Broadway, you may have heard, is back, and Miracles by Miracles seems to have figured out how to present a truly excellent TV show.
Splitting the traditional three hours into four and somehow coming up with the right math, Tony organizers, Paramount + and CBS presented a two-hour livestreamed 74th annual Tony Awards and immediately after the two-hour broadcast of the concert special Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back !. The procedure worked remarkably well. The no-nonsense presentation of award announcements and acceptance speeches was followed by a lively special that impressively showcased modern Broadway musicals on their home tracks and classic reunions that felt fresh and welcome.
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Perhaps best of all, both parts of the evening were adhered to by hosts who completely avoided the tired combination of snark, smarm and insider smirk that has been the rigueur at the Oscars and Emmys for more than a decade now. Audra McDonald hosted the award section with elegance and charm, while Leslie Odom Jr. handled the CBS special with a sympathy and panache perfectly suited to Broadway’s return.
So why only an almost perfect score for the evening? The non-musical plays were given an unforgivably short time on the CBS part of the night, an oblivion even more violent on an evening when Jeremy O. Harris’ remarkable Slave leg went zero wins for 12 nominations, leaving America guessing what all the fuss about when it opened on Broadway in 2019. Could it really be too much to ask for some sort of Tony presence for that and the other plays – including, of course, the winning post Arven?
But back to the significant good points: The livestream award ceremony hosted by McDonald was the most effective competition in memory, free of bloating and grandeur. The winners kept their comments short and on-point and bypassed any histrionics to the camera. Yet the ceremony never felt bloodless. Jagged Little Pill actress Lauren Patten accepted her Tony and tackled the recent controversy over the musical’s treatment of her once-non-binary, now-non-character Jo, and did so without foreboding or cuddling. Aaron Tveit, the only nominee in the lead / musical category, accepted his inevitable award with humor and sincere feeling.
The few musical tracks presented during the livestream section were all the more influential for their lack, including Ali Stroker’s “What I Did For Love” from A coral line, original Hair spray cast members who performed the show’s “You Can’t Stop The Beat” and best of all, Jennifer Holliday, who tore down Radio City Music Hall with “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from the 1981s Dream girls.
The concert special at CBS and Paramount + began with host Odom performing an original opening number that might have signaled a rather old-school awards show approach, but was concise enough to get out of the way before the welcome was worn out. All the better since the first musical track from a current Broadway show was a fiery “Burning Down The House” from David Byrne’s American utopia.
While Odom and most of the Broadway is back performed live from Winter Garden Theater, the nominees for Best Musical – Moulin Rouge !, Jagged Little Pill and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical performed from their hometowns, a decision that showed the productions to the ideal advantage, with full sets and costumes. Red Mill!especially, so beautiful.
Other highlights in the concert special:
- John Legend performs “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” with the cast Is not too proud, a pairing that might have fallen a bit to the Broadway actors, but instead seemed like a good tribute;
- A series of duets with reunited couples from Evil (Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel), Rent (Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp) and Ragtime (Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald);
- A large improvised grand finale number of the cast and creators of Freestyle Love Supreme (including among others Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Monroe Iglehart, Christopher Jackson and Wayne Brady), which included spot-on references and loving parodies of performances from earlier in the evening.
Even the In Memoriam segment was largely well handled. A couple of names and faces of the losers over the past year were impossible to see on the TV screen as the cameras cut to long shots. But the overview seemed inclusive – no glaring omissions, finally at first notice – and the accompanying performances of “The Impossible Dream” by Brian Stokes Mitchell and “Somewhere” by Norm Lewis and Kelli O’Hara touched on.
So was anyone there then? Ratings will tell that story soon enough, but I suppose even potential viewers who skipped the show – or shows – tonight will see the repercussions on other awards shows soon enough. When I walked in, I was skeptical of the shared livestream broadcast format. Not anymore.
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