Hugh Jackman Hippity-Hops Through CBS' Ruthlessly Upbeat All-Star Tony Show

Tony Awards Show

About midway through CBS‘ live telecast of the 68th Tony Awards on Sunday night, host Hugh Jackman told the audience at Radio City Music Hall that the first show he’d ever been cast in was Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. To prepare, in fact, he’d learned all eight parts to “Rock Island,” the opening number of that signature piece of syncopated Americana, and to prove it, he performed a minute or so, sprecht-singing all eight parts. The first words  are: Cash for the merchandise/Cash for the buttonhooks, which sounds like the beginning of an ode to Broadway, 2014. Then he ushered out LL Cool J and TI, and all three of them rapped “Rock Island,” which sounded a lot like Sesame Street, 1995. It was funny and toothless. Much the same can be said for the most breathlessly upbeat Tony broadcast in memory. Almost nothing memorable happened over the course of just over three hours of good cheer.

Related: Tony Tally: ‘Gentleman’s Guide’ Kills With Four Wins; ‘Raisin’ Revival Shines On Three More

jackman1Jackman looked somewhat raffish and ragged of beard, as though he was coming from an audition for a revival of Sunday In The Park With George. He bunny-hopped bizarrely from the street to the backstage of Radio City Music Hall, high-fiving cast members from shows and stars preparing for their numbers, hopped into the audience and up onto the stage as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Even the edgiest nominee of the evening, Hedwig And The Angry Inch and its star, Neil Patrick Harris, seemed more intent on nuzzling the audience than, perish the thought, shocking it.

Related: Tony Awards Show Sings Hollywood’s Praises While Oscar Producers Return The Favor

And yet the mainstreaming of an event that began 68 years ago as a hastily put-together, to-the-trade luncheon in a Times Square hotel ballroom before going to a nationally televised commercial for a small but expensive part of the American theater in 1967, may still prove as alien to the rest of the country as the island on which it takes place. Despite the isn’t-this-all-so-much-fun hawking that is the show’s primary mission, most of the audience members may suspect they’re being conned by a new Prof. Harold Hill, with premium tickets instead of flugelhorns and band uniforms in his eyes. No one worked harder, for example, than Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, but getting your family into the New Amsterdam Theatre, where the show is running, will certainly cost you more than getting them into Disneyland, even with its newly jacked-up prices.

Tony Awards logoOK, enough complaining about prices (or the fact that the producers couldn’t bothered to tip the hat to Robert Morse, the original J. Pierrepont Finch of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying — that’s a joke; it was only Morse’s Mad Men character who bought the farm or any of the notables who actually died this year, Mickey Rooney being merely the most obvious example of why the show deserved an In Memoriam segment)

The show got a few things right. Plays, for example, always struggle to look good on a show that’s really about musicals. This year, the idea was to have each author speak briefly about his work (and they were all men) and then show a very brief montage from the play. It was much less bad than most of the previous attempts. Nearly all the musical numbers (the Les Miz revival was an exception) looked and sounded terrific.

No less a personage than RuPaul introduced Neil Patrick Harris before doing his big Hedwig number, and it was at that point I realized how predominant were dark blue fingernails on so many of the men. It was the night of the men with blue fingernails, and I still wonder if the rest of the country is ready for that. Accepting her award for best performance by an actress in a featured role for her work in the revival of A Raisin In The Sun, Sophie Okonedo got a hearty laugh when she thanked producer Scott Rudin for believing that “this Jewish Nigerian Brit could come over the pond and play one of the American theater’s iconic parts.” And Audra MacDonald made history, winning her sixth Tony, for her performances as Billie Holiday in Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

The big winners: A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder, which won four awards, including the all-important Best Musical. All The Way, Robert Schenkkan’s forgiving portrait of LBJ, won two, including Best Play and Bryan Cranston for his leading performance. Raisin won three including best play revival against very stiff competition. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical did very well, with Jessie Mueller winning as King and the show getting not only a great plug from the songstress herself, but with the Will You Love Me Tomorrow number from the show selling it, well, beautifully.

The losers include Bullets Over Broadway, which went home empty-handed, as did the very fine revival of The Cripple of Inishmaan, with Daniel Radcliffe; If/Then; Violet; and Cabaret.

    1. You’re not reading the context correctly:

      “…that’s a joke; it was only Morse’s Mad Men character who bought the farm”

      Interpretation: They shouldn’t have ignored Morse because only his character died, unlike them ignoring all those who actually died in the past year.

  1. Wow what a bizarre review. Nothing more tiresome then someone complaining that an awards show wasn’t edgy enough. Yawn. The “Bunny Hop” was a tribute to a number from a movie Bobby Van did called “Small Town Girl,”. You’d think someone who writes about musicals would know that and By the way, the most bizarre thing you wrote, Robert Morse is not dead.

    1. It was the night of the men with blue fingernails, and I still wonder if the rest of the country is ready for that.
      Yes. This.^^ I thought the same thing. Because the Tonys last night seemed overladen with gay and transgender jokes and performances. I’m sure tourists and Mid-America was sitting at home with a check-off list, which shows should I see?
      Glad I live in Chicago, where the shows either start pre-Broadway or make their first national stop. The tickets are SO MUCH cheaper!

