Monday, June 09, 2014

The 2014 Tony Awards: My review

This is not a full review of the Tony Awards because, well… nobody saw them. Why write jokes that only four people in America will get (although the great comedy writer Jerry Belson used to say “Four is good enough for me”)?

Plus, it was a pretty average show. This has been such a lousy year for musicals that only four were nominated. And to pad the show they trotted out a number from WICKED, and songs from two shows not even on Broadway yet – a grim old sea shanty by Sting and Jennifer Hudson honking a four-minute plug for a new Harvey Weinstein Peter Pan musical. Gee, I wonder how that got on the show?

Jason Robert Brown won two Tonys for the music in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and nothing was sung from that show. Instead we got Jennifer Hudson belting out another generic boring power ballad. Again, thank you, Harvey.

And neither music awards were presented live. Nor was Best Book of a Musical. Aren’t these kind of important categories? Are the Tonys honoring outstanding work in the theatre or a chance for CBS star LL Cool J. to do a rap version of THE MUSIC MAN?

Hugh Jackman was perfectly charming as the host, although the comedy was not nearly as sharp and biting as when Neil Patrick Harris hosted in past years. But writers could have something to do with that. (I know. It’s always the writers’ fault.)

Some random thoughts:

If you’re saying “what was with the opening number and Hugh Jackman hopping all around?” Like everyone in the WORLD knows, that was an homage to Bobby Van from the most famous Broadway musical of them all, SMALL TOWN GIRL. Nothing obscure about that number!

Doesn’t everything Idina Menzel sings sound exactly like the song from FROZEN?

The highlight number for me was ALADDIN with James Monroe Inglehart as the genie. Wow, he was terrific. Too bad he didn’t star in THE CRAZY ONES too. I might’ve watched it.
There was no In Memoriam section. Guess they needed the time to salute WICKED for the millionth time.   There have been so many cast changes that I was surprised we didn't see Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Judge Judy as the two witches. 

If ever there was a lock it was Neil Patrick Harris. He is clearly the toast of Broadway. The only way he could lose a Tony is if he’s up against Audra McDonald.

I was thrilled that Jessie Mueller won for Best Actress in a Musical for BEAUTIFUL. Who knew? You can win without belting to the last row.

That said, it must suck to be Kelli O’Hara today. She lost for the fifth straight time, and everyone who saw her in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY said she was nothing short of wondrous. She needs to change her name to Audra.

I was disappointed Clint Eastwood didn't sing a medley from PAINT YOUR WAGON.  

Everyone says A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE (winner of Best Musical) is a hoot. And yet, for all the good buzz and rave reviews, it has only limped along at the boxoffice. I imagine that will change.

Of all the award shows, Tony acceptance speeches are always the most eloquent and heartfelt. And fun. Lena Hall gave us all three.

It was nice to see playwrights get to introduce their plays. And not Fran Drescher.

How does RAISIN IN THE SUN win every award possible and star Denzel Washington not even be nominated?   I guess he was an unknown to the Broadway community

Despite the silly MUSIC MAN rap, there was a real musty vibe to this year’s show. Much hipper in recent years. Jackman was singing revised versions of old chestnuts like L.O.V.E. and Mack the Knife.  That's fine but give me more Lin-Manual Miranda. 

Jennifer Hudson as a black Peter Pan in a silver evening gown – finally we get J. M. Barrie’s true interpretation of the character.
Alan Cumming’s suit was ridiculous. It looked like a Rorschach test.
75% of the time when they cut to someone in the audience I didn’t know who they were. And the rest of the time it was Kevin Bacon. His connection to Broadway was that he once bought a ticket to see a show.

And finally, for the biggest award of the night, the best presenter they could find was Rosie O’Donnell?   Were these the Daytime Emmys?   Where was Angela Lansbury or Bernadette Peters or Barbara Cook or even Elaine Stritch? But I guess it could have been worse. Rosie could have lost the coin flip and Fran Drescher presented Best Musical.

Update.  Here is the un-aired In Memoriam segment prepared for the Tonys.   It's inexcusable that they showed the Jennifer Hudson number and not this.


rockgolf said...

