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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
2014 TONY AWARDS

THE BIG SHOW
By DAVID COTE

  Neil Patrick Harris/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Among the more sensitive show folk, talking of “winners” or “losers” is considered bad form, even when it comes to the annual bread-and-circus spectacle of the Tonys. We’re all part of the same community, they bleat; it really is an honor to be nominated and we should not pit artists against one another, like gladiators in the arena. Utter sanctimony, of course. Everyone loves a winner – or at least, they love grousing about how Jefferson Mays is, if you really think about it, a better actor than Neil Patrick Harris, and he was robbed of Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, and when, oh when, will Kelli O’Hara get the reward she so richly deserves? Such learned colloquies – conducted late at night in underwear on various message boards – are actually less prevalent than satisfaction with the 68th Annual Tony Awards. By and large, the gold went to the most deserving of the season: Few would carp about TV stars Bryan Cranston and Harris nabbing top acting honors, and relative newcomers (supporting actors Sophie Okenedo and Lena Hall) were recognized, too. Prior to the ceremony, there was little agreement about a shoo-in for Best Musical; the wealth was spread over the book, score and acting categories, but A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder ended the evening bloody victorious.
 
The biggest surprises for pundits were the wins for A Raisin in the Sun. Best Director of a Play and Best Revival of Play were expected to go to the beloved Shakespeare’s Globe rep productions of Twelfth Nightand Richard III. But they played in the fall (along with the also disappointed Glass Menagerie) and may have suffered from Tony short-term memory. Raisin – a glorious revival, mind you – is still running. Best Revival of a Musical went to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which was universally predicted and no shock (no serious competition with re-revived Cabaret out of the running). It was a somewhat weak year for new plays, despite the presence of many great American dramatists, but the civil-rights presidential drama All the Way seemed to be the most important, and so it won. Best Musical was a contentious issue for many; fans of The Bridges of Madison County and If/Then or even Rocky were incensed their favorites weren't  at least nominated. Supporters of the fiendishly clever Gentleman’s Guide feared that understandable love for Jessie Mueller would spill over into too much love for her vehicle, Beautiful The Carole King Musical. But justice was served; Mueller won but Gentleman’s Guide came out the top show.
 
As for the telecast itself, there were head-scratchers. As the world knows by now, Hugh Jackman started the ceremony, well, hopping from the red carpet to the Radio City Music Hall stage. Why? A very silly hopping sequence from the 1953 movie musical Small Town Girl seems to be the inspiration. Okay. Moving on… It’s hard enough for most viewers to keep track of the nominated musicals and revivals, but they must have been doubly confused when Sting showed up to croon about “the roar of the chains and the cracking of timbers.” That’s what the Tonys have become: an infomercial for next season. Sting was flogging his fall Broadway debut, The Last Ship. (And no, he is not actually in the show.) Toward the end of the night, we saw Jennifer Hudson singing to a bunch of British kids in pajamas … and Peter Pan? That was a song from Finding Neverland, which will have out-of-town tryouts in Boston this summer before aiming for Broadway. (And no, she is not actually in the show.)
 
There were no howlers in the acceptance speech category. Multiple Tony-winner Mark Rylance, who won Best Supporting Actor in a Play for his turn as Olivia in the all-male, Elizabethan-style As You Like It, took the opportunity to honor Sam Wanamaker, the man who built Shakespeare’s Globe in London. As for most heartwarming acceptance speech, it’s a tie between Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill) – henceforth to be identified as record-breaking six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald – and first-timer Lena Hall (Hedwig). McDonald, powering through tears and radiating fierce love all over the room, talked about standing on the shoulders of great African-American women – Lena Horne, Ruby Dee, the late Maya Angelou and, naturally, Billie Holiday. It was classy, deeply felt and inspiring. Hall, meanwhile, did the adorable hyperventilation thing – she looked like she was about to pass out from joy and lack of oxygen.
 
A word about straight plays, which always seem to get lost in the glittery shuffle of Tony fever. Each year the Tony telecast finds a new way to make the nominated plays look stodgy, pretentious or just plain boring. One year (in a low point), actors declaimed lines from their shows, bewilderingly out of context. Crisp, well-edited video, music and graphics would seem to be the way to go, but the Tonys rarely present a montage as effective as something you’d see at the Oscars. This year brought a novel approach: The playwrights themselves, on camera, pitched their work with a short blurb before cutting to a video clip. On the one hand, it seemed sadistic. Writers are solitary creatures; don’t turn them into dancing monkeys for the American public! On the other hand, the stunt was recognition of the centrality of the author. It honored them and made them visible. So let’s end giving a standing O to James Lapine, Robert Schenkkan, Harvey Fierstein, Terrence McNally and John Patrick Shanley. Take a bow, you matinee idols.
 
 

 


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