  2. Your inclusion of Robert Morse in the article makes it sound like he should’ve been included in the missing ‘In Memoriam’ segment even though he is still alive…
    Who else had dark blue fingernails?
    Best moment: Audra McDonald’s historic win

  3. What – no comment about Clint Eastwood embarrassing himself again??First he babbles to a chair at the Republican Convention in 12 and now he shows up at the Tonys (??) mumbles, stumbles and stutters and can’t bother to learn how to pronounce DARKO TRES-NEE-AK and then, THEN kicks Kenny Leon’s name as Kenny LEE-OWN Who’s great idea was putting him on the show…..oh I forgot, he’s bringing a MUSICAL to the screen….and God knows we all bow down to the musical. Shameless.

  4. The Tony Awards were far more entertaining than reading this “review” – and I am someone who can barely afford a ticket to the movies, let alone a Broadway show. Your rambling hodge-podge – notable for lamenting nothing “edgy” happened (since when is that a crime?) – was a self-congratulatory bit of shark for its own sake. Don’t you people have editors?

  5. Oh gosh and golly gee!! The “kids” put on a show that was full of spirit and “hoppiness”….definitely deserving of one of the most ridiculous reviews i’ve ever read!

  6. Enjoyed most of the show. Whoever had the idea to have the uber-talented Hugh Jackman do the bunny hop to open the show should have a restraining order for The Tony Awards in perpetuity. It was corny, hokey and definitely not the kind of dancing you ever see on Broadway. Major gaffe in a show that had mostly well produced production numbers.

  7. If we had waited for the rest of the country to accept equality, we’d still be in the closet. In America, securing rights is a long and complicated process despite our Constitution and part of that process is coming out so the public sees who we are whether or not they are ready. The avalanche in marriage equality rulings was over 40 years in the making. So seeing blue nail polish on men, hearing gay/transgender jokes where gays and transgenders aren’t the butt of the punchline and seeing many of them kissing each other in congratulations on winning an award makes it all seem natural and normal…which, of course, it is. Plus, it’s another nail in the coffin of descrimination and another step in America’s continuing education about what it means to be male, female and all the stops in-between. The Tony show has been in the forefront of recognizing the contribution the queer community makes to the American theater scene all across the country. Last night’s presentation was an even further coming out of this reality. So, Jeremy, take a deep breath and relax. That’s show biz.

  8. I love to watch the Tonys because of the live performances from the shows. It’a just a taste, but it is a taste.

    As far as Hugh Jackman – okay he’s in good shape. It was one of the most ridiculous opening numbers I have ever seen. It made me dizzy and I stopped watching it. If you knew nothing about the shows, you would also have not know that the characters he passed were from the shows. As award shows go, it is more lively because of the live performances. Watching Neil Patrick Harris and Kenny Leon is exhausting (in a good way), and then to think that they perform them eight shows a week is mind boggling.

    Why no In Memoriam segment? A slight.

  9. I agree with the posters that the show should have included an In Memoriam segment, but then maybe CBS was intent on broadcasting a show that was insanely uplifting. Having Jackman hop to open the show was bizarre, to say the least, and a real disappointment when compared to the bravura show-stopper guided by Neil Patrick Harris last year. It felt like the producers didn’t want to even try topping NPH, so they settled for something cute instead. But an explanation of the source material for the hopping would have been nice for the vast majority of the TV audience. The rapping was out of place, too, because it was unlikely fans of rap were tuned in. Another fail by the producers. I’m sure someone in the pre-planning meeting thought it would be a good idea to “grab the kids.” Uh, no. They wouldn’t be watching even if Miley Cyrus performed with her Vulvatron. I was happy to see so many gay men able and willing to acknowledge their life partners, a far cry from the past. But it must have been a bit disconcerting for some segments of the viewing audience to see so many tuxedoed winners sitting next to so many tuxedoed men. For me, there were few segments that beg for repeat DVR viewing, except for maybe the tap number by the chorus of “Bullets Over Broadway.” I love Idina Menzel, but her big song, though competently handled, was unmemorable. And much the same could be said for the entire evening.

  10. What’s wrong with all you folks who can’t just sit back, relax and be entertained? I grew up going to Broadway theatre and still miss it after being gone for 27 years. I know little to nothing of the plays or musicals. I wouldn’t know most of the performers if I met them on the street. BUT, I know how to be entertained and last night I was — big time! Yes, the opening hopping number was ridiculous, but the rest of the show was so very upbeat and entertaining. Hugh Jackman was a fantastic host, the musical numbers were excellent, and Carol King still has it after so many years. If I still lived in New York I’d beg, borrow or steal to see most of those shows. As it is I know I can enjoy tiny pieces of them at the Tony awards show.

  11. No one could top Neil Patrick Harris and everyone knew it so they hired Hugh Jackman, who is funny, sexy (even with that stupid beard) and he knows how to sing and dance so he pulled it off like no one else could have done. That jumping thing wore me out and that rap song never really went anywhere…which it could have with a decent bridge or chorus…but all in all, we got through it and if Neil not doing a play next year maybe he will host again and fatten up a bit.

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