Okay, now, honestly, after writing about Jessie Mueller relentlessly here after seeing her almost four years ago in a 100-seat theater in Glencoe, Illinois, what in the world did you think I would be writing about after the Tony Awards tonight ?? I mean, seriously?
All I can say is, stick with me, kid, I tries nots to steers ya wrong.
Yes, she won the Tony as Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance in Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical.
A few brief comments on the broadcast. (Okay, the number of comments isn't all that brief, though the thoughts expressed are...) Along with a bonus at the end.
I record awards ceremonies so that I can fast-forward through them, and I was surprised how little fast-forwarding I did compared to past years and most awards shows. I didn't think it was flawless, but very entertaining and perhaps the best they've been in 30 years. For the past several years, I've written articles about what I felt the Tony Awards had been doing wrong, and things they could do to change. It's really nice to see that the Tony producers have been moving in that direction. (I'm not remotely suggesting that anyone has read my articles on this, even those written on the Huffington Post. I'm just glad that our thoughts are overlapping, whatever the reason.)
The core of that thinking is that the Tony broadcast had to realize that it was -- first and foremost -- a TV show, and therefore had to be an entertainment. And they shouldn't just focus on the Best Musical nominees, but all that the season had to offer. To present just five musical numbers and spend the rest of the evening giving awards to people and shows that 95% of the audience had never seen and likely would never see, was insanity. Tonight's broadcast was almost non-stop musical numbers. And not just the five Best Musicals, but all the Best Revivals, as well, and also tributes to a couple other long-running shows currently playing, and even two upcoming musicals. Very smart.
I still think they have to figure out how to present the Best Play nominees worlds better. It's a disgrace that they take these compelling plays and virtually dismiss them. But it was at least nice to see the playwrights all get a spot in the sun.
While the opening number with Hugh Jackman hopping was just fair, it was far more remarkably-hard than I'm sure the audience had any idea, so hats-off to him for the challenge of doing it. My favorite thing in the sequence was when they passed by the big video monitor showing the movie clip of Bobby Van hopping in Small Town Girl -- I just loved that they gave tribute to what inspired the number, since I suspect most of the viewers weren't aware. (Second best moment: when he gets on the elevator with previous host Neil Patrick Harris. Besides, it gave Mr. Jackman a moment to catch his breath.)
I wasn't crazy about having Jackman sing those little "best actress nominee" introductions. It was actually sort of cute for the viewing audience, so I understand it -- but it must have been hellish for the actresses, who are probably so nervous at that moment, and especially hellish for the musical nominees when he danced with them. (How Jessie Mueller dove in and did that improv dance at that moment is remarkable.) Why I thought it was wrong, cute as it was, is because the moment is supposed to be about the nominees, not the host.
I don't begin to understand the scene choices for Rocky and Bullets Over Broadway. In the first case, you have the audience likely wondering how did they possibly turn Rocky into a musical -- and rather than actually show us with a song, they simply present...the boxing finale!!?? And with Bullets Over Broadway, you have a musical filled with classic songs from the '20s and '30s whose lead is a TV star in Zach Braff, and instead you show a number a) without your recognizable TV star, b) using a just-okay song that's near-unknown, and c) is largely a tap dance. Neither of those two scenes convinced me to have any interest in seeing them, which should be among the prime concerns of what scene to use..
On the other hand, the song from A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder was absolutely spectacular, and it made me wish I was there to see it the next night. And after watching it -- along with the entertaining quick-change introduction -- I completely understood how it won as Best Musical. (By the way, the show is based on the classic film Kind Hearts and Coronets that starred Alec Guiness)
The great acceptance speech by the wonderful Mark Rylance for Best Featured Actor in a Play, with Twelfth Night, was notable. Why? It showed what eloquence and grace he could deliver in an acceptance -- talking about Sam Wanamaker, the McCarthy Blacklist and reconstructing the Globe Theatre -- rather than with inspired insanity. Rylance, you see, is the actor who has won two previous Leading Actor Tonys, which I've linked to here and here, which are among the most memorable in Tony history for their intentional, thoughtful lunacy. But last night -- perhaps because it was a) for Featured Actor, b) he was also nominated for Leading Actor later in the evening, and c) he didn't want to overdo a good thing -- he kept it simple, normal...and terrific.
And how could I leave out (as I did in the first draft of this...) the wildly clever and wonderfully done rap homage to "Rock Island" from The Music Man. It seemed to have the theater exploding, and deservedly so. Some people hated it. Me, I felt in my bones that it was inspired.
(By the way, when the audience went wild as Hugh Jackman opened the sequence by doing all the parts from "Rock Island" by himself for a minute -- I burst out laughing. As it happens, one of my oldest friends, John Kretchmer, did the entire number that way at a talent show at Central Junior High in Glencoe, and I've been admiringly chiding him about it for years. He was wonderful, I should note. And today he is a very good director. Bonus note: in trading emails, I just discovered who the emcee of that talent show was. Are you ready? -- it was the oft-mentioned here and ubiquitous...Nell Minow!!! For those new to these pages, do a search here for her. And while you're at it, here are John Kretchmer's many film and TV credits, including directing the pilot of Charmed -- and the assistant director of Jurassic Park.)
Idina Menzel (whose name everyone pronounced right here, unlike John Travolta at the Oscars...) had a wonderful song to perform from If/Then and slammed it out of the park. And I liked Sutton Foster's performance from Violet, but then I tend to like any performance by Sutton Foster.
And it was so smart of the producers to bring out Carole King during the number of Beautiful and have her sing a duet with her "counterpart" Jessie Mueller. This is the kind of thing they wouldn't do in the past, but adds a great showbiz texture to the moment.
Oh, did I mention Jessie Mueller? She won the Tony Award as Best Actress. I've believe I've noted before how good she is.
And here's the bonus. This is a long clip of her acting and singing a portion of her big, showstopping number "Ice Cream" from She Loves Me by Harnick and Bock -- this is the very production I saw 3-1/2 years ago at the tiny, 100-seat Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, and which got me to start yammering about her. (The actor in the scene is Rod Thomas. If the scene looks familiar, the musical is based on the Hungarian play that served as the inspiration for the movie The Shop Around the Corner and then later, You've Got Mail.) I've shown this video before, but...well, I think it deserves to be seen again for some reason. You can now "see her when," too, and get a glimpse at just a part of why I've been yammering since...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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