Monday, June 13, 2011

My 2011 Tony Awards review

Time for my annual Tony Award Show review, or, for the 99.99% of you who didn’t watch it – a recap of what you missed. I’m joined by my adorable snarky daughter Annie and her twisted writing partner, Jon Emerson.

I had a rooting interest in the program this year. Several friends were up for awards. Bill & Cheri Steinkellner for the book of SISTER ACT (lost), John Benjamin Hickey for Best Supporting actor (won!), and Andrew Rannells for best actor in a musical (lost). Andrew, however, sang the featured song from THE BOOK OF MORMON and I think the four of you who saw the show will agree that he’s going to be a huge star. Proud to say he starred in the musical I co-wrote that went nowhere and the reading of my play that went nowhere.
Meanwhile, over on ABC, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Finals. But if you know who Nina Arianda is and not Dirk Nowitzki, you were watching the Tonys.

Usually I say the Tonys are the only award show where no one thanks their wives. This year, with THE BOOK OF MORMON there was the chance that winners would thank many wives. But not so. That would require Mormons to actually be involved.

THE BOOK OF MORMON won every award except the one I wanted it to win – Andrew’s. Norbert Leo Butz got that prize and I’m sure he was very deserving but shit! He never collaborated with me on any theater projects that went nowhere.

My guess is Andrew and fellow cast member Josh Gad split the votes.

The Tonys are still the only major award show that is tape-delayed for the West Coast. But considering it will take three years for the winning shows to get to the West Coast, three hours is no big whoop. Besides, everyone was watching the basketball game anyway.

Usually the ceremony is held at Radio City Music Hall. This year’s venue was the much cozier Beacon Theatre. So for the first time, the CBS television audience will be larger than the attending audience.

I didn’t cover the Red Carpet coverage because, well… there was Red Carpet coverage?

Neil Patrick Harris is the best awards host EVER. His opening number was hilarious. “Broadway is Not Just For Gays Anymore”. Of course, as Annie pointed out, five minutes later they did a production number called “The Brotherhood of Men” (from HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS).

One thing we learned last night: NEVER use Brook Shields on a live show. What a disaster. She completely bollixed her four-line stanza in the opening number and then as a presenter had to be bleeped. I’m sure another twelve seconds on camera and her nipple would have popped out.

Favorite lyric in Harris’ opening number – “Come in and be inspired/No sodomy required”. I’m only sorry those weren’t Brook Shields’ lines.

Say what you will about the Tonys -- they are for Gays… and Jews. And most people have never heard of any of the shows or performers – but there is always more actual entertainment in their ceremony than all the other award shows combined. I find it a little odd that 30 million people will watch Bristol Palin clomp around like a Clydesdale on DANCING WITH THE STARS but eight people tune in to see the finest singers and dancers in musical comedy perform magnificent production numbers.

In pre-show non-televised ceremonies, Eve Ensler, who wrote THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES received a special award for her humanitarian efforts and for reminding us that Broadway is firmly committed to social change and vaginas.

John Leguizamo is painfully unfunny. He’s the George Lopez of Broadway. Awards for Choreography and Best Score weren’t deemed important enough to air in primetime but it was okay to give this enemy of comedy ten minutes of precious air time. When he was finished they cut to a shot of Chris Rock in the audience who spoke for all of America when he mouthed, “What the fuck?”

Samuel L. Jackson, in his white jacket, black slacks, and white shoes came dressed perfectly for the occasion – if the occasion was the shuffleboard championships on the Lido Deck of the Crystal Serenity.

A big winner was the very deserving THE NORMAL HEART (a gut wrenching play about AIDS) and the big surprise later in the evening was the cast reunion of PRICILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Maybe they should have saved that “Broadway is not just for Gays anymore” number for another year.

Mark Rylance won for best actor in JERUSELEUM. But he would have won for LA BETE had he put that one up instead. One of the greatest comic performances I have ever seen.

He also gives the most unique speeches. For the second time he just read a prose poem. This one on how to walk through walls.

Thank God Al Pacino didn’t win. I don’t think I could have endured another of his rambling incoherent acceptance babbles. I’m still trying to figure out what he was saying at the 2004 Emmys.

Nikki James from THE BOOK OF MORMON gave the most frenetic speech. When she launched into some incomprehensible story about bumblebees five minutes in, I found myself yelling “Get off! GET OFF!” It’s like the first minute I’m thrilled for these people, the second minute I start getting antsy, and by minute four I want them off the stage even they’re in the middle of thanking me.

Still, the most emotional moment of the night was when Sutton Foster (who I absolutely love) almost broke down because her long-time dresser gave notice. I’d say folks in the Red States might click off at this point but who are we kidding? They were gone by the sodomy joke.

Winner Ellen Barkin gets the “Diva” award for the speech by an actor who takes themselves the most seriously. Her speech, delivered without a trace of irony, included all of the following words and phrases: profound, transformed me as a human being, one person can change the world, genius, Atlas, bravest. What she didn’t do was thank her children.

Patti LuPone was nominated for WOMAN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Annie observed, “She was nominated for playing herself?”

No one was happier that WAR HORSE won Best Play than the CBS censor. One of the other nominees was THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT. I can only imagine if that had won.

Off-stage announcer, Randy Thomas was, as usual, flawless. She should announce every award show, be the voice of my GPS, and give the starting line-ups at Yankee Stadium.

In an attempt to capture a larger audience, the presenters were all TV or movie personalities. The Tonys this year was a “No Nathan Lane Zone”. Instead you had Brook Shields, Jim Parsons, Chris Rock (who was hysterical), Marg Helgenberger, Christy Brinkley (for crying out loud), and Karl Marx. (Huh? Oh. That was Robin Williams?) I’m surprised they didn’t have Mr. Ed introduce WAR HORSE.

Whoopi Goldberg came out wearing a pirate hat the size of Lichtenstein. She really needed it because she wasn’t overbearing and over-the-top enough.

For the first time in the 65-year history of the Tony Awards, they waited a full two hours before the Sondheim tribute number.

Annie wondered why Bono and The Edge introduced their own song (from the musical SPIDERMAN), and Jon said, “Because no one else would sign the waiver”.

Sick joke alert but I laughed: When Tyne Daly was introducing the In Memoriam segment and saying the theater lost many great people this year, Jon chimed in with, “Yeah, and half the cast of SPIDERMAN”.

Frances McDormand must’ve known she was going to win. She wore her best Levi jacket. Maybe next time she’ll also wash her hair.

The show concluded with another amazing Neil Patrick Harris musical re-cap. Whoever writes these intricate numbers (obviously on the fly) is brilliant and how Harris can perform them live with no rehearsal is beyond me. All I could think was – oh please, next year let Brook Shields host.

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