Monday, June 13, 2011

Idle Thoughts About the 2011 Tony Awards Show

Frances McDormand: Dressed for the Red Carpet?
Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan?

I generally do not indulge in the annual folly of predicting Tony Award winners, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy indulging in the morning-after folly of commenting on the event itself.

So, if you are interested, here are my random notes from the 2011 Tony Awards ceremonies that I watched on television from the living room sofa, just as most of you probably did.   

To begin with, I liked that the venue was changed from Radio City Music Hall to the Beacon Theater, regardless of whatever problems were caused by its smaller size (2894 seats as opposed to RCMH’s 5,933). The huge stage of Radio City, which had a prior booking by Cirque du Soleil, has always seemed too big for the production numbers, both visually and in the way it swallowed the sound.  Last night, all the numbers had an equal chance to try to sell themselves.

Neil Patrick Harris was a charming and congenial host.  I liked his opening and closing numbers, as well as his banter with Hugh (“I only play the big rooms”) Jackman, himself a charming and congenial four-time host who was given a spot just for the banter (“Any show you can host, I can host better…”)

The clever opening number, written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the score for Cry-Baby, made gentle fun of the notion that Broadway attracts only a small segment of the population: 

It’s not just for gays…for gays and the Jews,
And cousins in from out of town you have to amuse,
The sad and bitter malcontents who write the reviews

And, at the close, we were treated to Harris’s performance of a quickly-penned “insta-rap” summation of the evening, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of In The Heights.  Sample line, referencing a performance by one of the stars of The Book of Mormon:

            Andrew Rannells sang “I Believe” and he landed it
So well now he’s Mitt Romney’s V.P. candidate

Before I discuss the production numbers and the awards, do allow me a Joan Rivers Red Carpet moment by asking of Frances McDormand and Whoopi Goldberg:  What were they wearing?  And why?

Ms. McDormand, who picked up what was certainly a well-deserved Tony for lead actress in a play (Good People), came out on stage wearing a most unflattering red and black-striped shmata, over which she wore a cheap denim jacket.  And Whoopi Goldberg, who introduced the number from Sister Act, the musical for which is producer, wore an outfit that looked as if it belonged in the closet of Guinan, the futuristic character she played in Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  Not that it really matters.  Just sayin’.

Good to see Larry Kramer up there on stage as his play, The Normal Heart, took the Tony for best revival (along with acting awards for featured performances by Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey).  Too bad Joe Mantello didn’t win for best actor in a leading role.  That honor went to Mark Rylance for his work in Jerusalem, a play I found tedious to sit through.  For his acceptance speech, in keeping with the anti-establishment character he plays in Jerusalem, Rylance chose to recite an oddball piece, a "prose poem" by Louis Jenkins titled Walking Through A Wall.  It begins: 

               Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through 
               walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more  
               interesting than pot making or driftwood lamps...

Make of it what you will.

As for the the musical production numbers, they all made for good advertising plugs for their respective shows.  The best of these was the title song from Anything Goes, which showed off as much as anything choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s brilliant work, so that it seemed right for both the show and Ms. Marshall to pick up top honors.  A close second was the song “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon, thanks to the terrific performance by one of the show’s stars, Andrew Rannells. 

Even the much ridiculed Spiderman:  Turn Off The Dark (Neil Patrick Harris allotted 30 seconds for some lame Spiderman jokes, though a couple more slipped through during the course of the evening) had its moment in the sun with a well-produced tender little tune from the yet-to-officially-open show. 

And even though The Scottsboro Boys was honored only through its many nominations (trounced pretty much at every turn by The Book of Mormon), it does seem that a national tour is in the cards—at least according to Don Cheadle, who introduced the medley of upbeat and winningly performed numbers from the show.  That few minutes of air time ought to sell some tickets for a show that deserves to be seen by many more than caught it during its short Broadway run.  

And you gotta hand it to Norbert Leo Butz, who picked up the Tony for best performance by a lead actor in a musical for his role in Catch Me If You Can.  Butz always gives 110% and would carry any show solely on his back if he could.  (Did you happen to see him in the otherwise tepid Enron last year?)  He sold the number from Catch Me If You Can as well as anyone ever could, although I have to confess I preferred the few moments of singing by Aaron Tveit that preceded the main number. 

Speaking of Mr. Butz, his acceptance speech was one of the more gracious and humble ones I’ve heard in a long time, and it made for an emotional moment when he paid tribute to his sister, without playing up the fact that she was murdered in what was deemed to be a homophobic hate crime at the time when her brother was in the midst of rehearsals for Catch Me If You Can.

There were, of course, some other moments that I could have lived without—some long-winded or under-prepared acceptance speeches, some bits of entertainment that weren’t so entertaining, and a repeat performance of a number from last year’s winning musical—but on a whole, this was one of the better Tony Awards shows in recent years, with more Broadway show people and fewer drop-ins from Hollywood, better timing, better acoustics, and good solid hosting. 

Nice way to wrap up a year of Broadway theater-going.  Bravo!

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