The 65th Annual Tony awards just went down and, all in all, it was a damn good show. Neil Patrick Harris continues to be the cream of the hosting crop, and a strong year for Broadway meant he had a bounty of material to riff on and that the musical numbers were, by and large, highly entertaining. In almost any other year, Whoopi Goldberg’s hat , Frances McDormand’s jean jacket, Daniel Radcliffe’s American accent, Sutton Foster’s heartfelt shout-out to her dresser, Christie Brinkley’s impersonation of Helium Barbie, Chris Rock’s great jokes, Larry Kramer’s powerful and restrained speech, Mark Rylance’s awesomely odd one, and, most of all, Trey Parker’s button-down, banded-collared sequined shirt would have been some of the most notable things about the proceedings. Not in this highly robust year! All due respect to the joyful moments just mentioned, this year’s most interesting happenings including Brooke Shields’s verbal snafus, Hugh Jackman’s dirty talk, and Spider-Man’s ongoing difficulties.
1. The Opening Number, or You Are in Good Hands With Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris is a great awards-show host. He’s proved that before, and he proved it again tonight, over and over again. He sang, he danced, he dueled with Hugh Jackman, he made a million adorable faces, and, at the very end, he even rapped (better than Mr. Schuester). His total mastery of the proceedings was on display from the opening song-and-dance number, a very sharp riff on the theme of “It’s not just for gays anymore,” which began with a Glee joke and included costume changes and supporting cameos from Stephen Colbert, Brooke Shields (flubbing her lines for just the first time this evening), and Bobby Cannavale. If building a whole opening number about this concept seems a bit “thou doth protest too much,” the rest of the show, thankfully, didn’t seem overly concerned about its demographic appeal. Still, except for the performance from Book of Mormon later in the night, there’s no moment we would like to have watched more with a stereotypically Middle American crowd: What would they make of this? We choose to believe they would have been won over by Patrick Harris’s energy. No one makes trying this hard seem so fun.
2. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Takes a Beating.
Going into this evening, we had been promised Spider-Man jokes. And Spider-Man jokes were what we got. Neil Patrick Harris sneaked one into the opening number (“A spider facing death defying budget overruns”), and then got the rest out of his system with a 30-second joke binge, complete with regular cutaways to Bono trying to look comfortable. These were the jokes:
— “Soon they’ll be changing the name to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Lawsuits.”
— “The only show that warns you about strobe lights and falling actors.”
— “No audience members were harmed in the making of this musical. Yet.”
— “The only thing not falling in Spider-Man is the ticket prices.”
— “Julie Taymor found out it was over when she woke up with the head of War Horse in her bed.”
— “Spider-Man is the only show on Broadway where the actors in the cast are actually in casts.”
— “I heard they were changing it from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Daaaaark!” [Read as if by someone falling from a great height.]
— “I sent Bono a congratulatory cable, but it snapped.”
All in all, not so scathing — or so funny. Things got worse for Spider-Man after that, though. Bono and the Edge came out in their rock-star duds to introduce a number from the musical. They got in a few deadpan zingers (“We used to be famous for being in U2”) and a shot of humility (this experience has made them realize “how hard you people work around here” and that “every show you see is a procession of miracles”) and then introduced … the most boring musical number of the night. It consisted of Peter Parker and Mary Jane having a conversation about how he gets from uptown to the East Village so fast (he should have just told her he hops into a movie taxi cab, the ones that can get you from 86th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting through Washington Heights), and then singing a ballad to one another. Snooze. Maybe it was too hard to rig up some flying equipment, but this isn’t going to sell any tickets.
Bonus Spider-Man joke, courtesy of Robin Williams: “The book is the spine from which all the songs hang, or in the case of Spider-Man, they dangle and pray for the best.”
3. The Hugh Jackman–Neil Patrick Harris Charm-Off
Halfway through the show, for no good reason except to supply delight, Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris did a medley. The setup was that previous Tony host Jackman was feeling competitive with Harris (or, as he dismissed him, Neil Patrick Harrisman). It started with some jabs about being a movie versus a TV star and then blossomed into a mash-up duet, with the pair belting out, “Any Show You Can Host I Can Host Better,” “Make ‘Em Laugh,” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” As if any performance that includes a Viva Laughlin joke weren’t good enough, the number climaxed with Harris and Jackman shaking hands while Jackman sang the following line from Anything Goes’ “You’re the Top”: “But buddy if I’m the bottom you’re the top,” a double entendre so unsubtle it may as well be a single entendre.
4. The Brooke Shields Blooper Reel
At some awards shows, the participants get really drunk. (This is the driving engine of the Golden Globes.) Brooke Shields, who screwed up twice tonight, did not seem drunk or addled in any way. We’re not quite sure if this is an observation in her defense or not, but, well, it is an observation. Anyway, her first snafu came in the first minute of the show. She was singing in the opening number and forgot the words to her Anthony Weiner joke not once but twice, only getting it right the third time, when she read it off a card. To be fair, she, Neil Patrick Harris, and the orchestra remained remarkably composed throughout this series of mess-ups. It was a very professional mistake and would have been just that had she not proceeded to, less professionally, curse onstage. Coming on to present an award, Shields tried to explain her previous error by making another one. She said, “I thought they’d edit it, then I realized, ‘Oh shit. It’s live.’” Still is, girl.
5. The Overly Long, Overly Tearful, Pretty Mortifying Acceptance Speech That Is Actually the Best Kind of Awards Speech There Is
Nikki M. James won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her work in Book of Mormon. She was surprised and had not prepared a speech. She got onstage and very tearfully talked and talked and talked and talked. To give you a sense of the level of talking, 90 seconds into her thank-yous, she launched into a metaphor about bumblebees being able to fly only because they think they can (apparently, scientists can’t figure it out aerodynamically). Tomorrow, or whenever James gets around to watching this speech, she’s going to be embarrassed by it. And honestly, while it was going on, we were a little embarrassed for her, but phooey on that. An overly emotional speech, delivered by a person so genuinely overwhelmed that they have completely forgotten how to modulate their behavior, is a sight to behold, a more honest thing than the most charmingly crafted, self-deprecating speech that never teeters on being out of control. So, here’s to the bees.
And, for good measure, here’s Neil Patrick Harris’s rapping recap of the event: