You thought you’d get away with no Tony recap post this year, did you? Fat chance! And plus, I’ve belatedly decided to write about the shows I saw this year, too. I composed half of it and then decided to split up the posts. This one’s just about the Tonys themselves.
Yesterday I kept asking colleagues and friends if they had watched the Tonys. “Oh I forgot about them!” “I never watch the Tonys.” “I was watching the hockey game!” “I don’t see much theater, so…” (And this is New York City! Imagine what people think in the rest of the country!) How disappointing! Once again this Sunday’s show illustrated that even a mediocre Tony ceremony is miles more fun than the Oscars. The speeches are better (and shorter!), for one thing. The musical performances, good or bad, are always interesting and fun to discuss. The show usually ends at 11, although this year was a little late. And it’s much less annoyingly grandiose than the Oscars. Like last year, I watched the show at my friend Cheryl’s house. This time, it was just the two of us, which gave us the opportunity to truly nerd out and play Scrabble during the commercials. (She won by a hundred, but I shall have my revenge someday.)
The first performance to discuss, of course, is the one that never happened at all. Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly. Cheryl just about squawked with outrage when she realized that they wouldn’t be featuring Bette in a song from the show. It’s all we wanted. It’s all any of us wanted. How could this possibly have happened? Who’s to blame? Now, I was lucky enough to see Hello, Dolly a few weeks ago, and could tell you firsthand that Bette Midler lives up to the hype. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, because it looks like most of the country won’t get to see any part of her performance. Just think of all the kids who won’t get a chance to see her. I lived for those Tony performances as a kid. Plus, the song they actually performed (“Penny in My Pocket”) was downright lame. I’m still outraged. I’m banging my fist on a table! I mean, it’s bad enough without Bette performing but couldn’t they at least put on a song that shows how much fun the production is? (“It Takes a Woman!” “Elegance!” “It Only Takes a Moment!” ANYTHING!) As I said last year, I’ll occasionally spend hours looking at old Tony clips and reliving the magic of theater gone by. This will never happen with the 2017 Hello, Dolly. How could you, Scott Rudin? Now, I do realize there are a lot more important things going on in the nation. But surely this is something Republicans and Democrats can agree upon.
The other performance that worked me into a lather, though to a lesser extent, was Groundhog Day. Last year, I ranted against big Act Two “diva numbers” as Tony showcases. The Groundhog Day performance, a song called “Seeing You,” is similar in that it’s another big Act Two emotional payoff song. I don’t know the show well enough to say for certain what song would have been better (the suicide song? Or the car chase song? I don’t know. I’ll think on this), but this one gives you no sense of the show. It’s clever, it’s joyous, it’s funny as hell. “Seeing You” is nice in the context of the show, but came off as boring and treacly as a standalone number. And the song doesn’t even really indicate how terrific Andy Karl is as Phil Connors. Missed opportunity, guys.
No complaints about Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away or Great Comet (especially Great Comet! How much fun was that number?), but War Paint and Falsettos did not come across well. Miss Saigon showcased its leading lady well but was far too heavy with its murder in the first five seconds. Or maybe I just don’t tend to much like overdramatic Tony performances. And I’m undecided about Bandstand. I have a ridiculous and ill-placed concern about the historical accuracy in its (Tony winning!) swing dance choreography. Stay tuned for developing thoughts on this Very Important Issue when I actually see the show.
But what I really want to do is get back to complaining about the lack of Bette Midler, so I guess I’d better stop here.
What on earth was going on with the opening number? I am a big fan of Broadway and musicals and would seem to be the target audience, but a few of the in-jokes about specific shows went over my head. If I’m not getting it, then you are doing it wrong. Plus, seeing Stephen Colbert and Billy Crystal reminded us of all the things we couldn’t have. And the closing number was even worse. I don’t know that song. and it seemed lugubrious, and a waste of Patti LuPone. And it was under-rehearsed and sloppy. Didn’t they learn anything from Neil Patrick Harris? Kevin Spacey started and ended on the wrong foot (note: I am not making a lame Keiser Soze pun). I wonder how much of this is his own responsibility, and how much was a producers’ decision. In any case, things weren’t going very well for Kevin Spacey.
But then in the middle of the show he came out and did an adorable Johnny Carson impression. I hadn’t thought about Johnny Carson for years and seeing the wig and hearing the hokey jokes and that rimshot after every punch line… It brought me back to my childhood when I occasionally got to stay up late to watch Carson on TV. I thought it was an absolutely delightful bit of nostalgia and I forgave Kevin Spacey for everything that came before and after. I realize this makes no sense. Yesterday on the Today on Broadway podcast they mocked Spacey’s impersonations, especially the Carson one, as totally out-of-touch. I agree with them. It’s corny! It shouldn’t make up for a mediocre hosting job! And that Clinton impression was pretty lousy, as well. I can’t really explain it. Occasionally while watching the Tonys you learn things about yourself, and this year I came to realize that I can be totally won over by an unexpected Johnny Carson impersonation.
I’m actually going to save most of my thoughts for a separate post, as I saw all four of the nominated plays this year and three of the nominated musicals. (Sort of — I saw Great Comet in the tent, but not on Broadway. Yet.) I will say that once again the Tonys proved that theater makers know how to craft an awards speech. My personal favorite: Pasek and Paul. Clearly rehearsed and yet so heartfelt and winning. “Are they together? Are they a couple? I LOVE THEM!” I squealed to Cheryl. “I don’t know if they are together but they definitely have that mind meld thing going on,” she responded. (Update: they are NOT a couple but this makes them no less wonderful. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned productive writing partnership. They even share credit on everything just like Lennon and McCartney.)
And of course, Bette Midler’s refusal to be played off. You tell ‘em, Bette! Love you forever! (PS — I’m still mad at you for not performing.)
Well, there’s Frozen, of course, and Harry Potter, which are probably going to be the two massive hits of the year. I don’t have much interest in either, but I’m am more or less certain that I’ll end up seeing both. (And of course, for the people involved in both productions, I truly hope that both are as wonderful as they are expected to be.) I will say my lack of interest in Frozen is a little unfair, since I still haven’t got around to seeing the movie. Harry Potter’s script underwhelmed me (to say the least), but everyone is always saying that it’s a lot better in person. I’m more interested in The Band’s Visit — will it be the third Best Musical in a row to come from an acclaimed off-Broadway run? Or maybe it will be Mean Girls or Freaky Friday. I’m excited just thinking about it! As for plays, I’m interested in Junk, Farinelli and the King, and who knows what else. I think I’m going to try and see 1984 soon, too. We’ll see. I can’t wait for another wonderful year of theatergoing. Bring it on!