Monday, June 13, 2011

Tony memories

So little attention was I paying in the run-up to the Tonys last night that I didn't even know the show had moved from Radio City to the Beacon until it began. From where I sit, the move was an upgrade -- the broadcast actually seemed professionally produced (as befits a show that pays tribute to live theatre). The performers seemed able to hear the orchestra! What a difference that makes.

In terms of professionalism and general skill, the opening "It's not just for gays anymore!" number was the best I've seen, maybe ever. On the other hand -- well, here's what I said last year: "I just don't think the motto of the Tonys should be 'Broadway: It's Not So Bad!'" Alas, so much for what I think.

Some other thoughts, as I watched:

Alec Baldwin, as the first presenter, made sure to make it obvious that he had never bothered to look at the dialogue he was about to read before he stepped onto the stage, because if it seemed like he cared enough to rehearse, he wouldn't be Alec Baldwin.

He gave the Best Featured Actress in a Play award to Ellen Barkin, whose acceptance speech went on way too long. Some self-righteousness was to be expected from those affiliated with The Normal Heart, it being an Issue Play and all. But you knew, watching, that this was going to eat into someone else's speech time down the road.

Looking at Robert Morse standing next to Matthew Broderick, I felt like I was looking at two ages of man. Make that man-boy. It's not so cute after you're 35! As for the How to Succeed number, the choreography and staging left me pretty cold. But it was nice to see Daniel Radcliffe working so darn hard.

I DVR'd the telecast and tuned in about half an hour late, which meant I had the power to fast-forward. John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown routine prompted me to take advantage of that power. I'm sort of amazed that there's a big enough base of people willing to pay to see that to keep bringing his one-man shows back to Broadway.

I was looking forward to seeing this Catch Me if You Can number, since I'd heard what a show-stopper it was. I have to say, all things being equal, I kind of prefer it when my show-stoppers have tunes. But Norbert Leo Butz is a genius, and I'm glad he got to demonstrate what he did to win that Tony.

War Horse's win for Best Direction of a Play meant we had our first interloping Brits taking the stage. And boy, were they dull. Listen, American Theatre Wing, if you want to convince people at home that winning a Tony is the thrill of a lifetime, you have to stop giving them out to Brits all the time, because they just don't deliver in the "happiest night of my life" speechmaking department. This pair had far too many "em"s in their thank yous. Off you go.

I very much regret not having seen The Scottsboro Boys. The number did not change that -- although the "Commencing in Chattanooga" part did go on kind of a long time. I thought they were doing a medley of some sort, but it seemed to get stuck. Oh well.

Haven't seen The Book of Mormon yet, and I do hope to, if only because I feel like I really ought to. I hadn't heard of Nikki M. James until she won the Featured Actress in a Musical award, but I'm all the happier for her. Again, though: the speech was too long. It reminded me of Michael Scott's wedding-toast technique (when time isn't an issue, he likes to try out several different opening lines).

As for the number from The Book of Mormon, it actually tended to confirm my low-end expectations for the show. I was surprised to detect a reference to The Sound of Music, but not really in a good way -- more like, "Is this entire song really one long reference to a song from the movie version of The Sound of Music?" The humor felt a little too much like what I know of Avenue Q, which tends to stop just short of working for me. I still feel like I have to see it, but I'm no more eager to spend a lot of money to do so than I was before.

When Hugh Jackman was the actual host of the Tonys, I truly hated the "Look, he can sort of sing!" song-and-dance medleys they had him doing. I don't get the appeal, really, especially when the entire theatre is full of people I'd rather watch sing and/or dance. So I was double annoyed to see him come out to reprise that nonsense with Neil Patrick Harris. Another opportunity to take advantage of that fast-forward button.

I'm not sure it made sense for Spider-Man to get a number -- shouldn't a show have to actually open first, before it gets nationwide promo time on the Tonys? I'd be pretty ticked off if I were connected to, say, Baby, It's You! However, the song was pretty terrible and actually made me less likely to buy a ticket to the show. So there's that.