Ken, you & I are probably 2 of 5 straight men who watched the Tonys and got the Bobby Van reference at once. I saw the original version in clip form in That's Entertainment or maybe TE2.
I explained to my daughter why Clint Eastwood was talking to a chair backstage and she asked "How do you lose a debate to a chair?"
When Clint present, she understood.
Agreed, not a great Tonys. But like pizza or sex, even a bad Tonys isn't that bad.

Pat Reeder said...

Okay, we now have 3 of the 5 straight men who like Broadway musicals accounted for. But both my wife (a retro jazz singer) and I can live without the big power ballads that all sound the same. Whatever happened to Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter? Also, listening to Sutton Foster, Idena Menzel, Adele Dazeem and all the rest really hammers home what Simon Cowell means when he says a singer is "too Broadway." There is this certain combination of Merman belt and chipmunk chirpiness that makes them sound alike, as if they all were trained by the same vocal coach. That's why I was glad "Gentlemen's" won Best Musical. I'd rather it go to something that sounds like Sondheim crossed with Gilbert & Sullivan than "Wicked" crossed with Bon Jovi.

I also immediately got the "Small Town Girl" reference (they even showed a clip on a passing TV screen), but wondered how Jackman got through it live without destroying his hamstrings. And I kind of liked the rap bit, since I've been arguing for years that rap was actually invented by either Meredith Wilson or a bunch of Mad Men in the '50s who did "talk-sing" commercials for companies like Chevrolet.

Finally, even though I actually like musical theater, am I the only person who can't stand "Les Miz?" That was my signal to head for the kitchen for ice cream. I dreamed of a Dreamsicle.

emily said...

I had to wash my I missed it.

Anonymous said...

Here's the fourth of the five straight men that like Broadway musicals. My dad is probably the fifth, unless there's something he's not telling me.

As much as Alan Cumming is revered, this year he's done the same number he did last night on all the talk shows. And it kind of seems like he's just punching the time clock, going through the motions, and cashing a check.

With all the talent out there, I don't know why they stick people in roles that are famous for being good in those roles once upon a time. Five or six years ago I saw a touring version of Jesus Christ Superstar where they put Ted Neeley in the lead role - for what I can only assume were nostalgia purposes. It was kind of painful to watch (and frankly for the amount of money I paid I was a little cheesed) and Jesus looked obviously 20-30 years older then all of his apostles.

Anyway, that's my mini rant. When revising any play that's been done to death, sticking the same people in the same roles as always? Booooring!

Milwaukee, WI

Holly Johnson said...

Your commentary is absolutely on target. I am a straight woman who actually 'got' the Bobby Van reference, but wondered why it was chosen as the vehicle to start the show. Imagine if Hugh Jackman had been allowed to perform a 'song and dance' medley that highlighted the best songs of the nominated shows? I think the producers wasted his talents.

I agree with your sentiment that this was a weak year for musicals (actually, this season was one of the weakest in memory). Gentleman's Guide is derivative and Pat Reeder's comment about it sounding like a cross between Sondheim and Gilbert and Sullivan more than accurately captures the flavor of this mildly entertaining diversion.

My husband and I did not appreciate the plugs for future Broadway shows [I think the producers should have reconsidered including these plugs since the numbers were such dogs] and having to watch another Wicked 'scream-fest' and the If/Then 'screamer' number confirmed our decision not to attend the awards this year.

The two best numbers were the one from Aladdin and, dare I say it, the Music Man rap (which brought back fond memories not only of that show, but of The Book of Mormon as well). I watched the Les Miserable segment intently because Nikki James is Eponine (and she always give a great performance). If it weren't for Nikki, I would not watch as I, too, do not get the over-the-top appeal of Les Miz.

Quite frankly, I imagine it would be difficult to top last year's show (which came on the heels of a strong season) which was the most thrilling one I had ever seen in person. Apart from the show, it saddens me that so much crass commercialism has become a part of Broadway. Yes, I do understand that theater is a business, but the more creative and original shows appear to be located in regional or in off-Broadway theaters which tend to get overshadowed by Broadway.

alkali said...

I don't think it was a great Tonys show, but the Tonys broadcast in recent years is by far the best of the awards show broadcasts -- the only other one I look forward to is the Golden Globes broadcast. The musical numbers are occasionally great and almost never boring, and the winners are almost always genuinely thrilled to win.

That said, I missed the reference for Jackman's hopping, and I'm guessing 99% of the viewership did as well.

skarab said...

