June 9, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: The 2013 Tony Awards


Every year the Oscars flail around searching for a host, a theme, a tone–anything to make its annual 4 hours of primetime cohere instead of congeal–and every year THE TONY AWARDS make it look relatively easy.  This wasn’t a great year for Broadway–swamped with family- and tourist-friendly musical extravaganzas and star vehicles, its serious plays struggling to find any audience at all (one of this year’s Best Play nominees, The Testament of Mary, didn’t even survive to awards night), its numbers pumped up with the PEDs of super-priced “premium” tickets costing up to $400 each and making theatre, more and more, the domain of the 1%–but it made for a mostly grand evening of television.  (In terms of results, it was a very good night for Kinky Boots and the revivals of Pippin and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, less good for Matilda and Lucky Guy–a complete list of winners is here.)

Partly, to be fair, the Tonys have the advantage of being built around award-caliber musicals, teeming with live talent and production numbers (especially in these days of giant stage spectacles) that easily fill a flat-screen.  The American Theatre Wing, which administers the awards, has also bitten the bullet and relegated the technical categories to briefly excerpted acceptance speeches, and has even all but eliminated honorary and lifetime achievement awards from the telecast, all segments that eat up time on the Oscars.  But it’s also the fact that the Tonys are comfortable with being insular–if you weren’t following the kerfluffle between Shia LaBeouf and Orphans this past spring, or Scott Rudin’s razzberry at the NY Times, the show wasn’t going to stop and explain them, nor did it worry about Tracy Letts, winner of Best Play Actor for his spectacular performance in Virginia Woolf, taking screen time and glory away from the favored Tom Hanks.  CBS is apparently OK with the traditionally low (and very, very old) ratings, and the Tonys are permitted to be what they are.

It’s hard to believe that, even in the iconic days of Bob Hope hosting the Oscars, any host has done more for an awards show than Neil Patrick Harris delivers for the Tonys.  Sharp-witted, charming, quick on his feet, able to genuinely sing and dance (and pull off a magic trick where appropriate), willing to have his face licked at length by Sandy the dog from Annie, he’s an ideal MC, and his fourth turn was sensational once again–even if the attempt to turn Mike Tyson into his version of Billy Crystal and Jack Palance on the Oscars fell mostly flat–from the huge opening number that involved casts of half a dozen shows to his eagerly-anticipated closing credits rap/song (performed this time with Audra McDonald), written during the telecast itself, reencapsulating everything we’ve just watched.  (Harris will return to a tougher gig in a few months when he tackles the Emmy Awards for a second time.)   Also notable:  a very funny good-sports number by Andrew Rannells, Laura Benanti and Megan Hilty about giving up the rewards of primetime TV stardom after their (NBC) shows were all canceled, with Harris, a (CBS) star, as counterpoint.

It didn’t all work.  Although the cruise-ship line product placement was dialed down from last year’s embarrassment, the repeated backstage bits featuring the sponsor were intrusive.  The gimmick of having cast members (in character) of current musicals present some of the awards may have accomplished the commercial goal of reminding non-New Yorkers (and thus potential tourists) that those shows are still around, but it was silly and became repetitious when the same shows were brought back for return bits ( it started to seem like the Tonys had run out of real presenters).  And the show has never figured out how to deal with straight plays–the award for Best Play (to Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) was buried at the 1:45 point of the 3:10 broadcast, preceded by 15-second cliplets of the nominated plays, and adding insult to injury, the control booth started to play Durang off when he was talking about the death of his mother.

Even with the occasional misstep (the Rascals?), though, you have to love an awards show that mixes Tom Hooper jabs with Oliver Platt and Liam Neeson as the spirits of Comedy and Tragedy (“Screw you,” says Tragedy to Comedy).  The Tonys remain the TV awards show that does it right.


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."