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by Pat Cerasaro
Overflowing with enthusiasm and energy, the true star of the 2012 Tony Awards was unquestionably three-time host and affable Broadway spokesman extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris, doing what he does best - namely, being the host with the most. Whether web-slinging behind Angela Lansbury and Ted Chapin or leading a spectacular production number with Patti LuPone and a lawnmower, Harris proved yet again why is he is the best in the biz at this sort of thing - well, right up there along with Hugh Jackman, at least. Speaking of whom, in addition to a goosebump-inducing trailer for the forthcoming Tom Hooper-directed film adaptation of the Broadway sensation LES MISERABLES, Hugh Jackman was featured on the Tony Awards telecast and personally on hand to receive a well-earned special Tony Award for his many fundraising successes over the course of his three-show Broadway career (including his non-Tony-eligible special solo show earlier this season), as was crossover superstar Bernadette Peters, who took home a special Tony Award for her BC/EFA and Broadway Barks efforts (her third, the past two wins being in competitive categories). Adding to the star quotient of the night was Broadway/Hollywood super-director Mike Nichols, giving one of the classiest (despite the CBS-sanction bleep; on the same word as during Danny Burstein's FOLLIES turn, "godammit", incidentally) and most profound acceptance speeches on the Tony Awards in recent memory - breaking the current record with, now, six Best Director statuettes, by the way. As far as musical performances go, in addition to Harris's triptych of showstoppers throughout the show - without even mentioning the many biting and sassy asides, jokes and offhand comments by the in-prime-form MC; staged remarks and otherwise - there were some seriously strong showings from almost all new musicals and revivals currently running, as well; and even one or two terrific turns from productions already shuttered. The musical highlights of the night were Josh Young and the cast of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in a spirited and divine take on the title song from the celebrated Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera, as well as good showings from new musical head-to-head, nail-bite-worthy competitors, ONCE and NEWSIES, plus one or two other swoon-worthy moments, too - especially Raul Esparza and company's roof-raising revival song. The 2011-2012 Broadway season may not have been a record-breaker insofar as outstanding content and memorable modern classics - while NEWSIES is certainly a smash, last year's THE BOOK OF MORMON is the type of hit we only see once a decade or so, and, therefore, is a bit eclipsed as a result of history; and, ONCE won Best Musical, anyway - but Harris and the team of this year's show made it an unusually entertaining and unique Tony telecast, even when compared to the finest shows from the past; particularly those from the rightly lauded Cohen era. ONCE may have dominated the wins in most musical categories, but the many musical numbers throughout the glitzy and smooth-moving show showed that there is a lot of room for enjoyment whether or not your personal favorite(s) took home the prizes. More than anything else, Neil Patrick Harris proved he was once, twice, three times a Tony triumph.
Once, Twice, Three Times A Tony Triumph
The 2011-2012 Broadway season was somewhat uneventful and strangely fraught with short-run flops - BONNIE & CLYDE, LEAP OF FAITH, LYSISTRATA JONES; just to name the 90-performance-or-less musicals - but NEWSIES and ONCE are definitely musicals that will have a legacy beyond this season or next, as they provide great opportunities for community theaters and schools, yet there was a bit of a scattershot overall nature to the season that makes it an alsoran; at least when compared to the titanic match-ups in top categories in years such as 1984, 1988 and 1998 (as recounted in BroadwayWorld's 30-part 2012 Tony Awards Clip Countdown). Despite some short runs, the season still gave us two surefire critical hits and a healthy smattering of arresting and intriguing new dramas and comedies, too - most notably CLYBOURNE PARK and VENUS IN FURS. Beyond the new productions, the revivals gave new life and spark to shows many thought were a bit past their sell-by dates and revealed that, to crib a phrase from Arthur Miller's Tony Award-winning Best Revival Of A Play, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, attention must be paid - and, in the case of the winners in their respective play and musical categories, SALESMAN and PORGY & BESS, as well as EVITA, SUPERSTAR and even not-nominated GODSPELL, last night thankfully it was. On the note of shows that did not manage a nomination for Best Musical, GHOST gave us a passionate trio performance and Raul Esparza made a heavenly case for LEAP OF FAITH. Alan Menken may have won Best Score, but the true star of NEWSIES is the Michael Bennett/Tommy Tune-esque work on the show by Christopher Gattelli and director Jeff Calhoun, and it was a well-earned win for the largely overlooked Disney screen-to-stage smash. Speaking of SMASH, PETER & THE STARCATCHER was another Disney production that was shown a lot of love insofar as nominations are concerned, though the Best Play was ultimately awarded to CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris. Beloved Broadway baby Audra McDonald made her mark on the night by winning her fifth Antoinette Perry statuette for PORGY & BESS and relative newcomer Steve Kazee took home Best Actor in the musical category. James Corden and Nina Arianda gave lovely speeches for their wins, as well, as leading performers in plays.
As far as the revivals go, besides the absolutely sensational performance by Josh Young and the company of the Des McAnuff-directed revival of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, PORGY & BESS was well-represented thanks to Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, David Alan Grier and company, and FOLLIES was offered a brief reprise in the form of Danny Bustein's and chorines' rendition of "Buddy's Blues". While "Lucy & Jessie" or "Who's That Woman" might have worked a bit better, any FOLLES is appreciated FOLLIES to the Broadway babies out there amongst us who collect and treasure Tony moments. The cast of NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT - led by an expectedly excellent Kelli O'Hara and an endearing Matthew Broderick - gave us Gershwin done grandly and EVITA's Ricky Martin led a caliente "The Money Kept Rolling In" from the Michael Grandage revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's EVITA. While both JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA went home empty-handed, losing the big Best Revival honor to THE GERSHWINS' PORGY & BESS, Webber and Rice certainly had quite a year on the Great White Way with revivals of two of their seminal shows.
Plays were well-represented on the 2012 Tony Awards - certainly more so than in recent memory on a Tony Awards telecast - and the musical snippets from the song-heavy END OF THE RAINBOW, PETER & THE STARCATCHER and ONE MAN, TWO GUV'NORS were a refreshing change of pace from the usual musical-centric Tony show. Sure, plays always come off a bit stilted on TV for some reason - and the noticeably awkward slow-motion replays of scenes from plays behind presenter Jim Parsons during the introduction of the Best Play category was an unfortunate choice - but, thankfully, the play categories contained many surprises and kept us all on The Edge of our seats as far as winners went. SMASH standout star Christian Borle is having quite a year, and his Best Featured Actor Tony Award for PETER & THE STARCATCHER is solid proof of that, and Nina Arianda is surely spreading her considerable talent around between turns in Woody Allen's Oscar-winning MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and, now, nearly two years onstage in the title role of VENUS IN FURS - all together Off-Broadway, and on Broadway. ONE MAN, TWO GUV'NORS brought its success from the shores of the UK all the way to Broadway - with a few nips and tucks to the text along the way - and James Corden expectedly took home Best Actor over early favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman for SALESMAN. Additionally, Judith Light's win for OTHER DESERT CITIES was touching and sweet, as were the speeches by Best Featured/Musical performers Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath, both from NICE WORK.
More consistently pleasurable than the season it represented, the 2012 Tony Awards was a fine three-hour advertisement of the best and brightest talent in the world and a more than merely worthy entry in the hall of fame of the sixty-plus-year-and-running Tony Awards telecasts. Making much more out of a middling season than one would have imagined, Neil Patrick Harris and company gave us the third winner in a row. Let's hope next year is even bigger and better on Broadway - but with the same Tony Awards host come the ceremony in 2013, please!