There was a lot of television to choose from last night: a beauty pageant, a big battle on Game of Thrones, and even, I’m told, some basketball game. But if you’re like me, you enjoyed a liter of white wine and the Tony Awards, the annual celebration of a relatively minor industry within New York that is broadcast on national television to millions who will likely never see any of the shows featured or even know who most of the people in attendance actually are. But, on the plus side, Broadway for once looked a lot less whitewashed than usual!
There were few surprises in terms of winners: Bryan Cranston came one step closer to an EGOT, picking up an award for his role as Lyndon Baines Johnson in All That Way. Jessie Mueller earned a deserved Tony for her portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder won Best Musical, while Hedwig and the Angry Inch nabbed Best Revival of a Musical — a big change from its roots as a solo performance piece at the legendary queer dance party Squeezebox.
Most refreshing were all of the diverse actors and performers on stage, both in musical numbers and as winners: Sophie Okonedo won for A Raisin in the Sun (which also won Best Revival of a Play and Best Director for Kenny Leon), James Monroe Iglehart broke out into a praise shout after accepting his award for playing the Genie in Aladdin, and Audra McDonald won her sixth Tony, which is incredibly impressive considering that she’s only 43 years old. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the most interesting moments.
Neil Patrick Harris took a break from hosting this year to star in (and win his first Tony for) Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which meant that Hugh Jackman got to bounce around Radio City Musical Hall for a few hours, reminding us all that Wolverine can sing and dance with varying degrees of success. Perhaps one of the night’s stranger moments was the very long opening number, throughout which Jackman literally hopped around the theater, interacting with cast members from various Broadway shows backstage. Sure, OK.
Winning a Tony for her portrayal of Yitzak in Hedwig, Lena Hall charmed everybody with her sincere surprise and excitement, also proving that apparently My Little Pony fans dig musicals about East German transsexuals.
More tears came from Audra McDonald last night, who picked up a record-breaking sixth Tony for her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. Invoking Lena Horne, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, and, of course, Billie Holiday, McDonald’s win is a major moment for women of color working in the theatre.
But back to the performances, right? Nearly all of the musical numbers were lackluster: we had a a tap-dancing genie, some lovelorn Victorians, and Les Misérables — yes, again. But the best performance of the night came, unsurprisingly, from Neil Patrick Harris, who, along with his Hedwig cast mates, performed “Sugar Daddy.” There’s something particularly refreshing about watching a drag queen accost a bewildered Samuel L. Jackson on a live CBS broadcast, right? It certainly balanced out all of the commercials for IBS medication.
I’m sure plenty of tweens were bummed she didn’t sing “Let It Go,” but Idina Menzel did prove that despite a somewhat strained performance at this year’s Oscars — which, thanks to John Travolta, earned her some ironic name recognition — she can still deliver an emotional musical number. Too bad that song was from the disappointing If/Then. (We were also forced to sit through a performance from Wicked, which has been running for ten years now, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to restrain Menzel from running back on stage and taking out the unknown Elphaba.
The biggest WTF moment of the night was either the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen or the greatest thing I’ve ever seen (I’m leaning toward the latter, by the way). We were spared another solo number from Hugh Jackman, who threatened to perform all of the parts in the opening song from The Music Man; then he was joined by T.I. and LL Cool J to actually turn a Meredith Wilson showtune into a hip-hop performance. This could have only been better had Nicki Minaj come out to do a little “Pick a Little, Talk a Little.”