SOUND OFF: The 2014 Tony Awards - Diva History Is Made, A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE Is Found & HEDWIG Really Rocks
"Wolverine in tap shoes," and far beyond, Hugh Jackman brought the bravado and belted with some dynamite divas as amiable emcee of the 2014 Tony Awards and A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER was the big Best Musical winner of the evening. Plus, newly crowned Tony king Neil Patrick Harris got lucky in front of an audience of millions in full "crazypants" HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH drag, while Audra McDonald made history by winning her sixth statuette. And, Oz course, a WICKED 10th anniversary, too!
The true sugar daddy of last night's Tony Awards telecast was unquestionably the one and only Neil Patrick Harris. While Hugh Jackman proved to be an expectedly willing and winning host, the sheer sugar rush exhibited by the adrenaline and glitter-fueled "Sugar Daddy" production number from HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH was in another league entirely from the rest of the night, truth be told. Contemporary and caustic, hilarious, raucous and ribald - all with guest-starring appearances by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Bacon, Sting and NPH's own better half, David Burtka - it was the highlight of the show, most certainly offending and shocking many viewers, as well. HEDWIG is a rock n roll show, after all. As for the rest of the Tonys? Generally tame and never intolerable, but a little light and aimless at times, to be perfectly frank, though clearly evidencing sure signs of attempting new and different approachs.
The opening number showcased stage and screen superstar Hugh Jackman hopping mad - literally, as the case may be. Yes, the dreamboat from Down Under got down byway of a kangaroo-infused entry into Radio City Music Hall, with a camera following him through each and every nook and cranny of the backstage goings-on, giving him a unique opportunity to integrate himself in nearly all of the many musicals and plays set to be highlighted in the ensuing evening on the show proper. Although disallowing the ever-appealing and affable Jackman the chance to really dance and sing in his trademark natty, charismatic and accomplished manner right at the beginning was unfortunate, the attempt to try something unique, along the lines of what one could expect to witness on the various TV and film awards ceremonies, or even SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, was appreciable. And, as it ended, Jackman arrived onstage just in time to belt a few big money notes and cut a rug a bit anyway.
In addition to all of happy hopping of the opening number, Jackman also provided an unexpectedly amusing and lovable recreation of his "Rock City" from THE MUSIC MAN - soon followed by the appearance of rap icons LL Cool J and T.I. to add some street cred! Yes, you read that right. Hugh + LL + T.I. = Hugely Awesome. Note: ?uestlove from The Roots provided the boss beat. Wow! What a surprise spectacular showstopper it was - well, along with the diva salute, that is! Yes, Hugh brought the debonair and dashing presence he is known around the world so well for with his suave and laudable Best Leading Actress In A Musical musical presentation. Swoon-worthy and then some, with all the actresses included refreshingly up-for-anything additions.
Another surefire musical delight of the music-packed night was undoubtedly the actual real-life Carole King-introduced sequence from BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL spotlighting Best Actress In A Musical winner Jessie Mueller, who was eventually joined by King herself onstage for "I Feel The Earth Move". A spine-tingler for the baby boomers in the audience and watching at home, assumedly. On top of that, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" was given a spirited singing by Mueller and company, as well, with the full breadth of the song explored in the show sample as it was seen and is seen in the jukebox biomusical itself eight times a week. The other new revue nominated for Best Musical, AFTER MIDNIGHT, received the opening slot in the show following Jackman's entrance, complete with Fantasia, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle, with the musical eventually taking home the prize for Best Choreography (Warren Carlyle). On that note, for a Tony Awards ceremony, it was certainly well-represented as far as legendary music innovators of the 20th and 21st century are concerned between King, Fantasia, Knight, Labelle and Sting, the latter who gave a preview of his forthcoming stage piece THE LAST SHIP, preliminarily expected to hit the Great White Way next year.
