That was what ended up happening last week with my predictions for Sunday’s 66th Annual Tony Awards, honoring the best of (a so-so) Broadway season. Though many of my predictions came true – including the wins in the Best Play (Clybourne Park), Musical (Once), Revival of a Play (Death of a Salesman), Actress in a Musical (Audra McDonald got a fifth Tony for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), and all four featured acting winners.
But in several other categories – including the other three leading acting categories – I got it wrong, a rare poor entry given my track record for award horse race calculations. Instead of Philip Seymour Hoffman winning for Salesman, James Corden won for One Man, Two Guvnors; Tracie Bennett didn’t win for End of the Rainbow; new star Nina Arianda did for Venus in Fur; and instead of Jeremy Jordan triumphing for Newsies, Steve Kazee won a Tony for Once.
And you know what? These surprises were the highlights of my night. Both Kazee and Corden gave teary, heartfelt speeches, the former in honor of his late mother, and the latter in tribute to his girlfriend, with the rare combination of humility and poise, surprise and articulation that usually only those in public speaking and performance lines of work can do. Arianda squealed that the man who read her name – recent Oscar-winner and legend Christopher Plummer – was her first crush. McDonald, too, emotionally declared that for her the theater was the only place where, as a young, awkward child, she felt she belonged. And winners Judy Kaye and Judith Light both dedicated their moments of the evening to very recently deceased fathers.
And thank heaven for these talented winners and their dignified speeches. They were the only real moments in an overlong ceremony that seemed to do little to further the Broadway League’s mission of drumming up interest in New York theater throughout the rest of the country. (Sunday’s telecast, hosted for a third time by Neil Patrick Harris, was the lowest rated Tonys telecast. Ever.)
Almost all of the current musicals and musical revivals on the Great White Way got a slot to perform a number on the CBS show, as well as Best Musical nominee Leap of Faith, which had already shuttered. And as opposed to last year, where musicals performed catchy numbers that made sense even out of context, virtually none did this year. Criminally, instead of putting together a montage of numbers like Porgy did, Follies only featured Danny Burstein singing “Buddy’s Blues,” a number that comes at a point in the show that befuddles even some sitting through the whole damn thing. How is that possibly going to entice non-Sondheim fans?
A cryptically assembled look at scenes of the nominated plays hired actors to appear in shadow, kinda sorta re-enacting moments from the nominated shows. It didn’t work, now did it really give a good idea of what these clever shows were about. And did anyone else notice the couple dry-humping during the Venus in Fur description?
Overall, this year’s telecast was a disengaging affair. I’m happy for this year’s hard-working winners, but I’m already indoctrinated into the world of theater. This telecast shows that the sphere may only be getting increasingly smaller, preaching to the choir. Given the amount of talent within that choir, its audience should be ever-expanding.
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