Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Tony Awards React

Kelli O'Hara poses backstage with her newly acquired, long overdue Best Actress Tony Award. All is right with the Broadway community.


Sorry, had to get that out of the way. My love of Kelli O'Hara is well documented, as is my belief that she should have won a Tony Award long ago. But as they say, better late than never, and now that she is finally "Tony Award-winner Kelli O'Hara" we can focus on my other thoughts about this year's Tony winners and live telecast.

For those who are keeping score, this year I correctly predicted 11 of the 17 categories discussed on this blog for a rather unimpressive 65% accuracy rating (for the complete list of winner, check here). The featured acting categories are what really screwed me over, as I failed to correctly predict a single winner from any of them. I will take solace in the fact the featured categories were some of the most contested races of the evening, with insider opinion very split over who would actually walk away a winner. And honestly, while I enjoy being right, seeing the award races play out exactly how they're expected to doesn't make for a very good telecast.

Here are some more of my thoughts on this year's Tony Awards, broken down by subject:


A visibly moved Annaleigh Ashford thanked "everyone she's ever met" while accepting her Best Featured Actress Tony for You Can't Take It With You, in one of the many charming acceptance speeches from last night's awards.

I have never been more happy to be wrong than when Kelli O'Hara's name was announced for Best Actress last night. I and many others thought Kristin Chenoweth would win for her flashier performance in On the Twentieth Century, once again keeping O'Hara from the recognition she so rightly deserves. And don't get me wrong, because Chenoweth certainly gives a Tony worthy performance in the Roundabout revival, but O'Hara is positively radiant in The King and I and long overdue for Broadway's highest honor. Seeing the visibly moved O'Hara receive a standing ovation was the highlight of the evening, and I loved everything about O'Hara's acceptance speech ("I don't need this, but now that I have it I've got some things to say").

I do think cutting to Chenoweth immediately after O'Hara's speech was a little awkward. Yes, the pint sized diva was the co-host of the evening, but the bit about her being upset at her loss hit a little too close to home. After winning most of the industry awards this year for a show that is clearly close to her heart, Chenoweth understandably was disappointed and maybe should have been allowed at least a commercial break to regain her composure.

Also, congratulations to both Annaleigh Ashford and Ruthie Ann Miles on their well deserved Featured Actress wins. Both are incredibly talented performers who have been paying their dues in steadily higher profile gigs, and it was wonderful to see their excitement and gratitude for their somewhat surprise wins. I do think Miles (whom I *adored*) benefited from voters being forced to pick which of the three Fun Home actresses they liked the most, splitting the votes enough to allow her to win. It's hard not to be a little disappointed for Judy Kuhn, who is probably overdue for a Tony and will hopefully win one in the next few years. And as Sydney Lucas proved with her incredible performance of "Ring of Keys" she is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and should she continue to pursue the theatre I foresee several more nominations in her future.

I'm happy to say I overwhelmingly approve of this year's winners. I'm glad to see that Tony voters weren't scared off by Fun Home's more challenging subject matter, and to see that chamber musical's all female writing team honored with nods for both book and score was wonderful (now if only their speeches had been televised). The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was by far my favorite play of the season and I'm thrilled for all the recognition it received, even if I personally thought Hand to God's Steven Boyer was *slightly* more deserving of the Best Actor trophy than the still phenomenal Alex Sharp.

The only category that actively upset me was Christian Borle's frankly undeserved Featured Actor win for Something Rotten!, as the actor's incredibly selfish performance has no relation to the rest of the cast. Why is he the only one with an accent? Why does he only ever talk at other characters rather than to them? Why does his self indulgent preening lack the self-aware edge of the rest of the show's humor???? Most upsetting of all is the fact that Borle, who has proven himself rather versatile over the years (see his work on Smash, the NBC live musicals, or even the MTV telecast of Legally Blonde), has chosen to essentially reprise his Tony wining Peter and the Starcatcher character for Rotten. I would have seen the award go to literally anyone else in this category.

The Hosts

Say what you will about Kristin Chenoweth, but she is not afraid to make herself look stupid in pursuit of a laugh.

I think we were always aware of what a superb host Neil Patrick Harris is, but the two years since the charming star's last Tony hosting gig have proven what a difficult act he is to follow. The telecast producers clearly had trouble locking down a host; typically he or she is announced several months in advance, but we didn't find out Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth would be co-hosting until the day before the nominations came out. And while both Tony winners are charming individually, they were clearly underprepared, most likely due to Chenoweth's busy schedule. Between performing On the Twentieth Century eight times a week and attending all of the press events and awards luncheons that come with being a Tony nominee, Chenoweth likely didn't have a lot of time or energy to devote to the telecast, and unfortunately it showed in how few of the hosts' jokes landed.

At least Chenoweth was game to try anything and seemed happy to be there; Cumming often looked like his mind was on something else. Harris may be gun shy about hosting after the scathing reviews he received for this year's Oscar ceremony (which, in typical NPH fashion, the Tony presenter managed to acknowledge and mock in a way that didn't seem uncomfortable or bitter), but I hope next year's Tony host(s) at least have enough time to find their grove. Chenoweth and Cumming seemed to be encountering a lot of their material for the first time, and their costume-based bits forced categories like Best Book and Score to be presented during commercial breaks instead of on air like they belong.