Besides THE LAST SHIP, 2014-2015 expected season entrant FINDING NEVERLAND was well-represented on last night's Tony show via a simply stunning singing of an enchanting selection made virtual (and sonic) barn-burner as voiced by acclaimed Oscar- and Grammy-winning entertainment extraordinaire Jennifer Hudson. A musical moment to remember, for sure. Intriguingly, MEAN GIRLS stage musical creator Tina Fey - also assuredly soon to be set for some season coming up, no doubt - introduced it. Nothing wrong with previewing what is to come in a show meant to celebrate all aspects of the season - and the theatre at large - right? Right. Giving voice to a gospel-flecked roof-raiser of a slightly different sort was two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway superstar Sutton Foster, who joined fellow nominee and VIOLET co-star Joshua Henry for an emotional, energized and engaging presentation of a medley of tunes from the show.
While Best Revival ultimately went to HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, each of the musical performances in the category gave worthwhile and atmospheric samples of the shows they were meant to represent - CABARET's "Wilkommen" as led by original Tony-winning lead Alan Cumming, "One Day More" from LES MISERABLES featuring Ramin Karimloo and compnay, plus the aforementioned VIOLET. Nonetheless, with three major wins (Best Actor In A Musical for Neil Patrick Harris, Best Featured Actress In A Musical for Lena Hall and Best Revival Of A Musical) and even more in the technical categories - Best Lighting Design For A Musical going to Kevin Adams - HEDWIG was the champ. Plus, how cool was it to see Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell share a quick brotherly lip-lock in victory on the stage of Radio City Music Hall?! A long journey well worth the lengthy trip to get to a place this heavenly - and so very hip. The HEDWIG sequel can't come soon enough - nor can an extension announcement for NPH (pun perhaps intended).
New musical nominee A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER presented a generous portion of their gallows humor-seasoned show with their musical showpiece, whereas Woody Allen's BULLETS OVER BROADWAY displayed the scene-stealing and totally terrific tapping of Susan Stroman's choreography, giving nominee Nick Cordero a chance to truly shine. Spiffy. Another Best Featured Actor In A Musical nominee - and, in this case the eventual winner - James Monroe Iglehart flaunted ALADDIN's unforgettable "A Friend Like Me" sequence and filled it with full-throttle showmanship more than merely worth watching once or twice - a production number as only Disney can do (and does), even in truncated form as seen here. Popular Broadway and Hollywood star Idina Menzel also reminded us why she has one of the most in demand instruments in the industry with her powerhouse IF/THEN musical moment, as far as new musicals go. Additionally, new musical THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY received two significant statuettes in the form of composer/lyricist/orchestrator Jason Robert Brown's Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations recognition. Classy to tip the top hat to a fine show that got lost in the shuffle. Also: ROCKY managed to score a win for Christopher Barreca's gigantic set, while popular new musical BEAUTIFUL locked up Best Sound Design Of A Musical (Brian Ronan). Besides Best Musical, A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER received Best Book for Robert L. Freedman, Best Direction Of A Musical for Darko Tresnjak and Best Costume Design Of A Musical for Linda Cho, as well.
In the play categories, A RAISIN IN THE SUN won Best Revival Of A Play and Best Director for Kenny Leon, with Best Featured Actress In A Play going to Sophie Okonedo. Fascinatingly, Audra McDonald won a Tony Award in the same category for a previous production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN 10 years ago this year and took the Leading Actress In A Play trophy now in 2014, making Tony Awards history. Audra is the Tony Queen! Multi-award-winning small screen and big screen presence Bryan Cranston took Tony gold for his first foray on the Great White Way, winning Best Leading Actor In A Play, while the LBJ-themed drama ALL THE WAY in which he stars placed first as Best Play. Best Featured Actor In A Play went to Mark Rylance for TWELFTH NIGHT, which was also recognized for Best Costume Design Of A Play for Jenny Tiramani. In other technical categories, Best Sound Design Of A Play went to Steve Canyon Kennedy of LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL, Best Lighting Design Of A Play went to Natasha Katz for THE GLASS MENAGERIE and Best Scenic Design Of A Play went to ACT ONE's Beowulf Boritt.
Wins and losses considered, while some of the first half of the Tony show may have felt a bit slow in getting going, the second half was filled with much to treasure and some repeat-worthy clips to savor - some of them maybe even sweeter than a genie's wish... or a really, really friendly sugar daddy.