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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE TONY AWARDS SHOW
at Radio City Music Hall

GREAT EXPECTATIONS
By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN

  David Alvarez in Billy Elliot

It was the best of Tony Award shows, it was the worst of Tony Award shows. Yes, that's a cliché, but so was much of the evening.

From the opening number, excerpts from nine of the season's musicals, there was some that was good, some that was not so good, and some that was terrible.
And it was hard to create real excitement on a show where the winner for best musical of the 2008-9 season could have been predicted in the fall of 2006, when it first became known that the London hit Billy Elliot  would open on a Broadway stage in fall 2008. 

In a Broadway season where there were a multiplicity of good choices for the Tony Awards, all the favorites won. 
God of Carnage whipped reasons to be pretty , Billy Elliot danced away from Next to NormalMarcia Gay Harden toppled Janet McTeer and Jane FondaJ , Geoffrey Rush outdueled Thomas Sadoski  and Jeff Daniels , the three Billys waltzed to victory over Gavin Creel , Alice Ripley fired Allison Janney , Hair  topped West Side Story and The Norman Conquests uh, conquered Joe Turner's Come and Gone , Mary Stuart  and Waiting for Godot.

There were also no surprises in the lesser acting categories - Angela Lansbury , Gregory Jbara , Karen Olivo  and Roger Robinson all took home the prizes, despite some spirited competition.

The win by the three Billys was a Tony first - never before had three actors shared a prize. The often British flavor of the awards continued - 16 of the 28 awards (10 for Billy, three for Carnage and one each for Mary Stuart, The Norman Conquests and Equus) went to productions with ties to London. (Make that 17 if you count Blithe Spirit, an American production but of course by Noel Coward. The Australian Rush and his director, Neil Armfield , had originally adapted Ionesco's Exit the King for runs in Australia.) 

Next to Normal's  Tom Kitt  and Brian Yorkey won out over Billy Elliot's Billy Elliot's Elton John  and Lee Hall (who had earlier won best book of a musical) for the best score prize, a victory that had largely been expected as the voters' way of recognizing the quality of an original American musical on a serious theme. A gracious John congratulated the Normal  team - and urged them to keep on creating - after Billy took home the top prize and out-Tony'd Normal by a score of 10 to 3. 

Perhaps the only surprise came in the first award, presented in the first hour by Web stream rather than CBS-TV, when Martin Koch of Billy Elliot  and Michael Starobin  and Tom Kitt of Next to Normal  tied for best orchestrations (a Billy nod had been expected). The most recent other tie was in the mid-1990s, between Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Who's Tommy  for best score.

Sadly, also on the Web, the Tony-less Jane Greenwood failed again to cop a prize, on her 17th try, this time for the costume design of Godot

. In the days leading up to this year's awards, controversy raged over the Tony producers' decision to relegate the prizes for best play revival and best book of a musical to non-TV time. Most vocal in disagreement were Kevin Spacey (whose Old Vic in London presented The Norman  Conquests before its journey to Broadway) and Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist, who is president of the Dramatists Guild.  They won a partial victory - play revival made it to the air, but book remained online only.

The TV show itself? Well, among the best of times were the excerpts from Hair - "Let the Sun Shine In" in the opening number, and the song "Hair" during the show, with cast members cavorting in the audience with the seated Liza Minnelli , James Gandolfin and Anne Hathaway.  A musical scene from Next to Normal - the song "You Don't Know" - effectively highlighted the power of Ripley's performance.

  Neil Patrick Harris , as host, wasn't exactly the Invisible Man, but he was underused, essentially there just to move along the show - until a strange, mildly bawdy closing song, an awkward attempt at humor written by Hairspray's  Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman meant to summarize the awards but instead replete with mostly failed jokes. (One line referred to Christopher Sieber, a Tony loser from Shrek, who performs on his knees and is told in the lyrics that "that only works to win Golden Globes.") Ha ha. A waste and not worth having the show run over its scheduled 11 p.m. end.

Speaking of waste, the producers decided to show selections from three shows playing in touring companies around the country - Mamma Mia! , Legally Blonde and Jersey Boys (with five talent-challenged Frankie Vallis). An announcement at the beginning of the evening told viewers there would be "more music than ever before." Suffice it to say that if the performers from those three shows who were onstage at Radio City Music Hall had been in the original Broadway casts, the musicals would have been huge flops.

Liza won, and she was Liza. Enough said. 

That opening number? Harris mentioned that it was "the biggest and most expensive" in the history of the Tony Awards. Well, he didn't say it was the best.  At one moment, Stockard Channing of Pal Joey and Aaron Tveit of Next to Normal  were onstage together singing songs from their shows, and as Channing voiced "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," she and Tveit seemed to consider the possibility of hooking up. "Bewildered" indeed.

As in some other years, brief snippets were offered from the four works nominated for the best-play Tony. As usual, the tiny bits didn't work. 

The other most effective musical selections? Rock of Ages , which of course is basically a long music video, will no doubt sell tickets because of its Tonys gig. It actually works better on TV than onstage.

Most moving moment? The lifetime achievement award to Jerry Herman , a tribute that would have been better if the Tony people had actually decided to offer a live performance instead of, or in addition to, a few meager video excerpts that included Carol Channing and  Pearl Bailey in Hello Dolly! - and Lansbury, who gave him the award, in Mame. (More of Herman and none of Mamma Mia!, Legally Blonde  and Jersey Boys  would have done much to improve the proceedings.)

  Least effective moment? Those godawful touring companies. I must remind myself that if I'm ever in Topeka, don't see a Broadway show.

Stupidest moment? When the cameras mixed up Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter of Mary Stuart , showing Walter when McTeer's name was announced, and vice versa. Perhaps Walter's Queen Elizabeth can have the producers' heads chopped off. (Thanks go to Harden for correcting the flub as she gave her victory speech.)

Most appalling moment? When rocker Bre

 


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