First of all, I must point out that I’m reviewing the Tony Awards broadcast without having seen any of the plays or musicals that were nominated. I also have a special interest in The Book of Mormon, because co-director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw was in my theatre group as a teenager. Living in San Francisco means the broadcast I saw was the taped version. These are my own impressions, because I haven’t yet read any of the other reviews.
If this year’s Tony Awards broadcast was trying to be a three hour long advertisement for Broadway musicals, it may have succeeded. If it was supposed to honor the talented folks working both onstage and behind the scenes, it was a disappointing failure. Most of the broadcast was devoted to showcasing song and dance numbers from not just the nominated new musicals and revivals, but also from Spiderman (long delayed but now supposedly opening this month), Memphis (last year’s winner), Company (don’t know why), and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (seriously don’t know why). All the technical awards, the two Lifetime Achievement Awards, the award for humanitarian efforts, the Regional Theatre Award, and the Special Award (for the horse puppets in War Horse) were given offscreen. Little snippets were shown from acceptance speeches when they returned from ad breaks. This just left the acting, directing, and best play/musical/revival awards. It was really strange that the best musical score was given offscreen, but the best musical book was given onscreen. There was no logic to it. I was especially disappointed that the best choreography award was presented offscreen, even though Casey Nicholaw didn’t win for The Book of Mormon. It was also puzzling when they presented the awards for best play and best revival of a play before they presented the best actor awards.
Host Neil Patrick Harris was awesome as usual, although I do wonder about middle America’s reaction to lyrics like “No sodomy required” in the opening number. Later, Harris had some fun with former host Hugh Jackman, who was heavily featured in audience reaction shots. My favorite Harris moment was when he rode out on a War Horse puppet. His end-of-the-show rap was great, but the last half hour of the show was rushed because of too many musical numbers and superfluous “broadway moments.”
I’m not going to list all the award winners. It’s enough to say that The Book of Mormon (best musical), War Horse (best play), The Normal Heart (best revival of a play), and Anything Goes (best revival of a musical) were the big winners of the night. I was thrilled when Casey Nicholaw won his first Tony Award for co-directing Mormon with Trey Parker. He was so happy, and he thanked ‘everyone he’s ever known’ so I couldn’t help feeling included. That’s definitely a Tony first for me! I was also pleased that Sutton Foster won for Anything Goes, because I love her. I’ve only seen her perform at various Tony Awards, but that’s all it takes for her to win your heart. It was strange watching John Larroquette win for How to Succeed in Business, because just an hour before the broadcast began, I was watching him on Retro TV in Black Sheep Squadron (circa 1977).
I loved seeing Robert Morse (the original 1961 Finch) and Matthew Broderick (Finch in the 1995 revival) introduce the nominated musical revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Morse is looking great at 80! Both these actors won Tonys for playing Finch, but Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t even nominated. Radcliffe really is shockingly short, especially standing next to Larroquette, but compared to the rest of the cast as well. I have to give a shout out to Ellen Harvey, who was easy to spot because she was the only female in the number they performed. Harvey was another member of San Diego Junior Theatre. and we worked together on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Whoopi Goldberg and Frances McDormand wore the strangest outfits of the evening. Goldberg had a hat that distracted me from her introduction of Sister Act, and McDormand (best actress for Good People) wore a denim jacket over her formal length dress. McDormand looked angry leaving the stage, and I wonder if it’s because everyone was under orders to shorten their acceptance speeches. Mark Rylance (best actor for Jerusalem) gave the quirkiest speech, describing the best kind of walls and fences you can walk through. (I learned later that he was quoting poet Louis Jenkins.) He didn’t thank anyone, but by that point, it was kind of refreshing. Brooke Shields was having a rough night; first she forgot her lyrics in the opening number, and then the first part of her presentation speech was bleeped out for language. (Sorry, I couldn’t lip read what she said, but I’m sure I’ll read it online later.) Bono and The Edge were surprisingly funny introducing a ballad from Spiderman, and the most awkward introduction was given by Christie Brinkley.
The In Memoriam tributes made me cry like they always do. This year we lost Elizabeth Taylor, of course, but there were so many other great people. I was surprised when one of the faces was so young, so I had to look her up. Eleven year old Shannon Tavarez from The Lion King died on November 1, 2010, of acute myeloid leukemia.
Overall, I am happy for the Tony Award winners and disappointed in the broadcast. Last year, I complained that there were too many Hollywood actors and not enough Broadway actors among the presenters, the audience, and the award winners. I enjoy seeing performers at the Tonys that I’ve never heard of before, because it’s my one chance during the year to discover them and learn about their work. This year, I tried my best not to categorize the actors as stage or film types, especially since I loved seeing Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory). He’s just joined the cast of The Normal Heart.
Update: I understand that the Tonys were held at the Beacon Theatre this year, which has half the number of seats as the usual venue. This meant that many folks couldn’t attend, and lots of people associated with nominated shows were seated in the upper levels. Now it makes a little more sense why so many awards weren’t shown, since the logistics of finding the nominees in the audience with cameras and getting them onstage quickly to accept their awards must have been a real issue. I feel sorry for all the folks who couldn’t attend, and for the friends and families of nominees watching at home who weren’t shown their loved ones being honored. I hope that next year, things will be different. (Didn’t I say that last year?)