Sometimes, the best parts of the Tony Awards happen during the dress rehearsal or the commercial breaks — the unguarded, off-the-cuff moments between the host and the audience that aren’t planned out to the nth degree. And this year, the unequivocal winner of best genuine, non-televised moment was Jake Gyllenhaal’s gum.
What you didn’t see on the TV broadcast was that, during the commercial breaks, host James Corden would entertain the packed house at the Beacon Theater and prevent energy from flagging during the downtime by recruiting folks to do audience karaoke. This started in dress rehearsal, when he would ask for volunteers (or sometimes put people on the spot), give them a selection of songs from which to choose, and then cue up the orchestra. His first volunteers were Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jonathan Groff, who were given the song “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. The pair got so into their rendition, playing the parts of Jasmine and Aladdin, that they almost kissed at the end of it, causing Corden to laugh, “You know you’re doing that tonight! There’s no way that’s not happening this evening!”
Another of his celeb volunteers, Aaron Tveit, picked “Defying Gravity” from Wicked and begged the orchestra to be “forgiving with the key.” Tveit also got to be the guinea pig for jokes Corden would later make with Jake Gyllenhaal about standing next to a gorgeous man: “Look at this face, it’s absurd! Technically, we’re the same species! You beautiful bastard.”
So by the time the Tonys were about to start, Corden had a game plan for which songs he wanted and which commercial breaks were long enough for audience karaoke. His first commercial-break “volunteers” were Jake Gyllenhaal and Sean Hayes to sing “A Whole New World,” with Gyllenhaal singing the part of Jasmine, which was complicated by the fact that he had gum in his mouth and didn’t know what to do with it. “Give it to me! Put it in my hand! Put it in my hand!” Corden demanded. Gyllenhaal did so, and was surprised when Corden then popped the gum in his own mouth. “I want to chew it!” He later gave it back to Gyllenhaal after the song, who put it back in his mouth.
That could have been the end of it, except the next time Corden had a celeb team-up, with Andrew Rannells and Zachary Levi for “Mamma Mia!,” Gyllenhaal’s gum resurfaced — because the actor jumped up from his seat to put his gum in Rannells’s mouth as he finished the song! The audience erupted in laughter and applause.
“Why does he get the gum?” Levi complained. “That was Jake Gyllenhaal’s gum. I could have sold that on eBay, for God’s sake!”
“Is that the same piece?” Corden asked. “This is disgusting. That’s actually disgusting!”
At the Plaza after-party, Corden sorted out all the gum-transfers with Vulture. “It was in his mouth, to my mouth, to his mouth, to Andrew Rannells’s mouth,” he laughed. “So Rannells has got it now!” Rannells, however, quickly disposed of it once he learned where it had been. “I missed the first part, because I was backstage before I presented an award,” he told Vulture. “So when he put the gum in my mouth, I didn’t know what has happening!”
Plaza revelers were divided on the idea of having Gyllenhaal’s gum in their mouths. Some were all for it — “Yes, ma’am!” laughed Jane Krakowski — but others had reservations. “Here’s the thing,” said Nikki James, Rannells’s former co-star in The Book of Mormon. “I would probably do anything Jake Gyllenhaal asked me to do, but I would be grossed out by the fact that it was in his mouth. I might accept it, but be like, ’Do you have herpes? Just checking!’ You never know!”
Honorable mentions for moments you didn’t get to see:
- Lin-Manuel Miranda accepting the award for Best Book in verse.
- Jeff Daniels singing “The Sound of Music.”
- Jane Krakowski’s reaction shot for when she got to “win” the Best Featured Actress in a Musical award, but for the purposes of dress rehearsal only. She had snuck in and sat in her own seat, replacing her stand-in, to surprise the show producers.
- James Corden offering consolation to the Hamilton cast after their performance: “It’s good that they’re enjoying themselves now, because it’s going to be a very depressing evening for all of them.”
- Steve Martin, trying out a joke: “I would just like to remind everyone, the Tonys is not a competition — it’s a fight to the death.”