The 2013 Tony Awards were, a friend of mine put it, a triumph — a celebration of Broadway. A demonstration of the skill, versatility, and endurance it takes to be a Broadway performer. There was also just enough pop culture, along with mainstream personalities, to appeal to the ambivalent American who may otherwise have had little interest in this broadcast. Anticipation was taut throughout the evening because, unlike some recent years, there were so many deserving contenders.
Broadway is in terrific shape right now, because of the brilliant execution of strong material. The Tonys are the Broadway community’s opportunity to boast to the country why it is that over 12 million people a year still go to see that thing called theater on the Great White Way. I was apprehensive in an earlier article of mine about the overwhelming Hollywood celebrity presence and what it might do to the quality of New York theatre this season, and I have to say that my fears are temporarily abated.
One of my favorite things about the Tonys is how real the people are. While there are hiccups and the occasional face-palm moments at other awards shows, many of those individuals (movie stars, rock stars) have been coached, have press reps, and are used to being in the media’s public eye. Theater performers, however, are real people. Perhaps a little more flexible than most (I’m looking at you, Pippin ensemble), but for the most part they are people with early mornings, late commutes, sore muscles, calluses, itchy throats, and wills of steel.
The plight of the stage actor was a common theme for the evening, spotlighted in the mid-show medley featuring Broadway stars who then made dalliances in television with mixed results (Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty, Laura Benanti). Neil Patrick Harris (NPH), naturally, is the most successful of the lot in that realm and perhaps that is why he has hosted said Tony television broadcast four times.
NPH could be argued as a safe choice for host, but I mean that in the most affectionate of terms. His whimsy and confidence are delightful to watch, for theater and television fans alike. An excellent choice on the producers’ parts, for we’ve liked him before and he is trained and talented enough to do it. The opening number began and I knew the evening was going to be solid. Especially when he rapped.
That rap in the opening number was almost undoubtedly written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also wrote the brilliant, always mid-show-written closing number) and is a subtle, significant piece evidence to how Broadway is evolving. Shows are changing to incorporate and include and audiences are responding.
People go to the theater to see spectacle and stories. The spectacle level is high this year, from Pippin’s circus chorus to Bring It On’s springing cheerleaders to Kinky Boots’ strutting drag queen team. Additionally, the numerous children’s ensembles are particularly notable. Matilda, A Christmas Story, and Annie all have remarkably young casts who did not disappoint in the slightest.
My favorite moment of the whole evening (even through Cicely Tyson’s purple whipped cream dress and Audra McDonald’s sassy microphone drop) was when playwright Tracy Letts accepted his award for Best Actor. In it, he called upon theater makers to remember the purpose in our craft; “we are the ones who say it to their faces,” he said, “and we have a unique responsibility.” In that he reminded us, artists and audiences alike, that the importance of theater lies in the message that you are telling, in order to better understand each other