The Playgoer: Tonys 2008: The Blogcast

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tonys 2008: The Blogcast

Welcome to the 4th Annual Playgoer Live Tony Blogcast!

By now I fancy myself quite the jaded Tony viewer/critic. But I must say, every year they find new ways to shock me with their callousness. (And by "they," I suppose I mean some combination of CBS, the American Theatre Wing, and the Broadway league.)

Every year, for the last decade, we've gotten used to the ghettoization of the less flashy award categories to an off-air pre-show. As criminal as it is, I had just adjusted myself to the placement of design awards to the Tony no man's land of 7-8pm.

Well look who's there this year: Book of a Musical. Choreography(!). Surprised yet? How about: Best Revival: Play!

I know, I know, there wasn't even any Revival category before the 90s. But it's there to acknowledge the reality that most of the best productions on Broadway are revivals.

And in what was supposed to be the "year of the play" what a nice way to honor that then to shift four of the nominees out of sight. (Boeing, Boeing won, btw, beating The Homecoming and Macbeth.)

I'd say this reflects an anti-play bias...but Choreography, in the modern American musical theatre, at least, is pretty, pretty darn important, no? Ruthless.

(Andy Blankenbuehler won for In The Heights.)

(You can follow the winners all night, by the way, at the Tony website here.)

Before the big opener, one last random pre-show observation: I just saw a CBS Tony commercial which ran about 1.5 seconds of a clip-montage from "the exciting shows you'll see" or something like that. I was amused that one moment of obscure B'way dud "Is He Dead" flitted by. Probably just because of the fancy period costumes. Joke is, it went by so fast no one could tell the actor in the hoop dress was Norbert Leo Butz!

"Circle of Life" indeed. What is it, 1998 again? No doubt they'll drag out Lion King ten years from now to "revive" this tranquilized poor animal of a tv show again.

Seriously, Julie Taymor's triumphant opening number still looks as beautiful as ever. But seeing her beaming in the audience did make me consider: Has Lion King enabled Julie Taymor to do better theatre work? I don't think so. Sure, she can make movies now, but such is the conundrum of the modern American theatre artist: the goal is to get a hit SO big... that you don't need to do theatre anymore. (Like in Seinfeld when Elaine dates a med student on the hopes that she'll be hitched to a doctor, only to get dumped by him after his exams when he explains the only reason to become a doctor is to date other women.)

And did Whoopi Goldberg just say "Thank you to The Lion King for bringing families back to Broadway for ten years"? I guess the League is writing all the copy themselves tonight.

Rondi Reed's win for Featured Actress in August signals an August sweep. As expected.

And while I'm prognosticating, I'd say the In The Heights win for chroreography--over the rumored favorite Cry Baby's Rob Ashford--bodes well for that show tonight.

Ashford's work, displayed in the mock-Jailhouse Rock number just shown, is as virtuosoic as ever. But it's heartening to know--that like the Democratic party--the Tony voters went for something a little different from the standard playbook. (And the dancing in In The Heights is undeniably amazing.)

Hey, is anyone watching this show? Anyone? If so, let me know. Just curious if I'm alone.

Was that someone from Counting Crows on the Tonys??? Well, to introduce Passing Strange, a good choice, no doubt. But having seen Stew rock the house at the Obies with "Welcome to Amsterdam" already, I have a feeling it got lost in the 3000-seat house of Radio City. His added grovelly sign-off of "This is how Passing Strange does it" seems to have met with...nonplussed response.

Not gonna win, I think. Not at this gig.

Hm, so I guess what the Tony producers thought was needed to boost the ratings is more backstage wackiness with the host? Just think of how many awards could have been handed out in that time...

I realize now in my futile call for readers out there watching the Tonys right now that I'm asking too much. Watching the Tonys is in itself enough of an effort of theatre geekdom. Watching while reading a theatre're far gone.

Of course if you are watching while reading this theatre blog, I love you very much.

First anti-climax of the night: stepping right on the heels of LuPone's immediate classic rendition of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" with something from "Phantom of the Opera." No matter that it turned out to be a Whoopi parody...

