June 13, 2011

COUNTING TO 10: The Tonys

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The Tony Awards aren’t quite like any other televised awards show.  They’re happily, unapologetically insular (and so are the ratings–thank god for CBS, where “young” audience is a relative term), and there’s hardly ever anything like an upset; this year the closest was probably Mark Rylance winning Best Actor In a Play for Jerusalem over Joe Mantello for The Normal Heart, and do you see what I mean by insular?  Here, then, are 10 moments you’d probably only see on the Tonys:
10.  Brooke Shields:  First she was supposed to be a “spontaneous” audience participant in host Neil Patrick Harris’ opening number about Broadway not just being for gay people anymore (itself an “Only the Tonys” moment, but a self-conscious one), except that she couldn’t read her 3 lines off the teleprompter.  Then, trying to make amends later while presenting an award, all she managed to do was get herself thoroughly bleeped.
9.   Bono and The Edge:  When the two came out to introduce a song from the latest incarnation of Spider-Man The Musical, Bono paid respect to their Broadway infamy by noting that the reason they used to be famous was just because they were in U2.  (The power ballad they introduced didn’t do the show’s cause any favors.)
8.   Anything Goes:  Even in a cut-down version, the presentation of the Act I finale was a demonstration of what Broadway musicals are all about.  (The production deservedly won Best Musical Revival.)
7.   Best Play  The Tony show producers have never ever figured out how to showcase the nominees for Best Play.  One year they show out-of-context excerpts, the next they have the playwrights make awkward speeches, and this year, they had cast members try to sum up complex works in 60 seconds or less.  (War Horse, more a spectacle than a play, ended up winning, making the happiest Tony watcher in Hollywood Steven Spielberg, whose film version of the novel opens in December.)
6.   In Memorium:  Let the Oscars worry about which giant dead stars should get the opening and closing spots in the montage.  The Tonys led off with Arthur Laurents, book writer of West Side Story and Gypsy, and ended with Joseph Stein, who did the same for Fiddler On the Roof and She Loves Me.  (Elizabeth Taylor was stuck somewhere in the middle.)

5.   Dueling Hosts:  Neil Patrick Harris was again a sparkling, enthusiastic host, and never more so than when he and Hugh Jackman did a number made almost entirely of theatre in-jokes, both of them seemingly having a terrific time.  (OK, maybe Harris was even more so in his triumphant last couple of minutes, where he rapped/rhymed a closing credits bit summarizing the entire show that must have been written just seconds before he delivered it.)
4.   Frances McDormand:  Other award winners will say that they love what they do.  But winning Best Actress In a Play for Good People (in a slightly perplexing denim jacket over her gown), McDormand roared out the words so we’d know she goddamn well meant it.  I forgive her in advance for co-starring in the new Transformers movie.
3.   Chris Rock:  For sheer honesty.  By the time he presented Best Musical, The Book Of Mormon had (deservedly) won so many preliminary awards that Rock said going to the trouble of reading the other nominees made as much sense as taking a hooker out to dinner.  “Either way, you know you’re gonna get laid,” he explained.  He was right–about Best Musical, I mean.
2.  Mark Rylance:  He followed up his classic non sequitur accceptance speech for Best Actor In a Play in Boeing Boeing a couple of years ago by winning again for Jerusalem, and delivering an address about walking through doors.  He seems to see acceptance speeches as his chance to audition for David Lynch.
1.  Sutton Foster:  Winning Best Actress In a Musical for her thrilling performance in Anything Goes, she had the ultimate “Only the Tonys” moment when she managed to keep her composure while thanking the cast, the director, even the love of her life–and only broke into crazy tears when she got to her dresser, who’s moving to Cape Cod to become the greatest artist in the world. 
Congratulations and good luck to Sutton Foster’s (ex) dresser, and to all the other people who make up that special subspecies of the business called Broadway.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."