On Sunday (June 9), James Corden will be back where he belongs – hosting the Tony Awards.
He did it in 2016, on one of the most memorable nights in TV history. But let me back up for a minute:
Should most of us even watch the Tonys? This happens in a place far away in geography (New York City) … and in expense (lots) … and in tone (musical theater, mostly).
Do we really care? I’d say yes:
1) Partly because it IS so far away. Great things are happening, out of our reach. TV used to glimpse Broadway, via Ed Sullivan and Rosie O’Donnell; now the Tonys offer a once-a-year snapshot.
2) This is live television, which can offer special moments.
Certainly, live TV has faltered lately … mainly because of all the dolts who use their award-show time to thank their agents and managers and such. At some awards, the only good moment comes with the host’s monolog … and this year’s Oscars didn’t have a host.
But great things can happen, especially at the Tonys. Consider:
— Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony, back in 2008. He raised the bar for all acceptance speeches, delivering it in free verse.
— Neil Patrick Harris’ brilliant song, proclaiming that “Broadway isn’t just for gays any more.”
— Hugh Jackman’s hosting gig, with a spectacular number from his “Boy From Oz” musical.
— Harris’ habit of doing an instant song at the end, summarizing the night. One bit pointed out that the actor who played a very short “Shrek” prince (a role done on his knees) had lost. You can’t win a Tony on your knees, Harris sang, “that only works with the Golden Globes.”
— Countless great musical numbers, rippling with wit and zest.
— And most of all, those 2016 Tonys.
Corden opened with a seven-minute number that was both dazzling and heartfelt.
He told how he was a chubby English kid whose parents took him to theater. He soon had an “I could do that” mentality; as the production number continued, Corden did many of the great theater roles, from the Phantom to (really) Annie.
It was impressive … and true. Corden grew up in an English village of 9,600, the son of an Air Force musician and a social worker. He’s known for TV – including his CBS show, at 12:35 a.m. weekdays – but he’s also done theater. He did two plays — “The History Boys” and “One Man, Two Guvnors” that went from London to Broadway; in the latter, he won the 2012 Tony for best actor in a play.
Now he was in front of the Tony crowd, a wonderfully varied place in which a black Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) would top a Puerto Rican Alexander Hamilton (Miranda) for best actor in a musical.
“It’s so diverse,” Corden said, “that Donald Trump threatened to build a wall around this theater.”
But there had just been a new blow to American diversity. The night before, a gunman had killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Broadway has always been a wonderfully mixed world. Harris’ song was right: It’s not just for gays, as evidenced by Corden, Miranda, Jackman and the recent Bob Fosse documentary; it’s a place for everyone … and it was devastated to hear about one man’s Orlando hatred.
Then Miranda got a Tony. (He lost for best actor, but won for the Hamilton book and score.) He pulled out a sonnet he had just written, one that started as an ode to his wife Vanessa, then continued:
“We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.”
And moments like that are why we’ll keep watching live TV, especially the Tonys.