We thought we would click over to the Tonys from time to time just to see the occasional highlight, but the first (and last) segment we saw was the Aladdin number which we found stultifying and endless. If that was one of the better numbers, I don't feel like we missed much. Thanks for the review, Ken.

Rich Shealer said...

I only knew Bobby Van from Tattle Tales and Match Game. I remember his wife was Elaine Joyce and he died young.
I think he was hosting a game show that Elaine took over for a while after he passed.

Glenn said...

Just think, they could have tried a Jackson-esque hologram of Bobby Van hopping around right next to the Hopping Jackman to amaze the crowd.
Or mixed in footage from Peter Wolf Come as You Are music video's hopping homage from 1987. Either way, thanks for the review Ken.

DwWashburn said...

There's an early episode of the Simpsons where either Krusty or Homer are presenters on the Cable ACE awards. They present the award for best new item on cable. And the award goes to old Starkey and Hutches.

This is what Broadway has become. It's either a stage production of a movie or it's a revival. I was amazed at the lack of originality in the programs being honored last night.

Oh, and I also noticed that every Caucasian woman who sang (with the exception of the Carole King imitator) sounded identical.

Roseann said...

Pretty much on the money, Ken. Quite a lackluster show this year…..

Gordon said...

Well... My wife and I watched the whole pretty unimpressive thing....

Nice that you pointed out that for all it's musical awards we heard nary a song from Bridges of...

Couldn't stand that guy who won for playing the genie in Aladdin -- didn't hold a candle to Robin Williams/Eric Goldberg. He was about as unmagical as you can be.

Looking forward to seeing Beautiful when it comes to Los Angeles.

We saw the whole thing.... Not particularly inspriing...

Too bad, it's the one awards show we look forward to watching.

Mike McCann said...

I had no idea of the origin of the opening number, but thought it clever and different-- a nice way to open a show energetically and positively.

However -- why was Clint Eastwood there? Has he ever done Broadway? I was afraid there was going to be a dumb reference to a chair. Hey, if you want to reference JERSEY BOYS and the upcoming movie, why not just have John Lloyd Young appear on stage? He's a stage veteran and star of the upcoming flick.

How about instead of Eastwood who looked so awkward working this house, asking Julie Andrews or Carol Burnett, or some other veteran performer with real stage roots and wide "middle American" appeal to present something??

I guess Rosie's got some new publicists working to reframe or re-spin her image. Again.

You're right about James Inglehart. He probably would have made THE CRAZY ONES fly. And appearing as a living cartoon character likely puts him in line for future sitcom fame.

Anonymous said...

Only four nominations are ever given for Best Musical, Best Play, Best Revivals. Only 3 Revivals were given nominations this year, they were also the only 3 musical revivals mounted.

Nick said...

There was an In Memorium section. It just didn't make the telecast.

cadavra said...

My Footnotes:

As noted, they DID show a clip from "Small Town Girl," so even if someone didn't know the actual title of the film, they could at least understand that it was an homage to something.

GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE is the best musical I've seen in years. You need to get your ass to NY and see it pronto.

Kevin Bacon has twice appeared on Broadway, once in a solo performance as Samuel Gentile.

Alan Cumming's suit was in fact a film soundtrack.

It was explained that Rosie got to present the closing award because earlier she'd been given The Isabelle Stevenson, which is their humanitarian award. That said, she wouldn't have been my choice either, but it wasn't a random selection.

Seacrest out. (Just kidding. I'm also straight.)

Ken Levine said...


If it wasn't on TV it was as good as not happening. Show the In Memoriam segment and let the studio audience only see the Jennifer Hudson number.

BigTed said...

I only ever knew Bobby Van as the host of a game show called "Make Me Laugh," in which stand-up comedians tried to make contestants crack up, and the one who held out longest would win. I'm sure he thought of that as the high point of his career.

Sophie said...

According to the New York Times, producers pay five and six figure sums to get numbers from their shows featured on the Tony Awards, which explains a lot. As good as BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY was, why would the show's producers spend that much money to get a number from it onto the Tonys, when the show has already closed and at a loss?

CRL said...

And do you know who Elaine Joyce's current husband is?

Greg said...

Does anyone know - do movies or TV shows pay for airing their content during their respective awards shows? (I know they pay tons for marketing, but specifically to get their nominated shows on air?) In the Oscars or Emmys can producers buy a slot to get content from an upcoming project aired?

