The Tony telecast had been on for, maybe, three seconds when James Corden reminded us why we were watching.
Yes, TV is in a new golden age. Still, nothing matches the explosive fun of live entertainment.
Corden managed to say this in full-scale song-and-dance. He had another number, mid-show, that again proved there are an awful lot of clever lyricists out there. Let’s start there:
— Those words: The “Hamilton” world of Broadway seems to have a new emphasis on clever lyrics.
There was that opening number and the mid-show one, in which Corden was brooding in toilet stall, with Josh Groban in the stall on one side and Sara Bareilles on the other. (Corden: “I thought this was a men’s room.” Bareilles: “It’s 2019; get over it.”)
Both songs rippled with pop-culture references. Even “Beetlejuice,” one of the best-musical nominees, changed its lyrics to throw in some wry comments.
— No monolog?: Corden was terrific, of course, but we don’t like the fact that there was no monolog.
Over the years, monologs have given award shows their sharpest moments. The Oscars dumped theirs (and their host) this year; now Corden skipped his. Let’s not make this a trend.
— Great numbers (mostly): The emphasis was on dazzle – so much so that the “Kiss Me Kate” revival didn’t even have its stars sing. Instead, it gave us a vibrant, dance-happy “Too Darn Hot.”
A couple of numbers — “Choir Boy” (a best-play nominee, trying to show off a music number) and “The Cher Show” — were so-so, but most were terrific. That was topped by “Hadestown,” the winner for best-musical.
— Spreading it around: Yes, “Hadestown” dominated the musicals, including an award for Rachel Chavkin – who reminded us that she really shouldn’t have been the only woman to direct a Broadway musical this year.
But the acting awards in musicals were spread around: Ali Stroker, for “Oklahoma” (a history-making performance in a wheelchair) … Stephanie J. Block for “The Cher Show” … and Santino Fontana for “Tootsie.”
— Mostly, the acceptance speeches had something to say. A few thanked their agents or managers (and should be punished for this in the afterlife), but others had substance. That started with Celia Keenan-Bolger (Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird”) discussing her family’s resistance to bigotry in Detroit; it went on to include Stroker discussing disability.
Bob Mackie, who won for his Cher costumes, quipped: “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old,” which required slight exaggeration. He’s only 79; Elaine May, named best-actress in a play for “The Waverly Gallery,” is 87.
And Fontana discussed how important the Tonycasts were to him, growing up a continent away from Broadway, in Washington State.
They are important, you know. I was watching them a mere half-continent away in Michigan, but there were quick local reminders: Fontana studied theater at Interlochen in Michigan … Bolger’s Detroit memories were followed by a vibrant medley of Motown songs by The Temptations … Jeff Daniels, who runs a theater company in his home town of Chelsea, Mich., had a funny bit showing what he would look like if he lost for best-actor (which, alas, he did) … And there was a posthumous award and tribute to Marin Mazzie, who stared her professional career at the Augusta Barn Theatre in Michigan.
Directly and indirectly, Broadway can capture everyone.