3-minute pre-filmed segment:"The Year in Plays!" More like the year in posters. Then somewhere between 1 and 5 seconds of video from various productions. If lucky, one line of dialogue. I'm sorry , I know it's an obvious point, but the fact that they can't show scenes from plays (even if more slickly filmed) is an insult to the whole idea of American theatre as something distinct from just musicals.

"In the Heights" sweep continues, with Best Score for Mr. Miranda. Holy Shit, he really is rapping his speech! Guess he figures he won't win Best Actor and the producers get the mike for Best why save it! Good for him. They really, really, better not cut him off...

(Nice of Duncan Sheik, before presenting the award, to remind the audience that Stew did win Best Book, but not on television.)

Back to LuPone and the Gypsy excerpt--first, kudos for getting Jack Klugman, the original Herbie to introduce. Brave man for acting for over ten years without a voice box. (Respect, always, for Oscar Madison!) Now many will question the choice of "Roses" over "Rose's Turn" as LuPone's big number. Just remember, though, that Bernadette Peters did that as her number on the Tonys five years ago. So maybe Patti wanted to avoid comparisons? But also, this was a wise choice because it highlighted the importance of the whole triumverate of that Gypsy cast (Laura Bernati as Gypsy and Boyd Gaines as Herbie.) Plus, LuPone told Michael Riedel, I think, that she really wanted to be able to do a song on the Tonys with the lead-in dialogue. You know, acting. So note how they were able to do that with this number.

Obviously with Whoopi the strategy is: Billy Crystal. Yet another attempt in the bankrupt ambition of this shows to emulate the Oscars.

"Grease" excerpt: little Max & Laura, back where they belong: on television. (Funny how they're barely, barely featured in the number!)

Voiceover of the Night: "Cadillac congratulates the winner of the Tony award for Featured Actress in a Musical." That's how the Tonys survive. Selling sponsorships to one award at a time.

That's the best Cadillac could do???

You know what's clever about this Whoopi business--under the guise of "parody" she's actually helping to promote yet more musicals that are not even nominated for anything this year. Phantom, Spamalot, Mary Poppins...Just "classics" you say? Well, they're still running.

Plus, did you notice that a bunch of other "classic" musicals (who happen to be still running) like Hairspray, Mama Mia, Chicago get plugged, too, through these random "behind-the-scenes" clips.

The Broadway agenda is in full force tonight.

Speaking of which, did you notice when Marisa Tomei said (something like) "and now let us see some of the fine theatrical work other than those nominated for best musicals or musical revivals." And now The Little Mermaid!

Thank you , Mark Rylance, for volunteering to be the weirdest man on television for a night. (And nice handshake between him and rival Patrick Stewart--who reportedly wanted it bad. Wonder if he was saying to himself behind that smile, "I can't believe I lost to that freak!" Seriously, I'm second to none in Mark Rylance fans. Huzzah!)

Now I'm no fashion expert, but...did Gabriel Byrne just inaugurate the trend of the intentionally loosened tie? And did Mary Louise Parker steal a miniskirt from Legally Blond?

Ok, I owe the Tonys an apology. I earlier lamented the exclusion of play excerpts. Well here they are. 10 seconds each, or was that 5? And what does it say that Whoopi's intros were much longer than the clips themselves? Don't tell me there's just no time.

"In the Heights" number--I wished they hadn't cut & pasted this one. There's so many good numbers that stand alone. And it surprises me they seem to be highlighting the more hiphop excerpts from the score, when most of it is salsa and meringue. And that would probably be more widely appealing to the Tony broadcast audience.

Nice to know that all the design awards were brought to us by Hilton. They couldn't even get on the air! (And the voiceover can't even pronounce "Les Liasons Dangerooo")

10: 30
For the record: first ever Tonys for sound design goes to Scott Lehrer, South Pacific (musical) and Mic Pool, 39 Steps (play).

