Broadway folks ought to take a cue from Bette Midler. When you’ve got a good acceptance speech, “shut that crap off.”
Midler uttered those words when the orchestra started playing her off for winning Best Musical Actress for “Hello, Dolly!” Because it was a rare chance to hear a bit about her time back on Broadway, the director of Sunday’s Tony Awards should have planned for a longer speech and cut some of that other filler.
As much as it’s nice to recognize playwrights, audiences unfamiliar with the shows got nothing out of speeches from four nominees.
Similarly, Kevin Spacey could have ditched some of his impersonations just to let the winners speak.
While The Tony Awards broadcast is an acquired taste (everyone, apparently, doesn’t like musical theater), it has to be more inclusive than other awards shows. Luckily, performances give a taste of what theatergoers can look forward to when the shows start touring. While Ben Platt’s moment in “Dear Evan Hansen” resonated, a song from “Groundhog Day” probably left folks scratching their heads. A number from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” gave a sense of that show’s scope, but a bunch of people stomping around with chairs did nothing to convey the feel-good quality of “Come From Away,” the musical about Gander, Newfoundland, providing refuge after 9/11.
Talent oozed from the stage of Radio City Music Hall (even though the Rockettes didn’t need to have such a prominent spot); “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Rachel Bloom was a delight as a backstage reporter.
Indeed, producers of the Tony Awards should consider using that conceit as a way to get viewers into the show. Someone like Bloom could provide context before a production number or presentation. Heck, she could even handicap the shows’ odds and give fans reason to cheer.
Someone like James Earl Jones – who won a lifetime achievement award – should have been given actual screen time, complete with details about his life on stage. Instead, he was relegated to one of those edited snippets that took away from the moment and the honor.
Spacey did a great job explaining why he was host (using riffs on the nominated musicals to make his point), but he was playing to a home crowd. If you didn’t know anything about “Dear Evan Hansen” (and you should), you wouldn’t understand why he had a cast on his arm (and, later, on his leg). He hauled out an old Johnny Carson impression (that probably doesn’t graze a lot of the “Evan Hansen” set) and closed the show with an old Bobby Darin number. That’s fine – if you’re a Kevin Spacey fan – but this bunch probably would have been happier with a few more minutes from Bette.
Even though she didn’t sing, you could feel Midler ruled the night. A number from “Hello, Dolly!” (not a little ditty from co-star David Hyde Pierce) would have been the best way to pull the audience in. “Dear Evan Hansen” is a big seller, too, and could have been given the full “Hamilton” had someone been assured of its six-Tony night.
Entertaining? Yes. But for a group of folks who advocate inclusion, Broadway could sure use a lesson on how to reach the masses.
For the record: “Dear Evan Hansen” won six awards, including Best Musical; “Hello, Dolly!” won four, including Best Musical Revival, “Oslo” won Best Play and “Jitney” won Best Revival. In addition to Midler, Kevin Kline, Laurie Metcalf, Cynthia Nixon, Ben Platt, Rachel Bay Jones, Michael Aronov and Gavin Creel won the acting awards.