Last year, I wrote about and embedded the video of the remarkable opening of the 2013 Tony Awards. The one at the Radio City Music Hall where host Neil Patrick Harris led a non-stop three-ring circus of a production number for eight unrelenting convoluted minutes .
I just found a wonderful video that shows two minutes of that, but from a different perspective. It's a split screen with Harris and company building to the extravagant Big Finish in one window, and director Glenn Weiss in the broadcast booth madly orchestrating it all like a whirling dervish. It's riveting -- at home it looks all so fluid and natural, with the only hard work being that on stage, and the camera shots all planned out in advance because that's what directors do. In fact, as stunningly impressive as those on stage are (and after all, if they screw up, the whole thing falls apart), they did rehearse. In the booth, though, as much as they did prepare, when the show starts it's seat of the pants. And if what's "at stake" wouldn't be as noticeable, the anxiety in the booth might even be more frenetic. Hearing a person calling out numbers was never so compelling. This is not your mother's bingo...
And remember as you watch this -- it's only two minutes. The whole thing went on for eight.
And for those of you who never saw the original production number on the Tonys -- or who want to see it again -- here it is.
I've watched it half a dozen times, and it almost gets better each time. That because, though it doesn't have that sense of unbelieving wonderment and surprise of the first time -- what it does have is that each time, you see more of it and realize more of what could go wrong.
It all could go wrong. This isn't just an eight-minute song standing before a microphone. This is a stunningly intricate production of minute detail. As big as it is -- and it's really big, on a huge scale -- it's the little moments you watch on repeat viewings where you say, "Oh, my God, that could have screwed up royally." And that. And that. And that. I think there are 1,427 places where something could have fallen apart. See if you can count them all.
I'm sure they had contingency plans if there were problems, what performers could do to cover, where the camera could cut away, things like that. But at a certain point, there's so much that can't be directly covered, only generically, and you just have to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and pray to the theater gods. And the fact that they pulled it off, on live television, for eight minutes -- and with Neil Patrick Harris doing otherworldly stunning physical, artistic and tongue-twisting work and making it look like it's being done with ease -- is in large part why that theater full of performers, all of who understood what it entailed, gave it as long as standing and roaring ovation as I've seen on an award show.
Well, that and because it's amazingly great.
Which leads to Zachary Qunto's line coming on stage afterwards as the first presenter. "That's the definition of a tough act to follow."
And for all that, for everything the performers do and the director does, I still think my favorite moment is at 6:35 when a cameraman somehow found and the director somehow saw and in a split second cut to Debra Messing in the audience with a stunned, I-cannot-believe-this look of awe and wonder and total freaked-out joy.
Which pretty much explains the production number.
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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