The 65th Annual Tony Awards was a mix of the good and the excrutiatingly boring. Only the hardiest Broadway fan could slog through three hours of such shameless self-congratulations. And since The Book of Mormon and War Horse swept the awards, with nine and five wins, respectively, (as CultureMap contributing columnist — and Tony voter — Fran Macferren predicted), there wasn't much suspense.
Early in the telecast, during his acceptance speech, The Normal Heart's John Benjamin Hickey, who won the award for featured actor in a play, told his mom in Plano, Texas, "You'd better not be watching the Mavericks game." I'm guessing she watched his win and then quickly switched stations.
She could have switched back too, because the game ended before the slow-moving Tonys did — and they started the same time. With numbers from last year's Tony award winner, Memphis; the Spider-man musical, which doesn't officially open until Tuesday; and an interminably long and unfunny monologue by John Leguizamo, the show seemed padded with numbers that could have easily been cut out.
Even so, the Tonys had its stellar moments. Among the ones that lingered:
1. Host Neil Patrick Harris opened the show with a musical number that parodied the large gay audience that faithfully watches the telecast each year. "Attention every breeder, you're invited to the theater. It's not just for gays anymore," he sang, before citing all the straight people in the audience. It was funny, although it went on a little too long. And poor Brooke Shields, who was called on to sing a ditty, couldn't get the words out.
2. Far funnier was Harris's duet with Hugh Jackman. The two have hosted just about every awards show (Harris: Tonys and Emmys; Jackman: Tonys and Oscars) and they were in synch while singing, "Anything You Can Host (I Can Host Better)" in a game of one-upsmanship that ended with a kick-dance from A Chorus Line. But in those few minutes, Jackman won the duel hands down, exhibiting star power that Harris, for all his earnest efforts, can't match.
3. Harris did have his moments, though. One particularly funny bit came when he vowed not to spend all night doing Spider-Man jokes, but instead crammed as many as he could in 30 seconds. He fit in six, including this last one, "I sent Bono (who composed the music) a congratulatory cable, but it snapped."
4. Chris Rock, who is starring on Broadway in The Motherfucker With the Hat (CBS calls it The Mother With the Hat, which makes it sound like an Easter show), marveled at being at the Tonys. "If you had told me two years ago I'd miss the best basketball game ever to hang out with Nathan Lane, I would have said that you're crazy. But that's what happened," Rock said, adding, "I remember my first musical like it was yesterday, because it was yesterday."
I guess Rock was the "breeder" that Harris referred to in the opening number.
Rock, who awarded the best musical prize, brought down the house while noting that the winner was a foregone conclusion (with Mormon such a heavy favorite). "This is such a waste of time, it's like taking a hooker to dinner," he said.
5. An emotional Nicki M. James, who won featured actress in a musical for her role in The Book of Mormon, compared herself to a bumblebee that flies against all odds "because nobody told them that they couldn't." Her heartfelt emotion was quite a contrast to Hickey, Ellen Barkin, and Larry Kramer, all who won Tonys for The Normal Heart. Each of them fumbled with a piece of paper to make their thank you's. Why can't award winners just speak from the heart?
6. Jerusalem's Mark Rylance, who won best actor in a play, had the best acceptance speech of the evening because he didn't thank anyone. Instead he recited how he had learned to walk through walls.
"Unlike flying or astro-projecting, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft but a lot more interesting than pot making or driftwood lamps," he said. In an earnest, deadpan voice, he talked about taking up the craft after watching a guy walk through a brick wall at a Wisconsin picnic. "The worst things are wire fences. I've lost my hat and torn my jacket in a lot of fencing. The best approach to a wall is first two hands flat against the wall. You'll feel the dry inner surface and then there's a moment of total darkness before you step through the other side," he ended.
It was totally nonsensical and totally refreshing.
7. Frances McDormand, who won best actress in a play for her role in The Good People, looked concert-ready in a casual blue jean jacket over a striped dress. Perhaps it was the venue. "The last time I was at the Beacon Theater (where the Tonys were held), Gregg Almann played right there right after his liver transplant. I'm so happy to be here," she said, pointing to the spot when the rocker played.
8. Mormon co-creator Trey Parker, who took home a boatload of Tonys, thanked friends of South Park, the naughty cartoon series that he also co-created. "If it weren't for you we wouldn't be here," he said.
Upon winning best musical, Parker also said he'd be remiss if he didn't thank his co-writer, who had passed away — Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion.
"You did it, Joseph! You got the Tony!" Parker said holding up the award and looking to the heavens.