Last night I attended the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, as the guest of my friend William Ivey Long, who’d been nominated for his glorious costumes in Bullets Over Broadway. I ended up being seated in the second row, which was a treat. I’d never been to the Tonys, or any big time awards ceremony, so the event was fascinating, and getting a good long look at the interior of Radio City was a bonus. Here are some observations:
The host, Hugh Jackman, was charm itself. There’s just something about watching such a big, hunky guy sing and dance so well; he’s irresistible, because you can tell that while he’s working hard, he’s having a great time. Musical theater tends to revolve around legendary female performers, which makes the male stars, from Robert Preston through Jerry Orbach to Hugh Jackman, worth treasuring.
The opening number involved Hugh Jackman bouncing up and down, all over the world. At the end of the telecast, he had the audience stand and bounce. No one seems quite sure of where this bouncing notion came from, or what it means. But only Hugh Jackman could get an entire audience on its feet, bouncing happily away.
The hometown favorites were clearly Audra McDonald, winning her sixth Tony, for playing Billie Holiday in Lady Day, and Neal Patrick Harris, who won for Best Actor in a Musical, for his staggeringly great performance as Hedwig. When NPH did a number from Hedwig on the broadcast, he remained astonishing. Watching him up close, I could see that he’d completely changed his natural body language, to embody Hedwig, the quasi-transgendered German rock goddess. Both Audra McDonald and NPH have had careers in movies and on TV, but they continue to return to the theater.
The terrific revival of Raisin In The Sun picked up a batch of awards, including a Best Supporting Actress nod for Sophie Okonedo, who gave an extremely gracious speech. She seems not only supremely talented, but like a genuinely great person. Even if she tortured a puppy in front of me, I would continue to believe this.
During the commercial breaks, staff members with headsets and walkie-talkies would fetch various celebrities from the audience, and their empty seats would be instantly filled by formally dressed seat-fillers, so the hall would never have empty spaces, like a smile with missing teeth. This is a practical system, but I wanted the seat-fillers to be Kevin Bacon or Lucy Liu look-a-likes.
Best-dressed: Vera Farmiga in form-fitting black, Patricia Clarkson in luscious red satin, Lucy Liu in a voluminous skirt and above all, legendary costume designer Jane Greenwood, who’d designed herself a stunning, shimmering pale green gown with a matching coat – this ensemble was perfectly scaled for such a huge theater.
The evening ended with an odd song from an upcoming musical about J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, called Finding Nerverland. During the number, a sumptuously gowned Jennifer Hudson sang a power ballad to a bed full of little boys in pajamas, and then, as Jennifer continued to belt out the number, someone dressed as Peter Pan did what looked like martial arts moves, while the stage was filled with a projection which resembled the hyperdrive moments from the early Star Wars movies. Jennifer Hudson sang beautifully, but she’s not going to be in the musical, so this sequence looked as if Whitney Houston had decided to visit the Darling family in their Edwardian home. I kept thinking, wait, those little boys don’t need so many gay signifiers – they’re already dancing on the Tonys.