It was a big night for the Broadway little guys here in the Big Apple, as singing puppets prevailed over big budget musical blockbusters. As I prepare to leave New York and head back to Texas this month, I know the many Montgomery County theater lovers I serve throughout the year are probably buzzing about the Tony Award results. After the nice Courier reader response to my review of last year’s Tony’s, I can’t resist sharing my reactions to this year’s show.
For the second consecutive year, Broadway darling, Hugh Jackman, hosted the Tony Awards at the glowing and splendid Radio City Music Hall. He arrived on stage with bright red necktie and pocket-handkerchief, both askew. His boyish charm, good looks, and charismatic high energy helped offset his powerful, but less-than-perfect, singing voice during a knockout “One Night Only” opener in which a crowd of talented performers from various Broadway musicals joined him. Even the famed Rockettes joined the fun, and it must be said that Jackman can kick with the best of them. Later, he rivaled Elvis for pelvic action during the “Not the Boy Next Door” number from “The Boy From Oz,” dragging an embarrassed Sarah Jessica Parker from the audience to join the dancing. Before the show ended Mr. Jackman was honored with the award for Leading Actor in a Musical for his popular portrayal of singer-songwriter, Peter Allen in “Oz.” Jackman would also be the only winner to get away with a long-winded acceptance speech without being musically played off the stage. Such are the perks of being Emcee.
For tearful, elegant, and touching acceptance speeches it was hard to beat Anika Noni Rose (Featured Actress in a Musical for “Caroline, or Change”), and Phylicia Rashad (Leading Actress in a Play for “A Raisin in the Sun”).
There was a disturbing, gun-toting, musical number from “Assassins,” a show that musically examines the lives of nine people involved in notorious Presidential assassination plots. For his “Assassins” performance as John Wilkes Booth, Michael Cerveris took home the award for Featured Actor in a Musical, while offering gracious words of praise for his fellow nominees. Joe Mantello would cap the show’s success winning for Best Director of a Musical.
Kristin Chenoweth, as the good witch, Glinda, literally floated on stage in the dramatic bubble that is a staging highlight of the cleverly constructed musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz, entitled “Wicked.” Chenoweth’s bubble would soon burst when her co-star (as the wicked witch, Elphaba), Idina Menzel, took home the Leading Actress in a Musical award for which they were both nominated. While I was not a big fan of this show (and just declined an opportunity to see it a second time), both ladies sang beautifully. Menzel performed the show’s eye-popping “Defying Gravity” for the Tony audience, but I confess I thought the good witch would win out at award time. However, as readers know, critics can be wrong. While winning awards for scenery (Eugene Lee) and costumes (Susan Hilferty), perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was that the multi-million dollar “Wicked” would lose the Best Musical title to a small budget puppet musical titled “Avenue Q” that has been winning hearts all over town. (“Q” would also win musical nods for Best Book and Best Original Score, despite the fact that the “It Sucks to Be Me” number performed at the Tonys seemed a silly tribute to losers.)
Awards for musical revivals included a much-deserved Best Choreography to Kathleen Turner for the “Wonderful Town” production I just enjoyed a week ago. But the adorable show’s kooky “Swing” number, chosen for performance during the Tony program, is not the one I would have selected to promote the show. From “Fiddler on the Roof” there was a whirling, foot stomping, “Tradition” with thrilling vocals and dazzling counterpoints. Then, for a very Tony change of pace, singer Tony Bennett provided a pleasant “Lullaby of Broadway,” with great Big Band accompaniment from the orchestra. Less appealing was a somewhat harsh solo from “Caroline, Or Change” sung by Tonya Pinkins. That number may hurt the box office for Caroline. Carol Channing even showed up and dabbled unsuccessfully in rap music. And Mary J. Blige, draped in glamorous, floor length, orange-red satin, offered a powerful “Kiss Today Good-bye” that will require some vocal fine tuning before she wins a role in “A Chorus Line.”
I was pleased to see talented Audra McDonald win her fourth Tony in ten years for Featured Actress in a Play with “A Raisin in the Sun.” Her performance as Carrie in the Lincoln Center “Carousel” some years ago highlighted one of my finest experiences in musical theater. And Jefferson Mays was warmly received as winner of Best Actor in a Play for his tour de force solo turn in the forty roles he creates in “I Am My Own Wife.” The show went on to take Best Play honors. Shakespeare was also alive and well on Broadway and won Best Play Revival for “Henry IV.”
And if you think all this theater is too far from Texas, consider this: Popular local Woodlands actor, Lance Kramer, (North Carolina School of the Arts) is preparing to bring his Artists in Action company to New York this summer with a production of David Marshall Grant’s “Snakebit,” to be performed both in Brooklyn and East Hampton in August. Who knows where the next Tony will land?
(The Courier 6.13.04)