With apologies to Bill Simmons (and everyone else who does these kinds of running diary posts for major events), I had to sit down and take notes throughout tonight’s Tony Awards. And I am so very glad I did–I think we’re going to look back on this year’s awards the way we thought we were going to look back on the year (1996) when Rent and Noise/Funk threatened to bring Broadway into the present day. After tonight, I think we’re closer than ever. I’ll say more at the end of the running diary. And now, the beginning.
8:02 — I walk into my parents’ house after the show has begun (we were out at Father’s Day dinner, and it ran long). I had forgotten that Lion King was going to be involved with this year’s show. I don’t think the magnificence of that show really comes off on television–you’ve got to be there in the audience when that elephant passes you by on the way to the stage. It’s a beautiful show–the show that really shows what Disney is capable of when it’s doing things big and beautiful. Whoopi comes on in the Sebastian the crab costume, and it’s kind of funny, actually, and I’m with her. Shortly after that, she takes a nice sly jab at Clarence Thomas while pimping Thurgood, and she wins me over for the rest of the night.
8:09 — First award goes to Rondi Reed for August: Osage County, and it’s already clear that the rout is on. I also realize here, when Reed sends Father’s Day wishes to the late Dennis Letts, that there’s no way August won’t dominate the awards tonight (although I didn’t hear Tracy mention his father in his speech, did he?).
8:11 — It’s a little weird to see John Waters as a Tony darling, but Hairspray has earned him cache for life. He introduces, of course, Crybaby, which performs the closest thing it has to a showstopper, and the plan is clearly for audiences to be impressed by the license plate tap-dancing thing. My mom tells me she’s excited to see tapping onstage, but didn’t even notice the license plates. Not a good sign for the show. I write in my notebook (shouts to ESPN’s TMQ): “This better not win for choreography.”
8:21 — I really don’t understand the Jersey Boys thing. I mean, I get the commercial appeal, but I can’t really imagine what makes that show (a) so beloved by everyone and (b) such a massive, massive hit. I mean, they’re OVERSOLD every single night. Jersey Boys and Wicked — biggest shows in American theater. I’m not mad at them, I’m just saying.
8:22 — Laura Linney looks nervous and awkward for some reason as she announces Best Featured Actor in a Play. When David Pittu is announced as a nominee for Is He Dead?, the audience seems to collectively say “um, Is He Dead? The hell is that?” Jim Norton’s win surprised me; I sort of automatically assumed Raul Esparza would get the nod.
8:25 — On the list of People I Never Would Expect to See on The Tonys, Adam Duritz would be pretty high up. It’s kind of fitting though that he’d introduce Passing Strange (and did he say that he and Stew had been roommates?), although having a white guy with dreads introduce this particular show hit me a little weird (at least they didn’t make some forced joke with him and Whoopi). The first moments of Amsterdam/Keys announce the show in exactly the way you’d want to: big power chord, aggression, intensity. Then the song settles into a more traditional Broadway feel with a gentle ballad…but that’s only for a second, as we get to the part that really sums up exactly what this show is and why the hell it matters. “It’s Alright” repeated over and over by that beautiful cast with that energy — that’s not what you expect from Broadway. At all. Ever. And it’s wonderful. Stew looks ready to march out into the audience to drag them along with him, and suddenly we’re not at the Tonys for a second — we’re at a rock show with an audience that may or may not even know what to do with it. Two moments that really struck me: Stew giving the mic to De’Adre Aziza to sing part of that hook (I don’t remember him doing it in the show), and the old lady wide-eyed and clapping when the performance was over. I’m not sure Passing Strange is long for Broadway at this point (I think it needed a big win to stay alive), but I am so goddamn glad it made it to the stage tonight.
8:33 — Meanwhile, Tiger Woods is a shot down on 18 (he’d go on to hit a semi-miracle putt to force a playoff tomorrow), and Lakers/Celtics is on its way. (As I type this now at 11:39, we’re tied at 90 in the fourth. I feel weird rooting for a Boston team, but I, like so many, am anti-Kobe.
And that’s my first page of notes. This is going to be five posts long, I think.