Filed under: Performing Arts News
Broadway celebrated its best and brightest at the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall Sunday night, and it was clear that the theater community was in the mood to party. The dire predictions about the economic crisis adversely affecting ticket sales never came to pass—quite the opposite—the 2008-09 Season broke box office records. Forty-eight productions opened on Broadway this year alone—the most in any one season in more than a quarter century. And show after show premiered to rave reviews.
By the time the three-hour Tony telecast was over, the evening’s biggest winner also boasted the season’s littlest performers. Billy Elliot The Musical, based on the hit movie about the young boy from the English coal mines who, against seemingly insurmountable odds, fulfills his dream of becoming a ballet dancer, won 10 awards, including best musical. The best actor in a musical award was presented to the three young boys who take turns playing Billy at different performances. It was a historic moment when David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish took the stage to thank their moms and dads, sisters, and dance teachers—marking the first time ever a Tony acting award has been shared by three performers.
At the other extreme of the showbiz continuum, Angela Lansbury, the beloved 83-year- old entertainment legend, won for best featured actress as the adorably loopy medium Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s martini-fueled comedy, Blithe Spirit. Lansbury also presented a richly deserved Lifetime Achievement Award to the great Broadway composer–and University of Miami alumnus–Jerry Herman, creator of Hello Dolly!, La Cage Aux Folles, Mack and Mable and Mame, the role that made Lansbury a Broadway star 43 years ago and for which she was awarded her first of five Tonys.
With just about everyone rightly predicting a Billy Elliot sweep over the other Best New Musical nominees—Next to Normal, Shrek The Musical, and Rock of Ages—the really fierce race was in the best revival category, between West Side Story and Hair. Arguably the greatest musical ever, West Side Story soars on Jerome Robbins’ dazzling game-changing choreography and Leonard Bernstein’s finest score–a miraculous fusion of jazz, Latin, symphonic, and musical theater. Moreover, this “bilingual” production introduces the concept of having the Hispanic gangs speak in Spanish in an attempt to infuse the story with greater authenticity. In the end, though, West Side Story was no match for the 2 ½ hour explosion of sheer joy that is the revival of Hair. Beeds, flowers, freedom, happiness transport the audience to a euphoric high that takes off with the opening Age of Aquarius and doesn’t let up till the sun shines in. At the end, following a beautifully touching anti-war tableau, the audience joins the cast on stage for the communally trippy “Be In” that would last all night were it not for union rules and overtime. And did we mention fine on-stage nudity?
Overall, this might have been one of the most entertaining Tony Awards telecast in recent memory. From the opening montage that showcased not only the nominated musicals but also Dolly Parton and Elton John, to the celebration of national touring companies featuring the casts of Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! it was a three-hour entertainment bonanza. Plus the Adrienne Arsht Center’s summer hit, Slava Snowshow, competing against Liza Minnelli and Will Ferrell for Best Special Theatrical Event (Liza won); Yasmina Reza’s viciously funny comedy about marital discord God of Carnage won best play; a starry lineup of presenters including Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway, Edie Falco, and James Gandofini; and a dryly witty turn by Neil Patrick Harris as the show’s first-time host. It was a great party.
With any luck and plenty of moxie, Broadway will have as much to celebrate same time next year.
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