I'm asking because most of what I liked or missed in the Tony awards can be attributed towards this Broadway requirement to pay for air time.

Todd Everett said...

CRL said...

And do you know who Elaine Joyce's current husband is?

I do! I do! (And I'm straight,tooO

Breadbaker said...

The sad thing is that Gentlemen's Guide was the only show nominated with an original score, while of course it has a not at all original story. Actual original musicals are all off Broadway (which is why Hedwig was a "revival" even though this is its first Broadway production).

Rich Shealer said...

@CRL I do now, a may I say what an odd couple.

Phillip B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phillip B said...

And before Elaine Joyce married her current husband, she dated another noted American writer.

I enjoyed the "Music Man" rap knowing that one of Meredith Wilson's goals was to present American music without the "mongrel" influence of jazz. It was lovely, if much delayed, irony to see his material in new hands.

Hoppy viewer said...

Ok ....straight guys who like broadway musicals.get over yourselves!, there are more of you than you think!! I know plenty,my husband,son and many friends!!
It is all about what you are exposed to,,,they like ballet too!! Anyhoo we enjoyed the show (not the best) despite the lack of quality musical numbers. Did not get the hopping but I knew it HAD some relevance !! LOVE whatever Hugh does! Loved the Alladin and Music Man , thought Cabernet was very lame and Jennifer Hudson(who I think is terrific) in that ridicules piece and uninspired song was a poor choice, so who the heck is going to see THAT show when it opens? I did enjoy your blog snd agreed with most!! All and all...what is better than Hugh JACKMAN at Radio City??? NOTHING in my book!!! Standing O!!!

kent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Duca said...

Fans of 1980's music video also get the SMALL TOWN GIRL reference...

Ken Levine said...


Keeping that news under wraps for the moment. Full announcement very soon. But thanks much.

Michael said...

Ken, Any reaction to this article:

I am less surprised by the ageism than by the comments of some of the other panelists such as “Getting content prepared,” was how Eric Opeka, Cinedigm’s EVP, Digital Networks, described the writing process. “Is this a property we can use to drive consumers to our paid services?”

Are writers less valued than ever?

Bob Claster said...

For those who weren't actually at Radio City Music Hall, here's Jason Robert Brown's award:

And here's the In Memoriam package:

Imajazzbaby said...

Thank God, I thought it was just me. BTW, I was in a room with two straight guys who look forward to the Tonys and love musical theater so I'm thinking we're close to a dozen now. I actually recognized the number from "Small Town Girl" immediately and had to explain it to them, but I'm 60. My DIL recognized it from "That's Entertainment", so I guess that's okay.

"Les Miserables," "Wicked," and "Bullets Over Broadway" which wasn't even freaking NOMINATED for Best Musical. Who put this piece of garbage together? Thank heavens we had pizza and beer.

Audra McDonald is amazing, but next year they're going to start giving her Tony Awards for turning down parts...

D. McEwan said...

Well, I did realize that Hugh was doing the Bobby Van jumping bit immediately, well before he hopped past a clip from the movie, to give the 95% of the audience that had no idea what that was about at least a clue.

Nice of Clint Eastwood to do the talking-to-a-chair bit backstage, just to remind any who might have forgotten about what a titanic ass he made of himself at the Republican National Convention. And his connection to Broadway is what again? I mean beyond supporting political candidates who live to cut funding for the arts?

Michael said...

To clarify my earlier comment, I am not saying I think that ageism is justified, just that I am not surprised it exists in show biz.

D. McEwan said...

CRL said...
And do you know who Elaine Joyce's current husband is?

No. Nor do I know who her non-currant husband or husbands was or were. And I'll bet she can't name any lovers of mine either. I saw her star in Sugar opposite Bobby Morse and Larry Kert 40 years ago, but I didn't feel it obligated me to keep track of her love life.

Mac said...

I thought that Human Pogo Stick routine was one of the sillier things M-G-M had ever dreamed up when Bobby Van did it sixty years ago, and I certainly don't think it rated a reprise by Hugh Jackman, of all people.

Jim said...

OK, after seeing that In Memoriam segment I get why it wasn't broadcast. I'm the 13th or 14th of the 5 in here, but even so I reckon I knew 10% or so of the dearly departed. Which on a positive note makes it, I guess, a good year for not snuffing it if you're a Broadway name.

