UPDATE, Monday morning with more on Larry David, Scott Rudin and a few more observations, below.
EXCLUSIVE: There wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch. Every winner at Sunday night’s Tony Awards — the 69th time they’ve been handed out — was inarguably at the top of his or her game. And if there were few surprises, that’s only an indication of the essentially strong field of nominees, as well as an openness to some history making this year.
Nowhere is that point more evident than in the deserved win for Fun Home, an intimate musical with a serious story to tell about a young woman’s sexual coming of age in the aftermath of her closeted father’s suicide. Sounds dark, and it is — yet the show is anything but that, as script writer and lyricist Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori turned Alison Bechdel’s comic-book-style roman a cléf into a mesmerizing work of theater. Fun Home began life off-Broadway at the Public Theater and has made a well-received transition to Broadway. Its wins for best musical, book, score and actor (Michael Cerveris, as the father) might easily have been enhanced had not three cast members all been competing in the category of featured actress in a musical. The crowd at Radio City Music Hall was vocal in its enthusiasm for all of them — which is to take nothing away from Ruthie Ann Miles, the eventual winner in that category and an outstanding nominee for work as Lady Thiang in The King And I.
Speaking of The King and I, there was little doubt among the prognosticators that the award for best actress in a musical would be decided in the vote between Kelli O’Hara (the I in that show) and Kristin Chenoweth, in On The Twentieth Century. O’Hara won, finally getting the big award after five previous nominations.
Indeed, women were huge tonight, their presence and luster in evidence across the board, with Marianne Elliott winning for directing The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and Paule Constable for lighting that extraordinary play; Catherine Zuber winning for her ravishing King And I costumes and Natasha Katz for lighting the visually spectacular An American In Paris. That show was looking like the one to beat for best musical, and the awards for direction and choreography were split between Fun Home and Paris, with Sam Gold winning for staging Fun Home and Christopher Wheeldon winning for his choreography of AIP.
The night also was testament to independent producers willing to chance an arm (and a leg and other peoples’ limbs) on risky material. Kevin McCollum had contenders for best play (Hand To God) and best musical (Something Rotten!), expensive undertakings that came away nearly empty handed (Christian Borle, who plays Shakespeare in Something Rotten! won for best featured actor in a musical). But both shows are finding their audience and the Tony broadcast’s robust opening number from Rotten! was the best number on the broadcast and is going to sell a lot of tickets. Scott Rudin and his team won the best play revival award for Skylight, but the season also included what could only be described as a heartfelt gamble on This Is Our Youth, a box-office flop that also was nominated, and an all-star revival of A Delicate Balance. (Of course, he also produced Larry David’s un-nominated Fish In The Dark, which flipped the bird at the nominators by continually break box-office records at the Cort Theatre.)
That is, if anyone was watching. The show was hosted by Alan Cumming and Chenoweth, Broadway stars who nevertheless were unlikely to draw new Nielsen clickers to the perennially ratings-challenged show. They were saddled with god-awful material (though I must say it was gutsy of Chenoweth to appear as E.T. just so Cumming could say, “No, Kristin, I said fun home.”) The funniest bit was a two-off between Larry David, who’s just finished a run in his Fish In The Dark, and Jason Alexander, who’s replacing him. “The true measure of a man,” David said, “is someone who does not get nominated and still shows up” to give out awards — a reference of course to both himself and his play. The zinger came when David pointed out “the obvious anti-Semitism” in Tony’s snubbing of both Fish In The Dark and Harvey Weinstein’s musical Finding Neverland. It was a joke, folks, and a very funny one.
Even better, earlier in the evening Jennifer Grey and her dad Joel, who at 82 only recently officially came out of the closet, introduced a scene from Fun Home by discussing the “complicated relationship” between gay father and daughter. Too many of the acceptance speeches seemed like parodies of give-’em-the-hook laundry lists, though there were gracious comments from Scott Rudin, whose Skylight revival won, and O’Hara, who said, movingly, “I love what I do,” before memorably skip-dancing off to the wings.
The show hit bottom with a blessedly brief homage to Lifetime Achievement winner Tommy Tune that managed to invoke every show-biz cliché Tune does not embody before the tall Texan himself came out to present an award. His own medallion had been handed out before the show, another nadir of Tony values (you can read his acceptance speech here).
As for the purported engagement of high-fashion designers to up the glamour quotient (or, more accurately, the Vogue component, given the assist from editrix Anna Wintour) — to my eyes it all looked like another misbegotten attempt to compete with the Oscars and the Golden Globes, which honestly is just too silly to argue about. If no other lesson is taken away from the evening, it should be that the wins of Curious Incident and Fun Home are all about what Hollywood is not and theater unassailably is.
Chenoweth and Cumming spent a lot of the program teasing the appearance of Josh Groban. He showed up near the end to introduce the In Memoriam segment with a tortured rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” backed by the choruses of the nominated shows. I’d say he should stick with his day job — but apparently that’s what he does.