NPR Unless you’ve seen every awards show since the dawn of time (which would make you The Unluckiest Person In The World), you can’t really answer the question of whether last night’s opener of the Tony Awards, hosted for the fourth time by Neil Patrick Harris, was the best opening ever.
But if you’re talking about awards shows in recent memory, the answer is that not only was it the best opener, but it utterly embarrassed just about everything except maybe Jimmy Fallon’s “Born To Run” at the 2010 Emmys. It’s funny, energetic, committed, and ultimately deeply and touchingly warm-hearted.
The next time you’re tempted to give an Oscar host a pass on the basis that it’s an impossible, can’t-win job, and that the lazy, easy, corny, toothless humor that passes for patter is a fundamental of the awards format, and that the jokes can’t be better and the numbers can’t be better and the hosting can’t be better and the crowd can’t get excited, keep in mind that that’s exactly what people who want to keep making lazy awards shows want you to think.
Sure, theater people have an advantage with musical numbers, but if you run the Oscars and can’t figure out how to do for and with love of film what the Tonys are doing for and with love of theater, you are terrible at your job and should hand it off to someone else. This wasn’t even the only great number — there was also a funny, biting bit from Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty, and Laura Benanti, all theater people whose TV shows (The New Normal, Smash, and Go On) were recently canceled.
As for the awards themselves, they proved very big for the play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang, as well as the offbeat revival of Pippin and the new musical Kinkyboots, which brought a first-ever Tony to its composer — Cyndi Lauper. Pam McKinnon and Diane Paulus were the rare pair of women to take directing honors in the same year for play and musical (for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and Pippin respectively), and great speeches came from winners including Billy Porter for Kinkyboots, Cicely Tyson for The Trip To Bountiful, and Andrea Martin for Pippin.
Step it up, everybody else. The theater kids are making you look terrible.
LA TIMES In live theater, a performer has to know how to make an entrance, and television critics reviewing Sunday’s CBS telecast of the Tony Awards from Radio City Music Hall in New York City applauded its host, Neil Patrick Harris, for making a memorable one.
The number began more or less where last year’s Tonys had left off, with “Once,” the unpretentious, decidedly non-glitzy 2012 winner for best new musical. Harris appeared as a novice folk-pop guitar strummer in a “Once”-like Irish pub. But within moments he was declaring, “It’s bigger … tonight it’s bigger!” and he was off to the races, joined by a thespian multitude from an assortment of Broadway shows.
As Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times put it, the “opening number had him leaping acrobatically through a hoop, avoiding an effort by Mike Tyson [who made his first theatrical bow this year with a one-man autobiographical show] to chomp his ear and pulling a vanishing act that was as impressive on television as it must have been in the theater. (He disappeared from a box onstage, only to reappear moments later at the back of the hall).”
“As often happens,” Genzlinger continued, “the subsequent show rose to those heights only a few times. One of them came just minutes after Mr. Harris left the stage and the cast of “Matilda the Musical” took it over. If that show’s number didn’t produce an instant spike in ticket sales, there’s no hope for the theater.”
Los Angeles Times critic Robert Lloyd was similarly knocked out by the “invaluable, unshakable Harris…. Harris was never too long out of view, and when he was around, he was put to good use,” with partners who included Sandy, the cute dog from the musical “Annie,” with whom Harris exchanged repeated kisses on the lips before quipping, “You do know I’m in a relationship, right?”
The host wound up working overtime — his last joke was that the Tonys would have to skip the planned finale because the telecast was running late. Instead, Harris started rapping, and was soon joined by past multi-Tony winner Audra McDonald in a duet that reworked Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” to include rhyming shout-outs to many of the night’s major winners.
In Genzlinger’s view, “it wasn’t as funny as last year’s” finale, and he wished that the acceptance speeches had been curtailed to keep the evening more brisk. When victors grasp their coveted medallions, he wrote, “what they actually have in their hands is the power to kill the momentum of the broadcast.”
Lloyd, to the contrary, was touched by Cicely Tyson, who went overtime while thanking Broadway for welcoming her back after a 30-year absence, and by acceptance speeches in which “Kinky Boots” star Billy Porter and composer Cindy Lauper recalled how Broadway musicals reached them when they were very young, via a Tony telecast (Porter) or, for Lauper, her mother’s collection of cast albums.
Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press noted two other memorable moments: Lauper singing her 1980s pop hit “True Colors” while an “in memoriam” sequence of photographs of theater eminences who’d died since last year’s Tonys was displayed behind her. and a satirical number in which Harris, who shot to stardom via television, teamed with a less fortunate trio of theater folk whose TV shows had bombed. He got to gloat a bit, while Andrew Rannells, Laura Benanti and Megan Hilty sang laments.
Hilty’s show, “Smash,” took its final bow a few weeks ago on NBC after two years of dismal ratings. The final hour was the show’s own fictional Tony Awards — making 2013 the year in which truly committed theater buffs could watch two Tony Awards on two networks.