Although why dancer Marc Platt, the brother in the purple shirt of Seven Brothers fame but who was also in the original production of Oklahoma way back in 1943, didn't get a mention is a total mystery. Was his yellow shirted brother Matt Maddox name checked last year?

VP81955 said...

Ken, you old pal Kristin Chenoweth probably will be up for a Tony next year, since she's set to portray Lily Garland in a revival of "On The Twentieth Century":

Desperado said...

Friday Query: Back in the day when TV series used to have elaborate opening titles, who decided how these would look (i.e. clips of actors shown with names superimposed, vs. establishing scenes as was the case on M*A*S*H)? The director, producer, or was it outsourced?

Same question for the closing credits. Who decided if there would be just a static image (Cheers), vs. clips or stills from the episode just shown (M*A*S*H)? If the latter, who selected the images? Was there a great deal of effort put into making the selections, or was it just an afterthought?

RCP said...

As a gay man who has watched football on occasion, I too saw the Tonys last night and immediately recognized the Bobby Van reference. Had a good laugh with your review, Ken, though I thought last night's telecast was more energized than musty. There were some great numbers (Aladdin, A Gentleman's Guide) and not so impressive numbers (Cabaret, Hedwig, Sting). I also dislike generic power ballads that sound alike and for me the musical highlight was "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and seeing Carole King. They definitely should have included the In Memoriam segment. As effortlessly talented as he is, Hugh's late segment charming the nominees in their seats felt like filler, yet the show ran over by around 7 minutes.

Anonymous said...

A lot of silly errors, Levine.

Harris was not a lock. He and Jefferson Mays split all the awards this year.

Wicked has performed twice on the Tonys ever. The year it debuted and yesterday to honor its tenth anniversary.

Kevin Bacon is heavily involved in NY theater having made his Broadway debut over 30 years ago and continuing to remain involved since then. He's a real champion of theater.

Four nominees in each category is pretty standard. It's not an anomaly.

Rosie presented the big prize because she was honored this year for her work in promoting theater.

You spelled Lin-Manuel Miranda's name wrong. Big fan, I see.

I doubt you even saw Jesse Mueller, the nominee with the most lukewarm reviews, who benefitted from the small fish in big pond effect.

The Broadway community knows Denzel all too well. He's the guy who won an undeserved Tony a few years ago and then indirectly insulted the voters. He was miscast in Raisin and far too old for the role.

Barry Traylor said...

"Alan Cumming’s suit was ridiculous. It looked like a Rorschach test."

To me it looks like he left a black marking pen in the wash.
I am afraid that Idina Menzel voice does not do much for me.

Kerri said...

Broadway theater -- the one form of entertainment that's still largely the province of upper middle class white people.

Ea Gabot said...

Your review is spot-on! Really disappointed with the show this year. The only performance that made me smile (a small one, at that) was from Aladdin. But even that was lackluster. Made me wish that they sang A Whole New World instead. I also wished that If/Then featured Here I Go instead of Idina doing it solo. Again. I love her but she needs to make room for other people already. Ha ha! I am BEYOND upset that Bridges didn't perform!!!

Buttermilk Sky said...

Thank you for posting the In Memoriam link.

I don't know much about "Gentleman's Guide" but basically it's "Kind Hearts and Coronets" without Alec Guinness, so what's the point?

Hugh Jasshole can hop all the home to Australia for all I care.

cadavra said...

"it's "Kind Hearts and Coronets" without Alec Guinness, so what's the point?"

To quote Louis Armstrong, "If I have to explain it to you, you'll never understand."

Jabroniville said...

This was the first Tonys I ever saw, so I wasn't really disappointed. A lot of it was skippable, though Neil Patrick Harris was great. I love Idina Menzel's voice, and obviously so do a lot of people (she's got one of the only non-adaptations on Broadway right now), but she gets a lot of flack here- nobody's a fan of belting here, I suppose.

There isn't a lot of NEW stuff on Broadway that I really want to see. I saw If/Then just for Idina, and it was decent (and funny in parts), but you could tell it was just a starring vehicle with some minor extra characters added in (the love interests were a bit bland; I found myself liking the tertiary loves of the side characters, because of the talents of their performers). The non-Idina songs were filler, and most of Idina's were basically used as a showcase for her powerhouse voice (I have no idea how she does that eight shows a week).