If there is any celebrity alive who could resurrect the long-decomposed corpse of the hour-long variety show, it’s Neil Patrick Harris, who gave the often plodding Tony Awards a serious kick in the rump last night.
In a Broadway season so lackluster the ceremony stooped to a live feed of a scaled down Hairspray number from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Harris Charm® made the three-hour-long ceremony feel shockingly breezy. From his snazzy opening number with Patti LuPone pushing a lawnmower in an evening gown (looking like a bizarro twist on Audrey’s “Somewhere That’s Green” fantasy) to his written-in-the-wings closer, “There’s No Time,” Harris crooned, hoofed, cracked jokes and even hung upside-down in a riff on both Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark‘s dangling acrobatics and Death of a Salesman nominee Andrew Garfield, who will play the webbed wallcrawler in this summer’s blockbuster film.
Yes, Harris miraculously pulled fresh gags out of the Spider-Man musical. Move over, Anne Sullivan, there’s a new Miracle Worker in town.
Best Musical contenders Newsies and Once gave electric performances sure to bump ticket sales. Best Actress winner Audra McDonald, nominees Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier, and the cast of Best Revival Porgy and Bess wrenched the heart and buoyed the spirit with a knockout medley.
Nice Work If You Can Get It‘s Kelli O’Hara sweetly sang her Gershwin tune looking like West Side Story‘s tomboy, Anybodys, joined the gang at Newsies. (As for Matthew Broderick, if I may rip off a lyric from Crazy For You, he’s “dancing” and I can’t be bothered now.)
Not all numbers translated well to television: The Ghost trio was a mishmash of money notes that should have vanished. Featured actor nominee Danny Burnstein’s showstopping “Buddy’s Blues” from Follies was brilliantly uproarious in the theater, but garish when out of context on the small screen.
Evita‘s Ricky Martin and Elena Roger confused the usually bustling “And the Money Kept Rolling In” with “Requiem for Evita.” And what was with the silhouetted tableaux of the Best Play nominees, moving in slo-mo like Disney’s Carousel of Progress?
But the speeches—Oh, the speeches! Parental death was a running theme, making for some of the most heartfelt thank-yous in recent years: Best Featured Actress Judy Kaye (Nice Work If You Can Get It) thanked her father, who died last week. And Best Actor Steve Kazee (Once) gave a shout out to his mom, who passed away on Easter Sunday. Newsies‘ leprechaun-like lyricist Jack Feldman gets our Short, But Sweet Award: after the glossy, bloated, boring speech by composer Alan Menken, Feldmen gave a brisk rundown of his childhood dream to write a musical, thanked his partner and, finally, raised his award toward Heaven and exuberantly shouted, “Look, Ma! A Tony!”
By the way, please help us erase the sight of Hugh Jackman planting an awkward smooch on wife Deborra-Lee Furness. It was like a facehugger from Alien.
Instead, we’ll think of Bernadette Peters, who looked absolutely ravishing in a violet Donna Karan mermaid gown. She might not have been nominated, but the Follies star certainly looked like a winner last night.
There was no clean sweep at this year’s ceremony, and very little drama to divide theaterfolk about the winners. Once won Best Musical; Clybourne Park won Best Play. But it almost barely mattered. (Here’s the full list of winners.) Everything felt like entertaining fill-in for the real star of the entire evening. It wasn’t the spirit of Broadway. This show was all about the ebullient pizzazz of Neil Patrick Harris. Someone give him his own show, whether on stage or TV, stat!