I mentioned that I saw Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Saturday night. Seeing Robin Williams presenting at the Tonys reminds me that one thing I loved about his performance in Bengal Tiger is that he didn't do any of this Robin Williams shtick. (I did not make a note of what award he was presenting -- clearly, my interest level in the actual categories was at an all-time low.)

Sister Act the musical makes such a hash out of Sister Act the movie and everything that works about it -- including what Whoopi Goldberg brought to it -- that it's hard to believe Whoopi Goldberg is even willing to acknowledge it, let alone produce it. Her involvement with the musical sort of spoils the movie for me. The number they performed ("Raise Your Voice," I think it's called) was a good example of how I thought the musical adaptation failed. The teaching-the-nuns-to-sing sequence should have been a major set piece. It should have built, dramatically and musically, so that you really believed some sort of transformation was taking place (especially crucial in a musical, where we take for granted that all of the characters onstage can sing). Instead it rushes to the full-blown chorus and then repeats a bunch of times. And the actresses playing the nuns have nothing to play -- no individual characters to make them interesting, no real investment in the scene. They are an undifferentiated chorus. If that had been the case in the movie, it never would have worked.

The presentation of Best Revival of a Play to The Normal Heart meant another round of sermonizing. Why not just leave that to Larry Kramer? He's the pro, and it sounds so much less self-indulgent coming from him.

Apparently I spaced out and missed some sort of heartwarming story about high school kids or something like that, because I found myself wondering, why the hell are we seeing a number from Memphis? And it's the same number they did last year, and it was pretty awful then, and it hasn't improved in the meantime. Memphis, you seem so well-meaning, but I just can't get past my suspicion that you stink.

I thought the whole point of giving a "special" Tony to the puppet designers for War Horse was to acknowledge it without having to give it all the other play awards. And yet: War Horse wins Play Most Likely to Keep Making Money -- I mean, Best Play. Sorry, American dramatists! It really seemed like this might be your year!

I'm afraid I find tap-dancing pretty boring to watch on television. Even so, I could tell that the closing number from Anything Goes would be quite thrilling in person. That's still on my to-see list.

Boy, it's a good thing we gave Athol Fugard his lifetime achievement award before the broadcast started, because if he'd been honored live on television we might have had to skip, like, that Hugh Jackman-NPH number! Or the song from Memphis!

I enjoyed the montage of plays from this season -- a very busy one. It reminded me of a couple other things I did manage to see, like the long-since-forgotten A Free Man of Color. But James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave were in no hurry, huh? Should we blame them for the fact that the whole thing ran over time?

I was surprised to see "Side By Side" -- and I'm still confused about this whole "It's a movie now!" thing. But it's always nice to have some Sondheim in an evening, whatever the excuse. The only problem was that, out of context, the number is rather odd, and worse, on television it looked terrible. It was the first and only instance of the frantic camerawork that has spoiled so many musical numbers in years past. Sort of a waste of that star-studded cast, too.

As they announce the Leading Actress in a Play nominees, I think to myself, is Frances McDormand really wearing a jean jacket? And then she wins, and we all have time to admire it while she's giving her weirdly aggressive acceptance speech. That must have been some fun on the red carpet, eh? "Frances, who are you wearing?" "Uh, I think it's Guess? But I'm not really sure because I bought it back in the '80s."

Sutton Foster's teary breakdown over the loss of her dresser was pretty awesome. That doesn't happen at the Oscars.

And now: oh boy, another Mark Rylance acceptance speech. (Remember what I said about the Brits spoiling the "Winning a Tony is the best thing that can happen to you" vibe?) I do not find this forced unconventionality charming. Especially when time is running out. Can you just say thank you like all the other grownups, Mark?

I would just like to note that my DVR cut off before Chris Rock could dispense with the "edgy" jokes and actually announce the nominees. Fortunately I knew enough to record the 11:00 news, just in case, so I did get to see the end of the show. Not sure how to feel about NPH doing Lin-Manuel Miranda's shtick, but overall, if it wasn't an exciting year for the awards, it was at least a good year for the broadcast itself. See you next year, same time, same place?

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