Here comes Best Play--bring out the Brits! Which of course means Harry Potter. And nice moment where Richard Griffiths mocks young Radcliffe

Oh my god, look at how many producers are on stage for August. "I don't know all these people but they must have had something to do with the show," said playwright Tracy Letts. He's on a roll, actually, this long hard working, actor-playwright"This is a hell of a lot better than auditioning for JAG." "Thanks to these producers for daring to put a new American play on Broadway. With theatre actors."

To cut off Tracy Letts is bad enough (especially before he gets to thanks his, uh, father? Who acted in the play and died during the run? And it's Father's Day???)...but to cut him off with "On Broadway"...priceless.

Did the Tony peeps know Sondheim wouldn't show up when they voted him a lifetime achievement award. Ha, busted!

It's a shame that the Sunday in the Park with George number couldn't show off the amazing video design more. But since the shows have to "remount" their numbers (at their own expense, I believe?) in Radio City Music Hall, then maybe more display was impossible--not to mention, more of the cast.

Whoopi in Spring Awakening. Are you laughing yet?

Best Veiled Insult of the night: Andre Bishop paying tribute to the "couple of other major revivals of classic musicals." Translation: not Grease.

I haven't seen Xanadu, but that Tony Roberts singing from his seat in the audience bit was actually a surprisingly wonderful bit of television. How rare.

Looks like they will at least be on time tonight. Stay tuned for The Coronation of LuPone and the Best Musical award to In the What???

Paulo Szot: "I was proud to play Emile DeBecq, a man who opposed war and fights for love. That simple." Only political statement of the night. Leave it to a foreigner.

Ok, apologies to Cadillac--they apparently could indeed afford to thank the winner of every category (at least those awarded right before commercial break.)

Patti LuPone, to band beginning those ominous notes of "On Broadway": "Shut up, I've been waiting for this 29 years!"

And, just in time, indeed. In the Heights wins at 10:59 exactly. I don't know what producer Jill Furman said since my DVR cut her off seconds later.

Good night!


Esther said...

Hey, I'm watching! One thing that got to me during the opening credits was the list of presenters - uh, I love Jack Klugman as well as the next person, but didn't the demographic skew a little old? I mean, couldn't they have gotten John Gallagher Jr. or Jonathan Groff? And most of those names were unrecognizable to anyone but theater fans. So if you were flipping channels, you'd probably keep flipping. Just a thought.

I was also surprised at some of the awards that were relegated to the preshow. I mean, choreography!? Isn't that what most musicals are all about - the dancing? But I am glad that Andy Blankenbuehler won. I love that show.

And I'm thrilled beyond belief for Rondi Reed. I had a chance to talk to her for about a half-hour after the show one night and she's warm and funny and gracious as well as a hoot in the show.

One final thing, couldn't they at least have showed a 30-second clip from the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre? I mean, it's the one chance a theater company outside of New York gets a little publicity.

Ok, back to the show!

And Stew's acceptance speech was kind of lame. He had no idea the award would be presented during the preshow?

Anonymous said...

I'm watching, and reading along, AND writing a paper for ATHE.

How long did Lin Manuel practice his acceptance speech, dya think?

Playgoer said...

Indeed. If he didn't win anything, he would have been PISSED!

Avi said...

I can't watch cos I'm at work (and it's daytime here in Aus) - so I'm reading blogs instead. I'm trying to figure out whether that is more or less geeky. Either way, keep blogging - I'm hungry for news.

Anonymous said...

I hate Mark Rylance and his idiot savant act.

Anonymous said...

Also, wtf is up with Patinkin? What spiderhole did they dig him out of?

June said...

Patinkin was clearly auditioning for the lead in "The Harvey Fierstein Story."

Playgoer said...

It occurs to me the morning after that Whoopi did make some political comments, too. (Nice jab at Clarence Thomas, e.g.) But it was hard to tell amidst the costume changes.

Also, I suppose the final message of the Tony broadcast in the last half hour basically boils down to: Rent, Best Musical EVER.

Take THAT South Pacific!

Oh, and officially, according to my Time Warner cable program menu, the Tonys can be described by two simple words: "Broadway excellence."