Happy Tony Sunday!
Tonight, the best of Broadway (minus some egregious snubs – did someone say The Bridges of Madison County?) take Radio City Music Hall to strut their stuff and pat each other on the back. We’ve been gearing up all week with a series of Tony spotlight posts. First by celebrating our multi-talented Master of Ceremonies and then by counting down our Top 20 performances. (Part 1 and Part 2.) All that’s left before the big show is to highlight some of our favorite pieces of Tony miscellany: the skits, the opening and closing numbers, the speeches, etc. These ten historic moments barely scratch the surface of the entertainment and inspiration that the Tony telecast has provided us over the years. But it’s a start.
Phylicia Rashad Wins Leading Actress in a Play
God damn, that’s a regal speech. Phylicia Rashad looked shocked when her name was called for her performance in the last revival of A Raisin in the Sun, but then she hit us with a loopy but powerful prepared oration. She let her hunger for the award show, and for that: respect.
“Kiss LA Goodbye”
Last year’s show included this inspired ode to Broadway stars forever trying and failing to book a long-running network show. Andrew Rannells, late of The New Normal, Smash‘s Megan Hilty, and Laura Benanti, whose canceled series track record includes Starved, Eli Stone, The Playboy Club, and (sob) Go On, joined Neil on stage to sing about the glories of that elusive mistress, television.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Wins Best Score
I was already sobbing when Lin Miranda gave his wife (THE REAL VANESSA) a little pound and went to receive his award for composing the groundbreaking hip-hop/Latin/showtune fusion score of In The Heights from Spring Awakening mastermind Duncan Sheik. Then he launched into an acceptance speech rap that had both his friends in the audience and me at my viewing party jumping out of our seats. “Look, Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat. Where there never was a hat. It’s a Latin hat at that!” I’ve no doubt that this win is the first of many in the long and illustrious career Lin still has ahead of him. There are plenty more hats for him to finish.
Daisy Eagan Wins Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Little Daisy Eagan became the youngest Tony winner ever when she won for her work in The Secret Garden. This moment is certainly the cutest on our list. She marches herself up to the stage, all poofy sleeves and teased hair and then just breaks down. All that adoration is a lot for a 12-year-old to process. But then she pulls herself together and lists all of her thank yous, endearingly peppering her speech with the word “wonderful” to describe everyone from her agent to her parents.
Julie Andrews Performs a Lerner and Loewe Medley
Julie Andrews and I were at the same performance of Act One at Lincoln Center a few weeks ago. I swear that I felt her presence before I even saw her. That’s how legendary she is.
James Corden Wins Leading Actor in a Play
I put my hands up at this one and confess an extreme bias in favor of anything James Corden ever does. Because he is the actual cutest. I laugh-cried all my make-up off in One Man, Two Guvnors and I have rarely seen a comic actor give so much of himself on stage. He looked like he was about to drop at the stage door. James was just as surprised as we were when he beat out fellow nominees including Frank Langella and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman for this statue, but that’s the beauty of the Tonys. It’s about as level of a playing field as you can get. He did the work and he earned the accolades. It’s always been you, Craig.
Neil’s Show Closing Rap
The show-closing rap became a tradition in the NPH years. Composed backstage by lightning speed super-genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, these numbers would break down the entire show in lyrical form. They’re all fantastic, really. But I’m partial to this one for its simplicity, story, and flawless final line: “What’s next? Who knows. Anything goes. Now go see a motherfucking Broadway show.”
Cyndi Lauper Is First Solo Female to Win Best Score
To be perfectly honest, I was rooting for Tim Minchin’s work on Matilda to take this award. I just think it’s a better show overall. But Kinky is all kinds of fun and joy. Will the score be considered a classic in 50, 60 years time? Probably not. But it did nab Cyndi the first Best Score trophy to be awarded to a solo female composer. And so, in honor of lady power – and man-lady power – we applaud this choice.
Nathan Lane Wins Leading Actor in a Musical
The best thing about this clip is that Nathan Lane refused to accept his award for The Producers without his co-star Matthew Broderick. And really, how else could this have gone down? That show is the definition of a two-hander. It wasn’t Nathan Lane alone getting butts in seats and setting a new standard for Broadway pricing. (THANKS A LOT, YOU GUYS.) It was the chemistry of the two leads that set the juggernaut in motion and one of them was guaranteed this Tony win. Oh, and the worst thing about this clip is learning that Patrick Wilson’s date to the 2001 Tonys was Jennifer Love Hewitt.
“Let The Sunshine In”
The 2009 Tony telecast ended was the cast of the hit Hair revival dancing into the house and then bringing it down just like they did every night over at the Hirschfeld. This time, the rest of their Broadway neighbors joined them. I just finished reading this funny, insightful blog post, brought to my attention by Jason Robert Brown. And it explains that moment when a musical gets under your skin and turns you into a living, breathing, feeling person better than anything I’ve ever read.
“Musicals can turn my bones to wind chimes. They make me feel drunk…There is so much cruelty in the world, and the American musical knows that. Sometimes it tells us everything will be okay – the curtain will come down on dancing and singing and triumph. Sometimes it tell us everything won’t be okay and that kind of honesty can set you free.”
So when I sat in the box at Hair and some member of the ensemble gave me a flower and took my hand to bring me down the box stairs and up on stage, I simultaneously felt a kinship with the hundreds of audience members who’d had the very same experience I was having and believed deep in my heart that I was the only person in the world to know what this felt like. That’s it. That’s what I’m going through every time I see a truly great piece of musical theater.
We’ll be live-tweeting the awards tonight, so join us over at @HeadOverFeels. Warm up your jazz hands, get those ballots filled out, and we’ll meet you at Radio City. Tony night!!