Feature

The Tony Awards: A big night for small victories

This year’s event delivered quite a few surprises.

On Broadway, “small is the new big,” said Michael Alan Connelly in New York magazine. Case in point: the Tony-night victory of Once—an intimate little musical based on a 2006 indie film—which last Sunday blew past big-budget shows and “the Disney-backed juggernaut Newsies” to win eight awards. In fact, this year’s event delivered quite a few surprises. The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, blasted by Stephen Sondheim for being disrespectful of the Gershwins’ work, beat Sondheim’s own Follies for Best Revival. Death of a Salesman’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, widely considered the favorite for Best Actor, lost to One Man, Two Guvnors “cuddly-cute” James Corden. It was a refreshingly suspenseful evening, during which “art won out over commerce.”

Once didn’t triumph because of artistry, said Richard Zoglin in Time.com. The “earnest but overrated little show” was simply the best of an awful musical season. What more proof do you need than the fact that this year’s opening number was from last year’s Book of Mormon? Or that “two of the four nominees for best musical score were actually plays”? It was a much better year for straight plays, but Tony night depends on crowd-pleasing songs and dance numbers. This may be why the producers felt the need to go live to a cruise-ship production of Hairspray. The announcers heralded this at-sea broadcast as a breakthrough, but as the cruise line was also a sponsor of the show, another word came to mind: “infomercial.”

This was not the best Tony Awards night in history, said Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times. But that’s forgivable. The ceremony is “consistently the most genuinely entertaining of the televised awards shows,” and it’s the lone holdover from the days when Broadway performers would regularly strut their stuff on network television. It also helps that the host was three-time Tony presenter Neil Patrick Harris. A “preternaturally talented performer who manages to project an Everyman humility” even when he’s strung upside down on tether cables, “Harris should probably host everything, including each year’s first joint session of Congress.” “Wouldn’t life be better if it were more like theater?” he asked in his first song. By the night’s end, it was hard not to agree.

***

And the winners were…

Best Play
Clybourne Park

Best Revival of a Play
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Leading Actor in a Play
James Corden, One Man, Two Guvnors

Leading Actress in a Play
Nina Arianda, Venus in Fur

Best Musical
Once

Best Revival of a Musical
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

Best Original Score Newsies

Leading Actor in a Musical
Steve Kazee, Once

Leading Actress in a Musical
Audra McDonald, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

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