Sara, a ‘Hedwig’ novice, and Norma, an obsessed fan, finally see ‘Hedwig’ together and discuss their thoughts about the show. We talk about Taye Diggs’ performance and the significance of the first black Hedwig, the press’s awkward and insensitive coverage of the show, and the show’s gender and romantic themes.
Warning: We do let the occasional curse slip every now and then.
Hugh Jackman and his beard Deborra Lee Furness were out in full force last night. The man hasn’t hosted the Tonys since 2005, and, if you overlook a few minor bumps, it felt like Hugh had never left. Also, winners! Performances! Black people! White people! White people rapping! Black people rapping! Famous people who owe a favor to CBS! This show had everything (and arguably nothing) and our feelings are so feely, we’ll throw in a few gifs to express our sincerest emotions.
Okay, so the night started with an opening number that had no singing, no dancing, and lots of jumping. My mom made the brilliant connection that because he’s Australian, Hugh was imitating a kangaroo. That was as valid and insightful explanation as any. The real inspiration for the jumping was a number called “Take Me to Broadway” from the 1953 movie musical Small Town Girl, in which Bobby Van jumps around town because that’s what people did before the internet or something. Most viewers didn’t get the reference. Even regular musical-watching folks with a decent Broadway knowledge (us) didn’t get the reference. And even if we did have omniscient musical movie knowledge, the segment seemed like a much better fit for a promotional bit or even as a segment in the middle of the show, not as an opening. However, we do want to give credit where due, and this opening did excel in two ways:
1) It gave a brief spotlight on each of the big shows this season (Rocky’s beef racks made a well-deserved cameo), and
2) Holy crap can that man jump! NPH, you’re awesome and stuff, but you can check your magic tricks and your sexy legs at the door. I mean, seriously Hugh, stop taking Wolverine steroids and get your well-insured posterior to a Broadway musical right now! And none of this dramatic play business anymore!
Leave that Jez Butterworth stuff to Mark Rylance and do a dance number for heaven’s sake! Because this is you:
And this is us:
While we’re mentioning Mark Rylance, he can also check his Shakespeare purism at the door with NPH’s magic rabbit and DanRad’s and Denzel’s missing actor nominations. Because while it sounds great to do Shakespeare in its original context and revive that whole standing-for-three-hours-in-London-rain thing, your all white-male cast is definitely not where we’d like theater to be heading. Thankfully, the theater gods seemed to be passing that karma around because after Rylance won the first acting award, people of color started winning ‘dem awards.
Audra McDonald made TONY history, becoming not only the first person to win six acting awards, but also the first person to win in every muthaflippin acting category (Best Lead/Featured in a Play/Musical). She also made a beautiful speech honoring her family and black female performers who paved the way for her own success, like Lena Horne, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, and Billie Holiday.
Kenny Leon wore some badass sneakers on stage when he beat three white male directors with their entirely white-cast plays. Sophie Okonedo and her gorgeous smile won my heart and a gold statue thing.
And James Monroe Iglehart was just… awesome.
Raisin in the Sun and All the Way won in the play categories, and both feature predominantly black casts. Aladdin, Beautiful, and After Midnight are great productions for people of color, even if A Gentleman’s Guide isn’t. Then, that Music Man rap happened with LL Cool J and TI and it ranked among the best things ever of all time. All you show-tune purists can check your hate at the door along with your Bullets Over Broadway brand umbrella, because this is you:
And this is us:
Last night was also a big night for women. Sutton, Audra, Kelli, and Idina were all nominated in the same frickin’ year. The competition felt hotter than the nominees were after getting wooed by Hugh.
And then relative-newbie Jessie Mueller won and it was all so surprising and awesome and cute!
Lena Hall almost stole the show from NPH as gender-bending Yitzhak with a great acceptance speech and and even better performance.
