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Neil Patrick Harris hosts the 2012 Tony Awards | CBS Photo

It takes more than a little faith to produce a Broadway play or musical. The artists and producers involved can spend years of their lives preparing to launch a show on Broadway, only to have it close during previews, without even so much as an opening night. Maybe this is why so many of Broadway’s shows of late seem to be about religion.

The Tony Awards telecast on June 10, 2012 gave us performances by the casts of several shows, including those in this “genre” of religious exploration – Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, The Book of Mormon, and Leap of Faith.

Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) hosted for the third time, and with the help of skilled writers (can’t the Oscars hire these people?), he did a remarkable job of straddling reverence and irreverence. In his opening number, he wonders what life would be like if it were more like theater.

Besides his obvious charm and comic timing, Harris is a great choice for host because audiences around the world know who he is. In short, he gets the show viewers. I often wonder how much people outside of New York are interested in the Tonys. I was always interested – even before I became a New Yorker nearly 30 years ago – but that’s because I was an actress, singer, and dancer. I’d love to hear from others around the country (and the world). What makes you watch the Tony Awards (if you do)?

For me, it’s less about who wins and more about the performances. One of my favorites of the evening was the number from Newsies (@Newsies). This Disney show (which won multiple Academy Award-winner Alan Menken his first Tony for Best Score) was originally a musical film starring Christian Bale that tanked in 1992. A cult following developed from the video and DVD, which resulted in the Broadway version. While Jeremy Jordan is technically the show’s star, the true stars are the dancers and the Tony Award-winning choreography of Christopher Gatelli. Take a look.

The reviews of the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice‘s Jesus Christ Superstar have been mixed, but I thought Josh Young gave a dynamic performance as Judas.

The cast of the other Webber and Rice-nominated revival, Evita, performed a number that featured Ricky Martin rather than leading lady Elena Roger. Again, I presume the Tony producers needed Ricky’s performance to gather a few more viewers.

Hence, Hugh Jackman was given an award for his fundraising contributions to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Don’t get me wrong – the award is well-deserved, and the moment was one of the highlights of the evening, as his wife managed to keep the secret that she would be presenting him with the award.

The company of Godspell, which opened in November 2011 and was overlooked as a nominee for Best Revival of a Musical, gave a very short but spirited performance. The producers are relying on that performance to get them more ticket sales. The number went by so fast, though, that it may not be enough to make that wish come true. Fingers crossed!

For the first time, a cruise ship production was featured on the show, but the cast of Hairspray on the sea was stellar, and it gave us a chance to relive the great score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman in a night otherwise devoid of music by this team behind television’s Smash.

Three award winners are mourning the recent loss of a parent – Best Featured Actress in a Play Judith Light of Other Desert Cities, Best Featured Actress in a Musical Judy Kaye of Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Best Lead Actor in a Musical Steve Kazee of Once. Kazee’s acceptance speech was a moving and tearful tribute to both his mother and the cast of Once, who apparently helped him through his grief.

Another great moment came when Nina Arianda won Best Lead Actress in a Play for Venus in Fur. While I was personally rooting for Stockard Channing, who gave a performance in Other Desert Cities I will never forget, Arianda is a wonderful actress who was ecstatic to win her first Tony. She told Christopher Plummer, who presented the award to her, that he was her first crush.

It was no surprise that Audra McDonald won Best Lead Actress in a Musical for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. It is her first as Best Lead Actress, but she has won four Best Featured Actress Tony Awards. She made a point of telling her daughter that no matter how great it is to win a Tony, the night her daughter was born was better. Nice!

It was also no surprise that Once won the Best Musical award. This show, which is based on the little film with music by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, has become a phenomenon. Hardly your typical Broadway show with big production numbers, the show has reached the pinnacle based on heart and beautiful music. Once took home the most awards during the evening with a total of eight, followed by Peter and the Starcatcher with five (which included a Tony for Christian Borle of Smash for Best Featured Actor in a Play). Newsies, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Death of a Salesman, and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess each won two awards.

The highlight of the evening for me, however, was the performance from Leap of Faith with my favorite Broadway actor, Raul Esparza, leading the stellar cast. This show, which was unfairly judged by the critics in my opinion, was forced to close in less than a month after opening and before the Tony Awards despite its nomination for Best Musical. The producers rallied to gather enough money to pay for the cast to perform on the show. (Yes, Broadway shows have to pay to have their moment on the Tony Awards.) It was worth it.

A friend of mine, who wrote the book for a musical, recently said on Facebook that it takes 5-10 years to “complete” a musical and 20-30 minutes for a powerful critic to destroy it. While I’m hardly a credentialed voice among critics, this is the reason I almost never write reviews anymore. I’ve been on both sides. If live theater is suffering, it’s due, at least in part, to the critics, whose frequently harsh words have made it exceedingly difficult to succeed on Broadway, even if a show has done exceptionally well on London’s West End or elsewhere. Criticism is necessary, but when the critics become so jaded that they rarely enjoy anything anymore, maybe they deserve more criticism than the plays.

All I can say is thank you to the many producers and artists who haven’t given up on live theater. Hats off to you for continuing to take that leap of faith.

6 COMMENTS

  1. What a great recap! I love watching the Tony Awards, because for one thing, I live in Michigan, and it’s a great way to get a feel for what’s happening on Broadway without actually going there (not that I wouldn’t like to go there – it just doesn’t happen).

    It’s also neat to see people that I see on TV or in the movies doing theater things. I’ve only seen Audra McDonald on ABC’s Private Practice, but I knew she had a beautiful voice and had done some stage work. You wonder how those crossover people manage to do it all without going nuts.

    Also, theater people seem to be much more cohesive than other communities. I noticed in several of the acceptance speeches, they mentioned feeling so grateful to be part of the theater community – both in their particular show and also the broader community.

    Melanie, why do you think that is? You don’t hear TV or movie people talk so much about their respective communities. It seems more competitive, whereas theater people are all working towards a similar collective goal.

    • Well, I think it’s just a matter of geography, numbers, and the length of time people work together. Films are shot all over the world, and the number of people involved is much larger. Actors rarely do long shoots, while Broadway shows can last for months or years. People get to know each other. Everyone has to work together every single night to make it happen, while film is a director’s medium. You hit your mark, you do your scene for however many takes, and you go to your trailer.

      I know from my days in the theater that you really do become like a little family when you do a play. Plus, the theater community is smaller, and in New York, it all happens within blocks of each other.

      • Yeah, that’s a good thought. I’ve played violin in a few community theater productions (pre-babies – no time post-babies!), and we really did become a little family. Even going back to doing high school musicals, you feel that connection with everyone. I can’t imagine doing a production for years. Maybe that’s why Audra addressed her daughter with that sweet note – to recognize that even though her theater people are like family, her daughter is the most important family.

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