This is by no means a comprehensive review of the Tonys, but rather some impressions about specific bits that stuck with me. Maybe some will resonate with you. One quick note: because I’ve already written about Fun Home, I don’t say much about it here – but I was certainly delighted that it (deservedly!) won in a number of categories.
On and Off Camera
What we didn’t see and should have: Major awards, including best book and score for a musical (Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, who gave what I’m told were among the best speeches in recent years); best choreography (Christopher Wheeldon); and an honorary Tony to Tommy Tune.
What we did see and shouldn’t have: A lame dance break, dedicated to Tune. An unnecessary closing number from a 10-year-old musical, The Jersey Boys. Lots of unfunny camping between our hosts (see below), including Kristin Chenoweth in a bald cap and a rubber E. T. costume. Someone named Ashley Tisdale introducing her bestie, someone named Vanessa Hudgens, who then appeared in a number from Gigi, which could not have looked more effortful or less effervescent. There’s plenty more, but that’s enough.)
The Award Presenters
It’s a lost cause to point out what’s been obvious for years now – that, apart from nominees, no actor will be asked to appear on the Tonys unless she has a recognizable TV or movie profile. Major artists who have spent their careers in the theatre apparently have no role to play in an evening dedicated to celebrating the art form they have served honorably for decades.
Former Tony host Neil Patrick Harris was seen as a tough act to follow (not by me, but apparently by others), and last year’s replacement – hopping Hugh Jackman – was an ineffective substitute.
So, all eyes were on the much-promoted novelty pairing of Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming. Both are greatly talented performers with a proven Broadway track record – but both should come with a warning label. Not long ago, she had genuine charm, but her persona is increasingly shrill and plastic. He reeks of smug self-regard, and is most effective in small doses.
Seen here, they were a grotesque pair of naughty, middle-aged children – Struwwulpeter at Radio City Music Hall. (I was sure there was gag built into Cumming’s itty bitty suit-with-shorts – that Angela Lansbury would emerge as Mame, to give him his first pair of long pants – but it didn’t happen.)
Almost 50 years ago, the marvelous if irascible writer, William Goldman, opined in his book, The Season, that there’s a kind of theatre star, greatly beloved by critics, who is pretty much a walking freak show. I commend you to his essay, “Critics’ Darlings,” which is as good an explanation of KC & AC as I can imagine.
Come back, Neil Patrick Harris! You, at least, behave like a functioning adult, and we need you more than I thought!
Plays Versus Musicals
It was clearer than ever that the Tonys don’t have an effective way to talk about and present plays (as opposed to musicals). At most, we get a one-sentence synopsis and a quick sound bite of dialogue. Faced with having to showcase a convoluted “medley” of best play nominees, even the normally poised and classy Bryan Cranston seemed flummoxed.
The key problem is what appears to be a fundamental fear on the part of Tony producers – that if there’s even a moment not filled with action, audiences will be bored.
It’s an impossible paradox. As any true theatre lover understands, some of the greatest moments on stage are quiet ones. (No one knows this better than one of last night’s winners, Helen Mirren, who can do more with a tilt of her head than many actresses can in a whole performance.) But theatre as-seen-at-the-Tonys is all noise, all the time – “Color and movement,” as Dame Edna would say.
So musicals are much more Tony-friendly than plays – and even here, the emphasis is on big and loud and busy. Personally, though, I much preferred the too-short moment we had of Kelli O’Hara in The King and I – her authenticity and quiet charm were sheer magic.
Though I saw quite a bit of theatre in New York this year, I don’t think there’s a major category where I saw every nominee, so I shouldn’t judge. I’ll just say that I was happy to see Annaleigh Ashford win for You Can’t Take It With You – she was captivating in the show, making something special of a role that doesn’t look like much on the page.
And I was thrilled to see Kelli O’Hara finally get a Tony. I haven’t seen The King & I, but I’m fortunate to have seen her often – South Pacific, Pajama Game, Follies, Dracula, Light in the Piazza. Each of these performances was luminous, detailed, authentic, and ravishingly sung.