SOUND OFF: 2013 Tony Awards - Ladies Lead The Way
The divas took all the top prizes at the 2013 Tony Awards, from Cyndi Lauper and Billy Porter (as Lola) of KINKY BOOTS through to Best Directors Diane Paulus and Pam McKinnon to Cicely Tyson, Patina Miller, Judith Light and Andrea Martin in the acting categories to Caroline O'Connor of A CHRISTMAS STORY to the women (and men) of MATILDA, CINDERELLA, and beyond in smashing performances throughout the telecast. Polished, practiced, poised and primed to deliver, the show was a splendid showcase for Broadway today, fabulously decked out to the nines (and over-elevens) like a true blue Broadway leading lady should be. Oh, girl! Luck Be A Lady
Neil Patrick Harris and Audra McDonald duetting to Lin-Manuel Miranda/Thomas Kail's imaginative reworking of Jay-Z/Alicia Keys's "New York State Of Mine" may have been the absolute coolest moment of the night (if the overtime show was still being broadcast by your CBS provider, that is), but the absolute funniest by far belonged to genial, convivial host Harris alongside quartet compatriots Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty and Laura Benanti. What do they share in common in exactly, you may ask? Ahem - well, to put it bluntly: cancelled TV shows (THE NEW NORMAL, SMASH and GO ON, respectively, to cite the recent victims). So goes the unmistakable touch of brilliance in composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa's wonderful, lovably winking re-working of three Sondheim gems and a Marvin Hamlisch tune in a masterful mid-show medley - "America" from Leonard Bernstein/Sondheim's WEST SIDE STORY with a catchy new set of lyrics for Rannells to wring out all the wit they're worth; "You Gotta Get A Gimmick" from Jule Styne/Sondheim's GYPSY for Hilty to belt like the blazing bombshell she is; and "The Ladies Who Lunch" from COMPANY providing guffaw-inducing fodder for a bawdy, beautiful and hilarious Benanti; plus, "What I Did For Love" from Hamlisch/Ed Kleban's A CHORUS LINE to give it all a tad of a wistful twist and also magnify the main point of the musical melange. Wow!
Luck Be A Lady
And, while those two musical moments were spotlessly presented and otherwise outstanding, the moment most will be remarking upon and remembering for years to come was the sensational opener - and, not just because Neil Patrick Harris shared a step or two with heavyweight champion - and star of his own one-man Broadway show - Mike Tyson. After all, Tyson did croon "One Night In Bangkok" from CHESS quite convincingly in THE HANGOVER 2, did he not? Aww, yeah, man!
Penned by Tony Award-winners Lin-Manuel Miranda (of IN THE HEIGHTS) and Tom Kitt (of NEXT TO NORMAL) - both also co-writers of this season's multi-nominated screen-to-stage short-running tuner BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL - the opening number of the 2013 Tony Awards was an excellent, expert ad for Broadway as it looks, sounds and feels today - the shows; the stars; the songs; the spectacle and the show-stoppers themselves. While making use of copious magic tricks previously mastered by the multi-talented emcee himself - NPH is an accredited and awarded magician besides being a formidable triple-threat, in case you weren't aware - the number itself also kept with the theme of PIPPIN and showed of some spiffy, hi-tech use of the Radio City Music Hall scenery. (Wow! Again!)
Speaking of which - and speaking of a show packed with wow-worthy moments of its won - the Diane Paulus-directed revival of the Stephen Schwartz/Roger O. Hirson '70s tuner PIPPIN, gender-bended by way of female Leading Player in the personage of Patina Miller, racked up awards for both aforementioned ladies as well as for Andrea Martin in Best Featured Actress In A Musical and the Best Revival Of A Musical prize, as well - making it the big winner of the night besides those leggy ladies of all shapes, sizes and sexes in KINKY BOOTS. And, that other revival diva, CINDERELLA, got a little bit of love in the form of a Best Costumes trophy for stalwart William Ivey Long, as well, while we're making mention of the musical categories. The new girl on the block, MATILDA, was awarded many major awards in all, especially if calculating in the special citation previously afforded the girls essaying the title role - Best Scenic Design Of A Musical, Best Lighting Design Of A Musical, Best Featured Actor In A Musical for Gabriel Ebert and Best Book Of A Musical for Dennis Kelly.
KINKY BOOTS, of course, was the big winner of the night, taking home six major awards - Best Musical, Best Actor In A Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations and Best Sound Design Of A Musical.
As for the play categories, Judith Light broke Tony Awards history by winning Best Featured Actress In A Play for Richard Greenberg's THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES after having won last year for OTHER DESERT CITIES, while WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF took major prizes beyond Best Revival Of A Play - Tracy Letts for Best Actor In A Play as well as McKinnon for Direction. Christopher Durang finally took home a well-earned Tony Award after decades in the theatre with his VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE. Broadway/Hollywood legend Ann Roth won for Best Costumes for THE NANCE along while Leon Rothenberg for Best Sound Design Of A Play. THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL scored its sole statuette with Cicely Tyson's big win as Best Actress In A Play, while LUCKY GUY's Courtney B. Vance won Best Featured Actor In A Play. While Bette Midler, Scarlett Johansson, Patti LuPone - all previous Tony-winners - and other big stars may have been shut out of the nominations this year, most big names who got noms went home empty-handed anyway - neither Tom Hanks nor Nathan Lane or David Hyde Pierce took Best Actor, for instance. Indeed, one senses no campaigns for a re-focusing on the theatre in future Tony Award broadcasts will be forthcoming from members of the Broadway community this year.
While more musical medleys are always welcome on a Tony Awards show, nearly every major musical appearing on Broadway this season was represented with a special solo spotlight on last night's telecast and the 2013 telecast itself acts as a spectacular performance time capsule for that reason - it will be one worth re-watching. New musicals like MATILDA and MOTOWN were represented with spirited medleys, while closed shows A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL and BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL both delivered and made strong cases for the value of their respective show's strengths - and, many other currently-running musicals were highlighted, too: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was honored by Tony record-holder and director Hal Prince and current cast members presented the title tune while star players from JERSEY BOYS, MAMMA MIA, NEWSIES, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, THE LION KING and many more introduced various categories and performance spots over the course of the night, as well.
Not overwhelmed with movie and TV stars nor over-adorned with excessive host hoopla, last night's Tony Awards stayed focused on what matters and presented Broadway precisely the way it appears in 2013 - full of new energy, vitality and verve, but with the dedication to craft, overall consistency and enduring excellence ingrained in every grain of the boards upon which theatre artists dare tread and which remains in their very souls themselves.
As Billy Porter said in his speech - somehow even more deserving of the Best Speech award of 2013 than Judith Light, who is a true inspiration, by the way - "Fierce, everyday."
Fierce. Everyday. That's Broadway - now and forever.