The Performances

11-year-old Sydney Lucas dazzled during her performance of "Ring of Keys" from 2015 Best Musical winner Fun Home, proving beyond a doubt that she earned her Best Featured Actress nomination this year.
Honestly, these were all over the map and generally disappointing. Broadway show producers, repeat after me: NO MORE MEDLEYS. Medleys rely on the audience's familiarity with the material to supply a lot of the context, something you cannot count on unless you have a very well known revival (we're talking Sound of Music/West Side Story levels of pop culture saturation) or a preexisting score of pop songs (which were originally designed to be stand alone pieces before being shoehorned into a stage show). Pick your show's best, most accessible number, use your allotted 30 second introduction to set it up, and go with it. If that means one or more of your Tony nominated leads gets left out of the number, so be it. I'm sure they would prefer the increased exposure and ticket sales a well-executed Tony number brings to a minute or two of TV time.

Very few of this year's performances came across as well as they do in the theatre. Fun Home worked because they picked a single, complete song that doesn't require extensive knowledge of the show's plot to follow (and also because Sydney Lucas is amazing). The King & I got away with the medley format because of the incredible, enduring popularity of the Rodgers & Hammerstein cannon both as complete shows and as stand alone musical numbers. On the Twentieth Century came across as manic and disjointed because they tried to cram not one, not two, but FOUR separate songs into their allotted 4 minute time slot; the resulting performance didn't do justice to the production or Kristin Chenoweth's central performance, both of which are significantly better and less forced than what was shown on TV.

The placement of the numbers is important as well, although this falls more on the telecast producers than the shows themselves. Something Rotten's showstopping "A Musical" came across as oddly subdued on the telecast, possibly because it took place right after Chenoweth and Cumming's low-key opening number. And unfortunately, some musicals just lack any songs that can be readily enjoyed out of context, which is why the excellent The Visit seemed so bizarre and off-putting on television (in the theatre, the show is still very bizarre, but delightfully so).

I will give the telecast producers this: they mercifully cut the ill-conceived preview numbers from last year, both of which made me *less* interested in the shows they were meant to advertise. And while the announcement of Josh Groban's scheduled performance initially raised eyebrows (how many acceptance speeches would be moved to commercial to accommodate here), I was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed he was singing over the reinstated "In Memorium" segment. The Jersey Boys performance was unsurprisingly boring and exceedingly unnecessary, but having them sing over the credits didn't steal anyone's speech time or production number slot, so I say no harm, no foul.

And there you have it. The 2015 Tony Awards are now on the records books, and the 2015-2016 Broadway season is already in swing with the just opened Jim Parsons vehicle An Act of God. Please keep following this blog for theatre reviews and opinions throughout the year, and check back next May to see what shows and performers are up for next year's awards (I have a feeling this Hamilton show will do alright for itself).


  1. I don't live in New York City and I've only seen one Broadway show in my life (on a field drip with my high school drama club). However, I managed to correctly predict 19 out of 24 awards thanks to paying attention to the Outer Critics' Circle Awards and the Drama Desk Awards. The ones I got wrong were:

    Best Revival Of A Play (I predicted The Elephant Man instead of Skylight)
    Best Actress In A Musical (I predicted Kristin Chenoweth instead of Kelli O'Hara)
    Best Featured Actor In A Play (I predicted Nathaniel Parker instead of Richard McCabe)
    Best Featured Actor In A Musical (I predicted Andy Karl instead of Christian Borle)
    Best Featured Actress In A Musical (I predicted Judy Kuhn instead of Ruthie Ann Miles)

    I'll admit I was quite surprised how upset you were at Christian Borle's win. I had watched the medley of Something Rotten when they performed on The Today Show, and I thought Borle was quite good as Shakespeare. Then again, you've seen the full show, whereas I saw only a 5-minute snippet.

    I thought Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming were good hosts, but I agree it was hard to live up to Neil Patrick Harris' standards. It's kind of like the Oscars (my favorite awards show of the year). From 1990 to 2000, the show was always hosted by either Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg, who were always at the top of their game. Since then, the hosts afterward have been a mixed bag. Some have been great (Steve Martin, Jon Stewart & Ellen DeGeneres), some have been okay (Seth MacFarlane & Neil Patrick Harris) and some have been awful (James Franco & Anne Hathaway).

    While I was quite annoyed by how many times Cumming and Chenowith mentioned CBS (I don't remember Harris or Hugh Jackman or even Sean Hayes doing that), I did like several of their things, particularly the demonstration of what would happen if your speech ran too long (which they were about to do with Ruthie Ann Miles!), their serenading of Harvey Weinstein, and of course, Chenoweth as E.T. That was just genius!

    Also, I'm glad they put the In Memoriam back in the telecast this year

    1. Thanks for reading the blog, Alex!

      A lot of people (myself included) were predicting a Chenoweth win. And it would have been hard to argue against based on the merits of her performance. I'd say she was just as good a O'Hara in an entirely different type of show, so it was apples to oranges. Ultimately, I tend to prefer O'Hara's more nuanced style of performance, and that combined with the fact she has yet to win an award made me all the more ecstatic when she won. My living room literally exploded with cheers when her name was called; everyone I was watching with was so happy for her.

      Chenoweth definitely had some funny moments on the telecast (much more than Cumming), which is why I wish they had more time to devote to rehearsing for the telecast. I think they could have been great, but were just okay mostly due to under-preparedness.

    2. You should have made a YouTube video of your reaction to Kelli O'Hara's win.