And as I slinked away from my TV set, my tail tucked firmly between my legs, I wondered how on earth and the Great White Way everything could have gone so wrong…
Had I really claimed that picking “Matilda” in the Best Musical category was going to be the easiest call of the night? “Matilda” ended up getting about as much love from the voters as those sad little kids at Miss Trunchbull’s house of horrors got from … well, Miss Trunchbull. I’m not sure how “Matilda” lost Best Musical to the equally entertaining but far less innovative “Kinky Boots”, but there you have it. And how Billy Porter walked away with Best Actor in a Musical, beating Bertie Carvel’s headmistress-from-hell … sure, Porter’s divalicious drag queen was passionate and fiery and certainly worth the nomination, but a WIN? For a performance that–as fine as it was–I’ve seen many times before? Lola was a clone; Miss Trunchbull was an original. It was gratifying to see Gabriel Ebert take home the Tony for his superb work as Matilda’s crooked dad, but “Matilda” had a chance to clean up–to sweep the board–and it didn’t. Not even close. Was “Kinky Boots” that much better at currying votes? Or was it an anti-British backlash?
Still, it was also great to see Broadway rookie Cyndi Lauper win for “Kinky”‘s infectious score (“Matilda”‘s music was arguably more clever, but Cyndi’s DID have me bopping in my seat), and I can’t complain TOO loudly about Jerry Mitchell copping choreography honors for “Kinky” (I would have given it to “Matilda”‘s Peter Darling, who had to work with kids, for crying out loud, but alas).
Speaking of kids, it was the year of the kid, wasn’t it, with nominees “Matilda”, “A Christmas Story”, and “Annie”, just as it was the year of the tyrant (see, among other nasties, Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda”, and Miss Hannigan in “Annie”), the year of the African-American (congrats, Courtney B. Vance, Patina Miller, and Cicely Tyson), and, thanks to Diane Paulus and Pam McKinnon (winners both), the year of the female director … As for Ms. Tyson: did they actually have the cojones to start up the band BEFORE she’d even finished her speech? Is that any way to treat an acting icon? And it was a fine speech, too! … But then, they dissed Christopher Durang every bit as much after “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike” won for Best Play. Don’t Ms. Tyson and Mr. Durang deserve a tad more respect than that?
The opening number, featuring the hugely talented Neil Patrick Harris (enjoying his fourth go-round as host) and what seemed like every singer and dancer on Broadway, was a blast … the finale, written once again with the evening’s winners and losers in mind, and sung to the tune of Alicia Keys’/Jay-Z.’s “Empire State of Mind” (and spoofing it superbly) was a hoot … It was a fine idea, offering musical numbers from all kinds of shows, even some that weren’t nominated; the best of the lot–the excerpts from “Motown”, “Annie” (you go, Sue Sylvester! Er, I mean, Miss Hannigan), and “A Christmas Story” … Oddest sight of the night: Broadway neophyte Mike Tyson, high-stepping it with Neil Patrick Harris & Co. early on … second oddest: Stevie Van Zandt, introducing the stars of the tribute show he co-wrote honoring the 60s band The Rascals … Oddest couple of the night: the diminutive Mayor Bloomberg and the statuesque Sigourney Weaver–did Hizzoner HAVE to wear that oversized–and slightly askew–bow tie? … the Phantom has been haunting Broadway for twenty-five years? Here’s to the NEXT twenty-five, masked man! … Wasn’t Justin Bieber’s ill-advised joke a few months ago, the one about Anne Frank’s taste in music, enough? Host Harris’ only misstep all evening was his one-liner about Anne Frank and Frankenstein (!). Bad move, Neil; you’re classier, and funnier, than that … I thought we’d be treated to some scenes from the nominated plays, but except for a few blink-and-you-missed-them snippets before the Best Play award was handed out, hardly any attention was paid to them, at all … I missed most of the “Once ” number, which started during a commercial break. I know they wanted to speed things up, but the show was running long, anyhow–couldn’t they have allowed us to see the performance in its entirety?…
And finally–I’m still a little puzzled by the show’s inability, year after year, to draw an audience. Sure, it doesn’t feature many HOLLYWOOD names (though this telecast boasted a few), but it continues to offer a fair number of celebs, and, more importantly, plenty of singing and dancing and good old-fashioned entertainment.
Isn’t that enough? Come on, America–what more could you possibly want?
THEATRE REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien