The producers of this year’s Tony Awards faced a challenge akin to cooking a perfect souffle and then being asked to do it all over again, without several of the key ingredients, a year later. Host Hugh Jackman, despite his dazzling physical features, sizable vocal chops and endless charisma, was never going to top the achievements of last year’s emcee Neil Patrick Harris, who managed to follow what was perhaps the greatest awards show number of all time with two more numbers of nearly equal entertainment value. No one was going to top the majestic Cicely Tyson’s towering acceptance speech or Audra McDonald’s show-concluding mic drop. Why try?
For the most part, the 2014 Tonys didn’t, predictably falling short of last year’s all-time-great telecast. Jackman opened the night energetically and idiosyncratically, hopping into the auditorium and onto the stage while summoning the energy of the almighty Wolverine, but he lost steam throughout the night, failing to land the few zingers he was able to get in before scurrying off the stage to make way for the next musical number. Jackman didn’t manage, as Harris did, to avoid the obligatory mid-show disappearance that plagues most hosts, and he didn’t always make the best use of his time when he was onstage.
Most of the musical numbers were unmemorable, and a few were flat-out failures – remind me why I’m supposed to want to see Sting’s The Last Ship after that snoozefest? Jennifer Hudson’s climactic performance from the upcoming “Neverland” drew ire from the Broadway community, and rightfully so, as it took time away from the nominated shows, and from the viewers’ sleep regimens, which suffered from the show’s bloated running time. There were teleprompter issues and Clint Eastwood issues, neither truly unexpected but groan-worthy nonetheless.
But the Tonys have enough inherently going for them that I’m inclined to forgive these relative failures – nay, mediocrities. As a casual Broadway fan who isn’t well-versed in the minutiae of the theatre world, it’s refreshing to watch an awards show in which I’m invested in the winners as human beings rather than vessels for their artistic achievements. It’s encouraging to listen to entertainers and artists talk about their peers and their craft with genuine reverence and modesty. I enjoy getting to know a talent who had previously eluded my attention, as with Iglehart and Jessie Mueller, who plays a mean Carole King even alongside Carole King herself. And I always welcome a reminder that awards show don’t have to be nine tenths mindless drivel for every one tenth satisfying entertainment.
Plus, even a mediocre Tonys makes room for surprisingly inspired bits like this hip-hop remix of songs from The Music Man featuring LL Cool J and T.I., also known as the last two people I would have predicted to appear on the Tony Awards stage this year.
The Tonys are an annual reminder that there exists an entire section of popular culture on the periphery of my daily consciousness. The theater community is a world I’m always happy to visit. Perhaps I’ll stay longer one day, but for now, the Tonys are enough.