Even the acceptance speeches are classier on THE TONY AWARDS. Tonight’s telecast featured a eloquent salute to “All those who say ‘Yes’” in the name of theatre from the lead producer of Best Play winner Clybourne Park, and a little later on, an anecdote from Best Musical winner Once‘s producer incorporating Harold Clurman and Constantin Stanislavski. You won’t hear those on the MTV Movie Awards.
There are two truisms about the Tony Awards. One is that there isn’t a smoother, more intelligent awards extravaganza in the year; the other, sadly, is that no one (especially no one under 50) will watch. The first was proved once again tonight, and all likelihood is that the latter will be clear by tomorrow as well, but we can enjoy these hours before that depressing fact is confirmed.
Neil Patrick Harris returned as host for the third time, and he represents the kind of miraculous confluence that normally happens only in musical comedy: a host as accomplished as one could wish, truly in love with theatre, who also happens to be a walking billboard for CBS, the broadcasting network of the awards, as star of its hit How I Met Your Mother. (Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory also deserved his spot as a presenter, although the actress from NCIS seemed to be there to introduce a scene from Evita mostly because she was Latina.) Harris began the proceedings with a funny number about what it might be like if real life were a Broadway musical (Patti LuPone would be your next-door neighbor, mowing her lawn, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson would be your understudy if you were under the weather), pulled off a sensational one-song salute to seemingly every composer who’s ever won a Best Score Tony, and wound things up with his now-traditional written-during-the-show recap of the awards themselves. Hugh Jackman aside, Harris is the best awards-show host in recent memory.
Jackman was there too, accepting a special Tony (and seemingly genuinely shocked to have it presented by his publicity-shy wife) and also getting the drumbeat going on his Christmas’ release of the Les Miserables movie; Universal, no dummies they, aired the movie’s teaser 6 months in advance of its opening, because this is as close to Broadway musical fans get to having a Super Bowl.
The awards themselves were mostly just fine (a full list can be found here): Clybourne Park is a brilliantly-structured and daring bullet into the flank of American race, class and hypocrisy, and Once is a charming, emotional chamber musical that will need help in selling tickets amid the Newsies and Spider-Mans of the world. Nina Arianda, Broadway’s deserved It Girl of the moment, richly deserved her Best Play Actress prize for her astonishing performance in Venus In Fur, even against the high-powered competition she faced, and the same was true of Featured Actress Judith Light in Other Desert Cities. Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye, winners for Best Musical Featured Actor and Actress, are among the best things in the mostly mediocre Nice Work If You Can Get it. It was too bad to see Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, especially in last season’s exceptional revival, fail yet again to win the big prize, and as hilarious as James Corden seems to be in One Man, Two Guvnors, it’s hard to believe he compares to the spectacular work of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the heartbreaking Best Play Revival winner Death of a Salesman.
The Tony Awards, of course, apart from being an awards presentation and a television show, serves as Broadway’s biggest commercial for itself, and at times it seems in danger of tipping into territory where the awards themselves are merely excuses for the musical numbers (a la the American Music Awards). It may not have been necessary to include a number from the revival of Godspell, nominated for nothing, or Ghost The Musical, nominated for nothing much. And the idea of live excerpts from a (cue product placement) cruise-ship version of Hairspray mostly served as a reminder that there’s a difference between a Broadway production and what you’d see on a cruise ship. It also seemed odd to give the telecast’s marquee 10:45PM musical number to the already-closed Leap of Faith. Additionally odd: the performers swaying in the background while Parsons introduced the clips from the Best Play nominees.
And not a single mention of Smash, not even by Best Play Featured Actor winner Christian Borle. Let no one doubt that Les Moonves rules CBS with an iron hand.
In the end, though, the Tonys remain the awards show the Oscars try to be and never manage to match. Especially in a season like this, when deserving, first-rate productions were consistent winners, it’s great to have the Tonys around to remind us how it should be done.