Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Tony Awards Reaction

Love it or hate it, Hugh Jackman's Music Man rap with rappers LL Cool J and TI was definitely one of the more memorable moments of Sunday's Tony Award telecast.

Sunday night saw Hugh Jackman host the 68th Annual Tony Awards, celebrating Broadway's best and brightest and making some theatrical history along the way.  It marked an official end to the speculation and handwringing about who would win big, and unlike in recent years the awards were pretty evenly split.  No show scored more than 4 wins, and most of the productions with multiple nominations managed to take home at least one award.

I have lots of thoughts about this year's ceremony (which wasn't my favorite, but more on that in a bit), but before I delve into them the real question is how well did I do with my annual Tony predictions?  The answer is not great, only correctly predicting 12 of the 17 categories I blogged about.  That makes for a barely passable 70% average, although in my defense almost nobody predicted that A Raisin in the Sun would walk away with 3 awards.  I don't even have the satisfaction of my "Will Win" guesses being supplanted by my "Should Win" choices, although given the way the nominations turned out I had a feeling this year would see some out of left field winners.

As far as the winners go, I (like pretty much the entire Broadway community) was absolutely thrilled to see Audra McDonald win her record-shattering, much deserved sixth Tony.  McDonald now officially has more Tonys than any performer ever, with the added bonus of being the only woman (person?) to win a Grand Slam in all four performance categories.  This is impressive in and of itself, but the fact that she did all of this as a black woman (parts for women of color are hard to come by, and convincing producers to go with colorblind casting is often even harder) and by the age of 43 is positively mind-blowing.  McDonald is clearly a once in a lifetime talent and my hands down favorite Broadway performer, and despite my stone cold heart I got a little teary eyed watching McDonald be overcome with emotion at the thunderous applause and standing ovation that followed the announcement of her win.  The fact that the always classy McDonald gave such a genuine, heartfelt acceptance speech just made the moment all the more charming.

I must admit my disappoint that Jessie Mueller won over Kelli O'Hara, and although I have not seen Beautiful I cannot imagine what she's doing that tops O'Hara's exquisite work in The Bridges of Madison CountyWhile there's no denying that Mueller is talented and she clearly has a winning personality (watching her impromptu dance with Jackman was another highlight of the evening), O'Hara is long overdue for some recognition from Tony voters.  Extremely talented, gracious, and a tireless worker (she has rarely been far from a stage since her breakthrough performance in The Light in the Piazza 9 years ago), O'Hara is also that rare actress who has shown no inclination toward film work, and it would be nice to see the Broadway community show her some thanks for passing up the more lucrative film world to keep doing theatre.  When we look back at her career, I firmly believe that Francesca in Bridges will be one her crowning achievements and a role everyone agree she should have won for.

As for the telecast itself, like the award winners it was something of a mixed bag.  Hugh Jackman was certainly a game host, although his bits rarely landed as well as they seemingly should have.  Perhaps we've just been spoiled by three straight years of the incomparable Neil Patrick Harris, but Jackman's routine seemed off.  His jokes got chuckles instead of guffaws, and his Music Man rap was so out of left field it was difficult to enjoy because of the "Is this really happening?" factor.   And then there was the hopping.  Oh, the much debated hopping.  Even after seeing the film musical clip that inspired it, Jackman's opening still doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and most people had to Google what he was referencing to begin with.  It will probably be many year's before a Tony opening tops NPH's "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore," but given Jackman's skills as a song and dance man it would have been nice to see him tackle a glitzy production number.  The closest we got was his dynamite tapping with the cast of After Midnight.

The production numbers from the nominated shows generally went off without a hitch.  Seeing the 3 summer headliners of After Midnight sing was a treat, and the performance managed to highlight most of the show's extremely talented ensemble without seeming manic.  Neil Patrick Harris absolutely killed with his performance of "Sugar Daddy" from Hedwig, and seeing Samuel L. Jackson's reaction to having his glasses licked was absolutely priceless.  I thought the producers of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder came up with a brilliant way to perform the show's most impressive song ("I've Decided to Marry You") while still giving us a taste of Jefferson Mays' multi-character performance by having him introduce the song as 3 of the 8 doomed D'Ysquiths.  Even productions like Violet and Les Miserables, which I didn't particularly enjoy in the theatre, came across well on TV.  And Idina Menzel gave us the best awards show vocal of her career, completely erasing any sour taste her nervous Academy Awards performance left us with.

That said, I could have done without the two preview numbers from next season.  The Sting performance from the upcoming The Last Ship was a snoozefest (most of the people at the Tony party I hosted decided to check their phones during his performance) and had the exact opposite of the desired effect by making me less interested in seeing the show.  The number from Finding Neverland was a bit livelier, mostly because Jennifer Hudson can sing pretty much anything (someone please book her for a guest stint in After Midnight!).  But ultimately that performance was even more dubious because the song made zero sense out of context and Neverland isn't even officially confirmed for Broadway.  I thought these blatant ads distracted from the celebration of the current season's work (the nominal purpose of the awards), and were doubly shameful considering the In Memoriam segment was booted from the telecast to make room for them.  I would have much rather seen that segment and a performances from The Bridges of Madison County then two performances that probably bear no resemblance to the finished product we'll see when (and if) the shows open on Broadway.

Overall, this was one of the less enjoyable Tony broadcasts in recent years for me.  Which is a shame, because I actually felt that this season, despite the absence of a runaway hit, was a very strong one for the Broadway community.  But there's always next year, and in the meantime congratulations to all of the winners!

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