Women and people of color were largely absent from the writing categories, which was made even more blatantly obvious by forcing having the playwrights speak about their own works. Not only were they all white older men, they also looked anxious as hell to get back to their seats. There’s a reason awkward people become writers and not performers. Even Harvey Fierstein looked uncomfortable, and that man should be used to uncomfortable situations- he had to play Tevye to Rosie O’Donnell’s Golde.
As usual, the presenters were largely famous people who kind of sort of maybe have some theater experience, or are in a play right now. The TONY Awards occupy this weird liminal space where they’re broadcasting nationally, but honoring shows that all perform within a mile radius of each other. Booking celebs is pretty much the only way to insure that people might actually care enough to watch. Therefore, Jennifer Hudson sings that Neverland song. Otherwise, that combo would have been really awkward or something….
Another result of this weird liminal space thing was the controversial decision to have RuPaul introduce Hedwig given a) his recent transphobic debacle and b) the fact that the producers might be conflating being a drag queen with being transgender.
Jonathan Groff subtly paid homage to John Travolta’s “Adele Dazeem” mistake, which almost makes up for the fact that he is friends with Lea Michele.
Kenny B, you just get better with age. That face. That hair.
Lots of the year’s biggest musicals didn’t get nominated but still performed. Because marketing. Some of the performances worked, some didn’t. There’s no doubt that Idina’s a powerhouse, but when put out of context, “Always Starting Over” falls a bit emotionally flat. The gangster tap dance from Bullets was cool, but we could think of a few more whimsical numbers that would have grabbed more attention. Rocky tried to replicate its stadium sized finale with just a manually-moved boxing ring, and that didn’t really work out as well as they might have hoped. It also doesn’t help the performers’ energy if these highly anticipated shows got zilch in nominations. The season’s surprising frontrunner, A Gentleman’s Guide made the smartest selection: Jefferson Mays introduced the performance in three different characters with chameleon-like prowess, allowing Bryce Pinkham, Lisa O’Hare, and Lauren Worsham the spotlight to duke it out in one of the show’s best numbers (and one that still works out of context).
And while this year’s Tony Awards wasn’t the best, at least we can look forward to more Sting shenanigans for next year.
“A starring role in Hedwig would rough up his fans a bit and give him the chance to push forth the less mainstream and straight-friendly elements of the non-heterosexual world: the grit, the pain, the sex, the anger. It’s a political move, and as long as the show isn’t watered down for a mainstream audience, it could work.”
Theatre is hurting. Arts funding, both at an educational and professional level, is getting harder and harder to come by. Theatre companies all over the country have to make cuts to their cast sizes, seasons, and staff. Theatre salaries for working actors pale in comparison to more lucrative paychecks in film, television, commercials, voiceovers… just about any performing work that isn’t done live on a stage.
Broadway, while being the biggest form of theatre in the US, doesn’t go unscathed. Think pieceafterthink piece examines the state of Broadway’s uncertain state with critically acclaimed shows that close too soon, audiences that skew older, wealthier, and whiter, and the constant onslaught of celebrity vehicles, jukebox musicals, and uninspired revivals. With musical theatre becoming more of a niche art form and straight plays following close behind, it can be all too easy to look at the state of Broadway—and theatre as a whole—with a jaundiced eye.
This year’s show featured Simba, Velma Kelly, Annie, and other beloved characters from current Broadway shows as presenters, showcased awesomeoriginalnumbers, and had some of the mostinspiringacceptancespeeches ever. From Broadway legends to Broadway debuts, stage managers to composers, directors to lighting designers, every person at Radio City Music Hall was there because they loved theatre. And that includes the movie star wanting to build their theatre cred. The producer hoping their Tony win increases their box office sales. The diva who wants all eyes on them.
Host Neil Patrick Harris said it (or sung it) best during the opening number (whose lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda):
“There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere who’s sitting there living for Tony performances…So we might reassure that kid, and do something to spur that kid, ’cause I promise you all of us out there tonight, we were that kid.”
With all the problems Broadway has, there are still creators. There are still productions. And most importantly, there are still audiences who love to enter a theatre and see magic be made.