Reflecting on the 2009 Tony’s…

June 9, 2009

Apparently, 2009’s Tony Awards saw a drastic spike in ratings, as reported by Playbill, well into double digit increases. I think the presence of Neil Patrick Harris, this year’s (dull) host, is to blame for these gains in viewership. He was all over day-time and late-night television, advertising the show in a way that Whoopi (presumably, by contract with The View) could not. Though I hardly know of him, the greater part of the country seems to idolize N.P.H. as some kind of all-American poster boy. If they only knew…

Neil Patrick Harris, host of 2009 Tonys
Neil Patrick Harris, host

But, it is EXCELLENT, I say. Any press theatre can obtain will certainly benefit the entire theatre-loving community. Particularly in a season full of critically-acclaimed and artistically diverse productions, the increased interest validates the claim that shows can be both smart and bankable. Plus, better ticket sales will generate more jobs and spending in New York- perhaps enough to stimulate some real growth the economy…well, maybe not. But it is telling that this year, when all feared the Great White Way’s death with 11 shows closing in January, tickets sales were the highest ever recorded by the Broadway League ($943.3 million, according to the NY Times) and 40+ new shows opened. That is quite encouraging news if this is really the Great Depression: Volume 2.

But ratings fail to reflect a program’s quality (See Arrested Development for details). So, what did I think, you may ask.

As you may have guessed, I was not completely bowled over by N.P.H.’s hosting abilities. He said, as a guest on The View, that he would attempt to replicate John Stewart’s Oscar-hosting technique, being witty and smart. In reality, this technique became lame and uninvolved. N.P.H. did very little throughout the evening until his 11 o’clock number sung through the credits. Whoopi flew, rollerskated, and dressed in so many ridiculous costumes as last year’s host. N.P.H. wore a shiny suit, walked down the aisles a few times, and made one good joke about Brett Michael’s “headbanging” incident. I like the guy, but he was a miserably dull host!

I did, however, enjoy the new format they utilized this year. Musical numbers seemed to bookend each award presentation, making the evening fast-paced and perfect for a theatre-loving couch potato. I cannot believe those three hours past so quickly! While their selection of random regional and touring productions (Legally Blonde, Jersey Boys, and Mamma Mia) was questionable, it provided them with more performance material to sell tickets.

The Winners: Much of the night went as predicted. Ok, ALL OF IT was as predicted. The big winner of the night was Billy Elliot, which picked up awards for Best Musical, Direction, Choreography, Sets, Featured Actor, and Leading Actor awards. As you’ll hear in the clip, all 3 actors playing Billy were nominated together for 1 award. And together, they had the most endearing acceptance speech of the night.

Billy Elliot the musical revolves around motherless Billy, who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes. The story of his personal struggle and fulfillment are balanced against a counter-story of family and community strife caused by the eighties’ coal miners’ strike of Northern England. While the Billy performance offered nothing for people like my mother (who loves the singing and dancing of traditional shows), I suspect the dancers of the world found a piece to call their own.

The fiercest competitor (though, without claws) was Next to Normal, which provided the best performance of the night. Carrie Fisher offers a fun introduction to the scene (TRUST ME, listen to the whole thing…it gets really good).

Next to Normal tells the story of a mother struggling with worsening bipolar disorder and the illness’ effect on her family. Alice Ripley, the mother, easily took the award for Best Actress in a Musical (and what a crazy acceptance speech it was).

Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit

Angela Lansbury in "Blithe Spirit"

Thank god for Angela Lansbury. At 83 years old, she wins her 5th Tony Award! How fantastic. Apparently, her performance is Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit is outstanding and strangely similar to Geoffrey Rush’s in Exit the King in zany energy. I hope I can move like that at 83 (or even Estelle Parsons at 82 in August: Osage County).

God of Carnage took the Best New Play award, as expected. With stars like James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hope Davis involved, it was sure to be a hit with critics and audiences. With the Pulitzer Prize winner, Ruined, excluded from contention (because it never actually played Broadway), Carnage only faced competition from Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty. With the prize gone, reasons has (unfortunately) already announced its closing date. I saw the LaBute on opening night, as a friend was investing in it. While not thrilled by it, it grew on me day-by-day after as I thought more about it, and I am sad to see it go. I am sure more Tony losers will follow on reasons‘ heels.

Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart

Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart

The Losers: I was disappointed to see Janet McTeer of Mary Stuart lose the Best Leading Actress in a Play award to Marcia Gay Harden. I have yet to see Ms. Gay Harden’s performance, but I cannot describe how enthralling Ms. McTeer’s Mary Stuart was. And performing night after night in an onstage rain, drenched in period dress as the men go about in modern…wow! She was outstanding. That was sad to see, while still expected.

Geoffrey Rush in Exit the King

Geoffrey Rush - "Exit the King"

The Best Leading Actor in a Play category was rife with talent and celebrity names. Geoffrey Rush, whose hilarious performance as a 400 year old in Exit the King stole the award, faced stiff competition from Gandolfini, Daniels, Esparza, and Sadoski. Esparza (of Speed-the-Plow) and Sadoski (of reasons to be pretty) both gave outstanding performances. Many thought Mr. Esparza would grab the award merely for putting up with Jeremy Piven’s sushi antics (and the 2 replacements he had to accomodate in Piven’s absence). Mr. Sadoski was the essence of reasons and gave such a unique and heart-felt performance. I would argue that he was Mr. Rush’s main competition, though Rush was damn funny in an otherwise dull show.

Overall, an intriguing (and money-making) theatre season.

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One Response to “Reflecting on the 2009 Tony’s…”

  1. randompandemonium said

    I was really hoping Next to Normal would win over Billy Elliot, but I do agree that the 3 Billy’s of Billy Elliot had the most endearing speech of the night! I really wish Billy Elliot had had more competition so it wouldn’t have been as predictable. I was really happy Karen Olivo won though, because she deserved it!

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