Tune’s Tenth Tony Trivia Tribute

by Anne E. Johnson

Busker Alley could not be more pleased to see Tommy Tune receive a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement at the June 7, 2015 ceremony.

In honor of this great occasion, we have compiled some rare T.T. career tidbits to delight and tickle the curiosity of any Tommy Tune fan. (And, no, you won’t find these factoids in the pages of his memoir.)


1. Tune filmed a version of Pinocchio for CBS television’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame” in 1968. It was choreographed by Michael Bennett (!!) and costarred pop singer Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits) as the title character. Some proof can be seen here. Tune presumably played Jiminy Cricket. Watch this recent video interview to see how much he loves that character:

2. When Larry Kramer and Joseph Papp were trying to mount the first production of The Normal Heart at the Public Theater, Papp’s first choice for director was Tommy Tune. Mike Nichols suggested him as well. Read about it here.

3. In 1977, Tune performed a specially-commissioned one-man show called Ichabod, inspired by Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The songs were by Thomas Tierney and Gene Traylor. Tune performed the show once in New York (at the Town Hall), and four times at the American Rep in Boston. There are some more details in Dan Dietz’s book, Off-Broadway Musicals.