With all the pre-show hullabaloo about the Tony Awards broadcast, I went in expecting it to be one big crass-fest. Maybe that's why I came out feeling that it was the best Tony show in a number of years. Admittedly, the bar's not very high here.
I wasn't able to watch the show live and provide play-by-play on Twitter. (If you'd like to follow my random theater musings on an ongoing basis, I'm @ccaggiano.) So here are the impressions that I would have been posting, based on watching the show last night on TiVo delay.
The opening number: Was busy and frantic, and had some major sound problems. Actually, the show in general had significant sound issues, but it was most notable in the opening number, as well as during the Guys and Dolls performance. Oddest pairing: Stockard Channing and Aaron Tveit. Um, why?
Shrek number: I was pleased to see that the folks at Dreamworks decided to do an entire number from the show and not a greatest-hits montage, as so many shows have done in the past. The cast from Shrek performed "What's Up, Duloc?," featuring Tony nominee Christopher Sieber. Yeah, it's not the best number, from an admittedly lackluster score, but I give them props for not cutting and pasting bits and pieces from each of the nominees' best numbers.
Neil Patrick Harris: I thought NPH as the show's host was terrific: charming, confident, and self-effacing. I particularly liked the number with which he ended the show -- "Tonight" from West Side Story, with rewritten lyrics -- my favorite line from which was "The show could not be any gayer, if Liza was named mayor, and Elton John took flight." And I loved the sushi joke, at Jeremy Piven's well-deserved expense.
The touring-show numbers: The numbers from the touring productions of Mamma Mia, Legally Blonde and Jersey Boys were pointless. Bend over, Tony: the Broadway League wants a free commercial. The only number I didn't fast-forward through was Jersey Boys, because I found the gimmick of bringing in the five different Frankie Valli actors at least momentarily intriguing. (Be honest: by the end, you had chosen a favorite, right?) Yeah, I know: the Tony Awards in general are just one big commercial. But at least showcasing numbers from the nominated shows has a shred of credibility.
Best score: Yeah, Billy Elliot proved to be the juggernaut of the evening, but plucky little Next to Normal stopped Billy from sweeping up every award in sight. Congrats to Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt for snatching the Tony from the undeserving hands of Elton John and Dolly Parton. And props to the Tony voters for seeing beyond the stars in their eyes.
West Side Story number: "The Dance at the Gym" was a good choice for the show. It showcased the terrific playfulness between Matt Cavenaugh and Josephina Scaglione, as well as Jerome Robbins' kick-ass choreography. I wasn't so hot on the way they ended it, with a snatch from the "Tonight" duet, but again I was glad not to see a montage/commercial.
Rock of Ages number: Speaking of montages, I was rather unimpressed by the custom-made production number from Rock of Ages. Despite the effort, the number really didn't do the show justice, and failed to capture what is actually appealing about this show. If I hadn't already seen the show (twice) this number would not have induced me.
Liza: Is Liza Minnelli falling apart before our very eyes, or what? Did they have paramedics standing by in case she imploded?
Guys and Dolls number: "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" was an unfortunate choice for Guys and Dolls, since that was the number that the 1992 cast performed on the Tonys, and it created an unfortunate reminder of what the present revival is lacking. Plus, it put the miscasting of the otherwise talented Tituss Burgess into unflattering relief. And then there was the microphone trouble: we could hear the backstage folk panicking, but we couldn't hear Burgess sing until a stagehand ran on stage with a hand mike. What is this, 1950? Haven't we mastered the challenges of live TV by now? And how many people are greeting their Monday morning to the sight of a pink slip?
Best supporting actor: One of the genuine surprises of the night was when Greg Jbara won for Billy Elliot. I would have put good money on Will Swenson from Hair. But the voters were probably recognizing Jbara for admittedly strong performances past and present, and were likely caught up in the Billy Elliot tidal wave.
Next to Normal number: Alice Ripley seemed to be having some tempo problems in this number, although it might have been more sound issues with the TV production. But performing "You Don't Know/I Am the One" was a super choice, showing this moving show to its best advantage. Oh, and Alice, lovey, I applaud your winning best actress for Next to Normal, but WHY WERE YOU YELLING DURING YOUR ACCEPTANCE SPEECH?!
In Memoriam: Was anyone else annoyed by the relentless camera pans during the tribute to theater folks who died in the past year? I could barely read Marilyn Cooper's name.
The Billy Elliot monolith: Best sound design? Best SET!? Did the Tony voters actually see the Billy Elliot set? It's hideous and awkward. You might say, "Well it's supposed to be ugly. These people are living in squalor." Granted. But does that mean we have to throw an award at urban blight? Again, we're probably just witnessing the Billy momentum here.
Frank Langella: I applaud Frank Langella for what some might consider a self-aggrandizing speech. Perhaps it was. But he did serve as a reminder to the Tony nominating committee that, um, there were a bunch of shows that opened in the fall, many of which (The Seagull, anyone?) were entirely shut out.
Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer: "Hiss!" and "Boo!" to the TV crew for mixing up Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. And props to the classy Marcia Gay Harden for pointing the gaffe out in her acceptance speech.
The Hair number: Performing the title song from Hair was a very good choice, nicely capturing the exuberance of the show, which thankfully went on to win Best Revival. I loved it when Oskar Eustis said "Peace now! Freedom now! Equality now!," emphasizing the last one by pointing to his wedding ring, a clear and welcome reference to gay marriage.
Billy Elliot number: On the one hand, I was glad to see that they chose only one Billy Elliot to showcase in the "Angry Dance." (It was Trent Kowalik.) On the other hand, the number, which was one of the moments in the show that I found genuinely compelling, came off as loud, tuneless, and harsh, and was also poorly shot. Oh, and BTW, would that the Tony nominating committee and voters had shown the same strength of character and actually chosen *one* Billy as best actor. But that would hurt somebody's feelings, now wouldn't it? We can't have an awards show hurt someone's feelings, can we? (Yeah, well, talk to Frank Dolce, the poor kid who shares the part of Michael with Tony nominee David Bologna, about that one.) I didn't see David Alvarez, but I heard he's very good. I got Kiril Kulish, who is a terrific dancer, but the heavy acting scenes were a bit of a stretch for him. And now, all three of them have a Tony. Oh, isn't that just adorable?
Best Musical: As for the Billy Elliot sweep, well, all I can say is, I hated the show in London (read my review), but I was moderately engaged by the Broadway production (read my re-review). It's a great big crowd-pleaser, and there's some really solid stagecraft in evidence. But the score is awful, and the dance is IMHO overrated. Is it a classic for the ages? Will it become a stalwart part of the musical theater canon? Will community theaters and high school drama societies be performing Billy Elliot fifty years from now? Oh, sister, I have such doubts.