Monday, June 13, 2011

Theater review: Tonys broadcast one of best in years, but plays deserve more time

Neil Patrick Harris sings It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore
on Sunday night’s Tony Awards telecast.

By Hap Erstein

It was a great night for smiling proselytizers and equine puppets.‭

Of course,‭ ‬I’m referring to‭ ‬The Book of Mormon and‭ ‬War Horse,‭ ‬which cemented their hit status by taking a victory lap at last night’s‭ ‬65th annual Tony Awards telecast,‭ ‬grabbing nine and five statuettes respectively.

The ceremony itself was one of the best in many years,‭ ‬though it continued to give short shrift to plays in favor of musicals and more and more awards in the design categories were presented off-camera before the telecast.‭ ‬There remains a tension between the program being an awards show versus a variety show.‭ ‬I understand the tilt towards the latter,‭ ‬but that doesn’t mean I am happy about it.

Obviously,‭ ‬time constraints are not the issue,‭ ‬ratings are.‭ ‬The Tonys are a ratings disaster,‭ ‬so if CBS is willing to continue carrying it,‭ ‬I guess the network has the right to insist on a musical number from‭ ‬Spider-Man:‭ ‬Turn Off the Dark,‭ ‬even though it was a boring,‭ ‬tone-deaf ballad and we saw no flying effects,‭ ‬perhaps for safety’s sake.‭ (‬Insert your favorite‭ ‬Spider-Man joke here.‭)

Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano in a scene from
the upcoming Spider-Man:‭ ‬Turn Off the Dark.

More questionable‭ ‬--‭ ‬even though a number by Stephen Sondheim is always welcome in my book‭ ‬--‭ ‬was the time devoted to a national broadcast plug for the recent concert version of‭ ‬Company,‭ ‬which was recorded for theatrical release beginning this Wednesday evening.

It is no coincidence that playing the role of bachelor Bobby was Neil Patrick Harris,‭ ‬the Tonys‭’‬ emcee for the second year in a row.‭ ‬If the live commercial was part of the quid pro quo of landing him as the show’s winsome host,‭ ‬so be it.

A year ago,‭ ‬his considerable skills as a song-and-dance man were kept under wraps until the waning moments of the program.‭ ‬This year,‭ ‬he led with them,‭ ‬vocalizing on the tongue-in-cheek opening production number about Broadway‭ ‬--‭ ‬It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.‭ ‬Later came a clever duet with former Tonys‭ (‬and Oscars‭) ‬host Hugh Jackman,‭ ‬a faux-jealousy medley about their comparative abilities,‭ ‬in the anything-you-can-do,‭ ‬I-can-do-better vein.

Then there was‭ ‬Side by Side by Side from‭ ‬Company,‭ ‬and best of all was a rap recap of the show‭ ‬--‭ ‬written by Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda‭ (‬In the Heights‭) ‬that was obviously updated during the show with some droll lyrics,‭ ‬recited deftly by the unflappable Harris.

As to the awards themselves,‭ ‬I guess you could say there were no surprises‭ ‬--‭ ‬well,‭ ‬maybe John Larroquette‭ (‬How To Succeed in Business‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭ ‬.‭) ‬for featured actor in a musical.‭ ‬If you put your money on‭ ‬The Book of Mormon and‭ ‬War Horse at every opportunity,‭ ‬you did fine.‭ ‬In any event,‭ ‬ahem,‭ ‬I correctly predicted‭ ‬24‭ ‬of‭ ‬26‭ ‬categories,‭ ‬thus winning in a Tonys pool with friends.‭ ‬I sincerely hope you took my prognostications and found some sucker to bet with.

Andrew Rannells sings I Believe,‭
The Book of Mormon.

Here are other stray thoughts on the Tonys:

‭* ‬I am particularly delighted that the great Mark Rylance won,‭ ‬because of his Dadaesque acceptance speech about walking through walls.‭ ‬I have no idea what possessed him to address the subject,‭ ‬but it was a rare moment of loopy spontaneity.

‭* ‬I loved Nikki M.‭ ‬James’s‭ ‬speech,‭ ‬particularly the bumblebee references.‭ ‬She is terrific in‭ ‬The Book of Mormon and all recipients should be as excited as she was about winning an award.‭

* The Book of Mormon is much better than it came off in its musical number,‭ ‬I Believe.‭ ‬The selection was probably the only one that could be performed without earning CBS substantial fines from the FCC,‭ ‬but still a discreetly edited medley would have been better.

‭* ‬A final high point of irreverence in the telecast was Chris Rock’s introductory remarks to announcement of the Best Musical.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬I know he bombed hosting the Oscars,‭ ‬but the guy I saw last night deserves a shot at emceeing the Tonys.

‭* ‬Also liked the segment with Harris telling as many‭ ‬Spider-Man jokes as he could in‭ ‬30‭ ‬seconds.‭ (‬Ex:‭ “‬I sent Bono a congratulatory cable,‭ ‬but it snapped.‭”)

* The‭ “‬My Broadway Moment‭” ‬idea was a good one,‭ ‬but there were not enough on them to leave the desired impression.‭ ‬I’m guessing there were others that had to be cut once the first awards recipient,‭ ‬Ellen Barkin,‭ ‬droned on.

‭* ‬I did pick Barkin to win the featured actress award,‭ ‬but thought she was dreadful in‭ ‬The Normal Heart.‭ ‬Her big,‭ ‬angry monologue was yelled from the start,‭ ‬all at the same level.‭ ‬Fewer movie stars got nominations this year and even fewer won,‭ ‬but celebrity is the only explanation for the casting of Barkin and for her Tony win.‭

1 comment:

Blogging For Profit said...

Bye the way, if anyone is offended by this number, you isn’t seen nothing yet. It is worth noting that the Mormon Church has made no protest whatsoever¬ and most Mormons who see the show report walking away utterly charmed by it.