Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tony Night!

I glance at The Grammys, abide The Emmys, enjoy The Golden Globes and have a morbid fascination with The Oscars, but I love The Tonys. Back when I was in high school and discovering David Mamet, I stumbled across a Tonys broadcast one summer night and was stunned to see a live performance of a scene from Mamet's nominated drama Speed-The-Plow, with Joe Mantegna, Ron Silver and Madonna. I'd never realized before that just as The Oscars show clips from nominated films, The Tonys stage scenes from dramas and musicals–scenes I couldn't otherwise see. From that point on, I was hooked.

I've never been to a real Broadway play–heck, I've never been to New York City–but I try to keep up with what's going on in the theater. The Tonys are helpful, to the extent that every year I typically buy one or two original cast albums after watching the show. After tonight, I hit Amazon and ordered Spring Awakening, the runaway winner in nearly all the musical categories. Based on the little two-song medley performed on the show, the Duncan Sheik-penned rock score isn't quite as transcendent as Hedwig & The Angry Inch, and not as cutesy-poo as Rent. But it seems worth checking out, at the very least.

(I also ordered Grey Gardens, and I'd have added the cast album for John Doyle's Company to my buy-list too, except that as a Sondheim addict, I bought that one long ago. It's the third Company cast album I've bought in my life. And yet, I've never seen the show performed, outside of the snippets in D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Original Cast Album: Company. Someday, someday….)

Other notes from Tony-land, 2007:

*With all their experiences standing on stages in front of big crowds, Tony winners inevitably give the best speeches, full of nods to tradition, comically inflated self-regard and heartfelt thanks to "partners." The most moving speech this year was delivered by David Hyde Pierce, an unexpected winner for Curtains–a show that's gotten mixed reviews, and that didn't look too thrilling in its live number tonight. Pierce was funny and sweet, and for the first time, a week after coming out publicly, thanked his boyfriend of the last 24 years.

*There was some nifty staging on this year's show, including the pre-commercial teasers for the performances to come, delivered by the cast members on a little mini-stage. In general The Tonys organize their business well, giving out awards in a comprehensible order, staggered with musical numbers. And the show finishes on-time.

*It's unsurprising that CBS would take advantage of the self-selected audience of Tony watchers to push this fall's Hugh Jackman-starring mystery musical Viva Laughlin–based on the British series Blackpool–but inserting a commercial for it at every break may have tested musical-lovers' goodwill. (I'll still be watching though, for the two or three weeks CBS keeps it on the air. Anybody have any idea of what I can send to the network heads to change their minds after the show gets cancelled? I'm thinking spare copies of Broadway cast albums.)

*The brief snippet of Legally Blonde: The Musical during the montage of the season's new musicals sounded pretty much exactly how I would've imagined the score from Legally Blonde: The Musical to sound: a breezy spin on the hookless contempo-pop that too many modern musicals trot out. Anyway, I'm sure the show is fun enough–and since it got some Tony noms, it must have some good qualities–but hearing that name called out alongside the more serious fare just seemed awkwardly inappropriate.

*If you have to adapt a movie as a musical, it may as well be a cult favorite like the Maysles' documentary Grey Gardens. I've heard good things about the Broadway version, and though I had a hard time adjusting to hearing "Little Edie" (as played by Christine Ebersole) burst into song, Ebersole got the essence of the character. Meanwhile, when her stage partner Mary Louise Wilson won for Best Featured Actress In A Musical, she gave a little "whoop" in her speech that was clearly a joke from the play. Another reason to love The Tonys: Nobody on that stage seems to care much that most of the viewers at home haven't seen their work. For a night, we get admitted into the club, to watch the members behave as they usually do.

*There are two major exceptions to the "closed set" nature of The Tonys: The show always ends with someone on stage–Angela Lansbury tonight–urging the home viewers to come to New York and see a Broadway show, and it nearly always begins with the announcer promising the wary that there will be all kinds of movie and TV stars parading across the stage soon. What they scarcely mention is that in Tony-land, the "movie and TV stars" tend to be more along the lines of Frank Langella. But that's something else that makes the show so cool. Broadway welcomes the kind of talented actors who've had hit-and-miss movie/TV careers, like newly minted Tony-winner Billy Crudup, and nominee Martha Plimpton. And where else would you see old Soap ventriloquist Jay Johnson get a moment to bask in award glory?

*If there was a star-making moment tonight, it belonged to Fantasia, who reportedly has brought new life to the flagging The Color Purple, and who brought her full vocal range and nascent sense of theater to bear on a song that, for the most part, ain't much. At the start of the night, presenter Neil Patrick Harris talked about his love of the theater and "the immediacy of live performers," and Fantasia–along with the Raúl Esparza, Christine Ebersole, and the dancing ensembles of A Chorus Line, Mary Poppins and Spring Awakening–were a reminder of what talent and training can do.

So…was there anything else on TV Sunday night?


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