Broadway's Big Night
Big names populated the big stage at the Beacon Theatre Sunday night for the 66th Annual American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards, or as host Neil Patrick Harris called them: "Fifty Shades of Gay."
Hugh Jackman, Sheryl Crow, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amanda Seyfried, Ricky Martin, Andrew Garfield and James Earl Jones were all in attendance, along with the names that only New Yorkers and die-hard drama geeks would recognize like Audra McDonald, Judy Kaye and Steve Kazee. No? How about Judith Light and Cynthia Nixon? A little better.
In hopes of drawing ratings to the niche audience awards show, CBS is finally adopting the same sales tactics that Broadway did a long time ago: get big name actors to play the roles, and celebrity-hungry audiences will hopefully tune in.
The strategy is, in fact, working for Broadway. Ellen Barkin announced on stage before presenting an award that Broadway has had record-breaking sales this season. That might be because general admission seating now costs roughly the same as a mortgage down payment. . . But, still, the theatres are staying open and performers are making a living entertaining.
Unfortunately, the awards show can't catch the same break. The ratings for the 2012 Tonys were the lowest they've ever been, with a 17 percent drop from last year's show. Even stellar song-and-dance hosting from the universally appealing Neil Patrick Harris couldn't keep the home viewing audience's attention with such alluring programming as HBO's equally-homoerotic True Blood premiere.
I gotta admit, if it weren't for the big names at the show (and my friend's insistence), the Tonys wouldn't have much draw for me these days either. Besides finding out all the winners, everything feels like a re-tread of years gone by, even the new musicals. Is there no room for true originals anymore like Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon?
Following Hollywood's propensity for regurgitating our favorite movies from the 80s, Broadway is similarly obsessed with turning them into stage musicals. Disney's Newsies: The Musical now has way more high-kicking and far less Christian Bale than the 1992 film version, and (gasp!) Ghost: The Musical is a real thing, with nary a clay spinning wheel nor a Whoopi Goldberg. The lead actress is the one singing "Unchained Melody" this time.
I was a total fan of the number I saw from Once, the show that won Best Musical, Best Leading Actor, Book of a Musical, Direction of a Musical, Orchestration, Sound Design, Lighting Design and Scenic Design. Yes, it's the stage adaptation of the film that you loved for the Oscar-winning song "Falling Slowly," which they did not even sing at the awards show. (The song they did sing, however, was beautiful and involved the entire impressive on-stage company, but still...)
The old-timey numbers performed from Sondheim's Follies and George and Ira Gershwin's Nice Work if You Can Get It have never appealed to me, unfortunately. Something about all those sequins and the overused vaudeville tropes just irk me too much to sit through an entire number even on TV. Broadway veteran Audra McDonald (winner for Leading Actress in a Musical) did win me over with her number from The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, however, because, holy hell, that woman can sing!
The major highlights of the show for me were Ricky Martin livin' Evita loca, some British guy beating out all of the Oscar-nominated actors in the Actor in a Leading Role in a Play category, and Hugh Jackman's wife announcing his special Tony Award, basically just for being Hugh Jackman. For reals, y'all, he's that good. He can play Wolverine AND The Boy from Oz at the same time and everyone in the world wants to have his babies.
And let's never forget the amount of tears during every award acceptance. These are our nation's most talented drama queens, so of course, they're going to have the best speeches with the most emotion. Amazingly, it seemed that half of the winners' parents had passed away the week prior to the ceremony; so let that be a lesson to all parents of kids with big Broadway dreams.
So maybe there's no hope for the Tonys on TV. Maybe shows like Secret Millionaire will always beat it out in the ratings game. But to that dwindling handful of die-hard drama kids who can somehow spend their money on musical theatre these days, this is maybe even better. This can be our little secret. And thank goodness CBS lets us have this one night of snarky, bitchy fun.