Neil Patrick Harris won’t be hosting the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night, leaving that task to its other perma-emcee, Hugh Jackman. In all likelihood he’ll instead be onstage winning a Tony Award, for the sensational revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Rightly so–besides tearing the roof off the Belasco eight shows a week, he’s won a sheaf of Emmys for hosting the telecast, so leaving merit aside he’s kind of owed.
Harris is a lock in a year that saw Broadway boxoffice reach a new peak, buoyed in part by star-driven shows that arrived at season’s end. I have to admit they gave good value. Bryan Cranston continues to work his rictus as LBJ in All the Way, a how-a-bill-becomes-a-law kind of play enlivened by the choice of a particularly complex set of issues (civil rights legislation in the wake of the Kennedy assassination) and the actor’s near-constant hustling and grandstanding for three hours. With both Hedwig and All the Way due to receive sequels, maybe their stars will receive repeat Tonys in future seasons.
My hunch is that the Tony Awards will align with last Sunday’s Drama Desk Awards where applicable (the Drama Desk, my peeps, also considers Off and Off Off Broadway shows in the same mix). Expect plenty of “homegrown” talent in the winner’s circle, led by the divine Audra McDonald, who is poised to make Tony history with six wins (in all four eligible acting categories) for her searing dramatic performance as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. (She deserves a second, cross-media honor for showing the musical theatre greenhorns of last fall’s Sound of Music telecast how it’s done, but will have to make do with an Emmy, and almost certainly will.) The fantastic Jessie Mueller dispelled the lassitude that hangs around jukebox musicals with her vibrant star turn in Beautiful–The Carole King Musical. Love her–and if’s true that she’s not going to get the Funny Girl revival, her consolation is that she’ll get a Tony now for enacting pretty much the same arc, oddball Jewish girl making good in showbiz amidst domestic strife with the wrong right guy.
I’ll go with my brethren and say that James Monroe Iglehart, a live wire genie in Aladdin, will pick up a supporting Tony. Among the supporting actresses in a musical, Adriane Lenox was a guest star in After Midnight, and the two delightful performers in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, in a case of love & murder, cancel out each other. Hedwig and Beautiful are owned by their leads, which leaves Linda Emond, who is never not good, and I’ll take on faith is more than good in Cabaret. (I felt no need to revisit a production that mostly replicates one I cherished some time back.) Nominees Reed Birney and Mare Winningham highlight a strong ensemble in Casa Valentina, with a transvestite Birney ready to roll into The Bette Davis Story when its run ends.
Best Play? A largely uninspired crop, with Outside Mullingar clearly there to fill out the category and no more. I wanted to love Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, his first original show in decades, and I did love the performers, but its abrupt ending is a bummer, one that drags down the entire production. (It needed another pass or two.) Mothers and Sons received mixed reviews. James Lapine’s heartfelt adaptation of Moss Hart’s Act One, a touchstone for theatre lovers, has many adherents despite unrealized potential, which leaves All the Way as the default winner. I can live with that, and with Beautiful possibly swiping Best Musical from my more beloved Gentleman’s, which has been rewarded with healthier boxoffice after all its nominations and prizes. Awarding Best Revival of a Play to The Glass Menagerie, a classic that through many returns has never before been a Tony contender, is another irresistible gesture.
All this is academic, however. There’s a reason Emmy loves Tony, and that is, it’s a fun show whether or not you visit the Great White Way. Will Hedwig, the clear choice to win Musical Revival, shock middle America when NPH takes the stage for its production number? Stay tuned…