June 12, 2013

How Almost Everyone—Particularly Viewers and Theater Lovers—Came Away A Winner From this Year’s Tony Awards Ceremony

The question is the same every year:  should the Tony Awards be a celebration for Broadway insiders and their fellow travelers (like me) or should the televised ceremony be basically a commercial that sells the currently-running productions to regular folks who just want to know which shows to see? Well, the wonderful thing about this year’s telecast is that it was both.

Almost everyone agrees that the show was one of the best in the Tony’s 67-year history. As the Los Angeles Times said, “If anything could restore faith in the American theater it was Sunday's exuberant Tony Awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall.”

And the ratings bear that out. They were up an astonishing 20% over last year. Which is impressive in its own right but even more so when you consider that the show was up against Game 2 of the NBA Finals and the finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Much of the credit for the ratings boost—and the terrific show—has to go to Neil Patrick Harris, the best host of any awards show since Bob Hope in his heyday as the go-to MC for the Oscars in the 1950s and ‘60s.   

I’m sure CBS loves having Harris do the Tony honors because of the synergy with its hit sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”  But we theatergoers revere NPH because he’s as smitten with the theater as we are. Plus he can sing, dance and tell jokes as well as most of the nominees.

The opening number of any awards show is tricky cause it has to grab the attention of the viewers at home and entertain folks in the live audience who mainly want to just get on with the trophy giving.  That first number also sets the tone for the rest of the show to come. 
Harris and his collaborators (a special shout out to director Glenn Weiss for getting the cameras where they should be) aced it on all accounts. The opener was a terrific mashup that gave every musical now playing on Broadway a chance to strut its stuff (click here to see the result). And everyone involved—particularly NPH—looked to be having so much fun that who wouldn’t want to join the party? 
And the team kept things bouncing along, despite a couple of rambling acceptance speeches.  Most, however, were gracious and heartfelt and you can hear them all by clicking here
The show finished with a great riff on Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” in which Audra McDonald took over the Alicia Keys accompanying role, while Harris summed up the evening with hip-hop lyrics that Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail wrote as the show was unfolding. 

Alas, some viewers around the country didn’t get to see it because the show ran over by four minutes and their numbskull stations switched away. But you can see the whole thing by clicking here.  

Now I’ll admit that I may be biased because the Tonys have always been my favorite awards show of the year.  It's an event that gets the Super Bowl treatment in my house. 

I fix a dinner that my husband K and I can eat on TV trays (this year’s menu: Teriyaki chicken legs, asparagus and cannellini bean salad in a lemon-and-tarragon vinaigrette and a bottle of rosé) and then we turn off the phone and settle ourselves in front of the set and root for our favorites.

I keep score of the wins.  K keeps the wine glasses filled. Yelling out loud and high-fiving are allowed.  A former pit musician, K actually got up and gave a standing O when Hal Prince, on hand to mark the 25-year run of Phantom of the Opera, cited his pride in having a full orchestra of 28 musicians for the show.  
There were lots of other things to cheer as well.  Four of the eight acting awards went to African-Americans (Patina Miller for Pippin, Billy Porter for Kinky Boots, Courtney Vance for Lucky Guy, and the great Cicely Tyson for The Trip to Bountiful).  And the two directing awards went to women (Pam MacKinnon for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Diane Paulus for Pippin).  In fact I’ve no complaints about the winners, even when my personal favorites failed to take home the prize. (Click here for the full list.)

 And even shows that walked away with no awards could claim some victory:  I’ve seen several bloggers and website commenters talking about how the production number from Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella prompted them to buy tickets for that show. 
Like most theater lovers, my buddy Bill and I were eager to hash over the show and so we decided to do another of our occasional recorded discussions to share some of what we thought with you.  Click the orange button below to hear us sound off on our favorite moments from the telecast:

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