Monday, June 10, 2013

Welcome Back, Tony Awards

For the first time in years, I felt that the Tonys were ours again, that the show and the awards focused on theatre and existed to entertain people for whom theatre is so primary that their web passwords are amalgams of Sondheim titles (uh, not anyone I know personally). Even the movie, TV, and music people who were there, were there as theatre people. It was our night.

How nice to see the big stars be Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone. How nice to see the theatre actor Tracey Letts beat movie actor Tom Hanks (no offense, Tom). How nice to see stalwart Billy Porter up there, and Christopher Durang. How nice to see Neal Patrick Harris at his very best.

And two female best directors! (Bringing the Tony total to seven.) And Cyndi Lauper (definitely one of us with her beat-up musical theatre LPs) being the first woman to win for both music and lyrics!

And genuinely good original numbers, from the thrilling opening assembly of everyone (here) to Michael John LaChiusa's wry and smart "I Want to Be in A TV Show" (video and lyrics here) to the impressively-quickly-put-together-and-performed closing summary by Harris and Audra McDonald (here).

And what a lovely, genuinely moving memorial segment, with Cyndi Lauper's moving rendition of her evocative "True Colors."

Even better was what was missing: smarm, the emphasis on gay jokes, witless banter, embarrassing takeoffs. Everyone was there to honor theatre, and honor it they did. (Even the unnecessary and unimpressive number by the Rascals was there for a legit, theatre-related reason.)

Yes, this was the best Tonys in years, maybe decades. And this despite the fact that many of the numbers from the nominated musicals were kind of . . . eh.
  • Matilda = heavy-handed, unintelligible.
  • Bring It On = reasonably entertaining.
  • Cinderella = cute.
  •  Motown = made me want to listen to the original performers, but not to see this show. And reminded me how unique, and uniquely brilliant, Michael Jackson was, even at an extremely young age.
  • Annie = felt like being theatrically punched in the face.
  • Rascals = a waste of precious minutes.
  • Christmas Story = wonderful; made me want to see it; boy, can that kid tap!; why wasn't Caroline O'Connor nominated for anything?
  • Pippin = why does Patina Miller have to sing so hard? Magic is about hiding the effort, not foregrounding it. Loved the guy walking down the stairs on his hands.
  • Phantom = the fact that this show hold so many records and has 25 years on Broadway makes me sad.
  • Kinky Boots = I know that this is the song they are pushing--it's featured in ads all over the subway--but for me last night and in the show, it never quite gets where it's going. Moving the treadmills over and over again takes away from the song and choreography. But it was certainly energetic!
And a couple of random comments:
  • I know people say that theatre stars just aren't what they used to be, but consider this: Patina Miller could bench press Mary Martin.
  • Since whenever I see Liam Neeson I think of poor Natasha Richardson's awful death, having him play "tragedy" felt tasteless to me.
  • Trying to do a series of Mike Tyson jokes was never going to work. It is only people who are light on this earth who can handle being teased before millions of people. Tyson is not light on this earth. (And do the Tonys really want to feature a convicted rapist? Even if he did have a Broadway show?)
  • I enjoyed Harris's play-musical mashups, particularly Children of a Lesser Godspell. I'd see it.
  • Jesse Eisenberg can talk very quickly! I was impressed.
  • I know that Cicely Tyson is a grande dame and such, but she still took up too much time. And while I'm not into couture, to say the least, even I noticed that her dress was on the verge of swallowing her.
  • I know that, due to time constraints, they can't have every award given during prime time, but, com'on, the Rascals get okayed and Jerry Mitchell doesn't?
  • Someone please write Megan Hilty a show!
It's ironic that I'm calling this Tonys "ours" when I've seen so few of the shows. I'm one of the many  theatre enthusiasts who have given up on Broadway almost completely, mostly due to the insane prices. (When I was waiting in line to buy my second-to-the-last row Pippin seats--not exactly a bargain at $69 each--a thin, expensively clad woman in front of me, in red-bottomed spike heels and skinny jeans, bought two tickets and didn't bat an eye when they came to $504. Hell, she didn't even stop talking on her cell, just pushed her Amex at the man behind the bars.) But Broadway, well, it's Broadway. It's a theme park, it's a rip-off, it's a not-that-fabulous invalid, but it's Broadway. It's a place where you can stand at 8:00 and imagine magic starting all around you.

And some of that magic was there last night.


Anonymous said...

I thought the same thing about Liam Neesom and Cicely Tyson - both favorites of mine - not a fan of award shows but The Tonys are probably the most fun for me
Good article, Wendy
Joan Larnet

Wendy Caster said...

Thanks, Joan!