This week’s episode of The Pop Cult Podcast was going to be all about the best damn awards show there is—The Tony Awards. Due to some technical difficulties, however, we unfortunately don’t have a new episode to share our opinions with you. Instead, here are just some of our thoughts on this year’s Tonys.
Jeffrey Bryan: Let’s start at the very beginning (I hear it’s a very good place to start). What were your thoughts on this year’s host James Corden and his opening number?
Lauren Cheal: Mr. Corden thoroughly impressed me with his general enthusiasm, gameness, and very passable vocal performance (that sounds like an insult, but it isn’t, I promise). I was living when he put on that Annie wig and made an adorable face, in among a long number covering many classics of musical theatre. What did you think of the “you could be here, other kids who feel like outsiders” theme of that opener?
JB: I thought it was great! I mean, I also thought it was great when Neil Patrick Harris did it in his opening number in 2013 (in a rap written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, no less). So much of the Tonys telecast is about celebrating the Broadway community and I think it makes a lot of sense to tap into that spark that theatre people experienced when they were very young. I really like how it hit that broad theme but also felt very personal about the host with the cute little kid playing a young James Corden. A lot of the show felt very him, actually. That number you mentioned that covered so many classics was similar in execution to a segment he does on his show quite often and he found a way to slip in a Carpool Karaoke bit, as well. What about the other performances? Were there any that stood out for you?
LC: For me the hands-down best of the night was Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) slaying the song “I’m Here.” Such a powerful, emotional performance on a day where tragedy was top of mind really left a mark. I cheered loudly for her eventual win for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical. The featured Hamilton song “Yorktown,” was also fun to see, and interesting that they chose to not use the muskets that are usually in that number out of respect for the victims of the gun violence in Orlando earlier that day. As someone who hasn’t listened to Hamilton, Jeff, what did you think about the four different songs we got to hear from that show, and the general Hamilton flavour that pervaded the evening?
JB: Well first of all, I thought taking the muskets out of the Hamilton performance was a really simple but also impactful way to honor the victims. And Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance sonnet (never change, Tonys!) about the shooting was tonally perfect.
But I have to say, all the Hamilton stuff felt like a bit much. I mean, I 100% understand that a show like this doesn’t happen every year but between the opening number, Carpool Karaoke, Hamilton performance, and closing number, it definitely felt like the Hamilton show, plus some awards. I just haven’t drank the Kool-aid yet. I will say, though, I was THRILLED by how diverse this years’ ceremony was and Hamilton had a lot to do with that. All four musical acting categories went to people of colour! Take that #OscarsSoWhite.
LC: I totally get the fatigue there. As much as this was Hamilton’s year, that is also the show people already know a whole lot about, and the Tony Awards are a unique opportunity for us to see performances from shows that we may never get to experience first-hand, and to spark interest in shows that we’ve never heard of before. Some of that Hamilton time could have gone to other productions that really need the attention to boost their ticket sales and help them prolong their runs on Broadway.
And yes, super to see people of colour taking home all four musical acting Tony Awards! A lot has been made of the colour-blind casting in Hamilton, and a really cool result of that process is that the three winners from Hamilton won for what would have been white roles in any other time. Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson/Marquis de Laffayette and Angelica Schuyler are all white historical figures, but this year their stories were brought to life by Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Renée Elise Goldsberry (GENEVA PINE!).
JB: Geneva Pine indeed! One of my favourite things to do during the Tonys every year is spot the Hollywood actors. I’m always very curious about which actors can handle both theatre and film (it’s certainly not for everyone). James Corden’s bit about all the Broadway actors that have been on Law & Order was so great. I imagine the shooting schedule for that show and shows like The Good Wife that film in New York must be very accommodating for theatre schedules.
LC: Hollywood Spotting is a time-honoured Tonys watching game for pop culture nerds like us, for sure. This year it really came down to a marquee battle between The Good Wife and Frasier (oddly enough) for the most alums present. As you mention, The Good Wife’s shooting in New York means that it has easier access to the talent available on Broadway. In addition to Goldsberry, both Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. appeared on The Good Wife this season, as did Megan Hilty (nominated this year for her work in Noises Off). Other Broadway folks that appeared in just this season include Alan Cumming, Nikki M. James, Christian Borle, and Denis O’Hare.
It was a very big night for the cast of Frasier, with Bebe Neuwirth (LILITH!) in the Chicago tribute, Brian Stokes Mitchell (Cam Winston) in the Shuffle Along performance and receiving the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for volunteer work, Tom McGowan (Kenny, the station manager) in She Loves Me, and Laurie Metcalfe (Nanette, one of Frasier’s exes) nominated for her work in a play called The Other Place. I like to think they all got together afterward to reminisce about Martin’s chair.
JB: Ha! That’s amazing. Too bad Finding Neverland came out last year instead of this year, we could have had Kelsey Grammer himself there, as well!
I found it really interesting how Shuffle Along (or Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed if you’d like to use the full title) was classified as a new musical. I suppose because it’s actually about the original show instead of a regular revival.
I’ve always loved the way Broadway brings back old shows. I find it helps to learn about the history of musicals and it’s always great to see how old shows can be staged in new ways. I’ve seen The Color Purple on Broadway before so I loved seeing the performance for this new revival to see how they’ve changed it. Lauren, you had that great post on our site this week about watching old musicals. Any thoughts on the revivals this year?
LC: Aw, shucks. Thanks bud. I totally agree, revivals are such an interesting part of theatre and the Tonys in particular. It’s a helpful tool in educating new theatre-goers about the history and traditions of the business, and it’s also just super cool to watch the same number interpreted by a range of artists (like Merman, Midler, Lupone, Peters, and Colfer). This year at the Tonys, we had a revival of Fiddler on the Roof (a movie I love). I thought the wedding scene there was a bit of a strange choice for a performance, because if you are going to go wedding scene, I say go full Bottle Dance or go home. There was also a revival of Spring Awakening from a theatre called Deaf West where the roles are performed by a mix of hearing and deaf actors. In any other year, I think this show would have received a lot more attention than it got. Call it the Hamilton curse, I guess. There was also The Color Purple, which we touched on, and a revival of She Loves Me, which seemed very, very old fashioned to me. She Loves Me did feature one Laura Benanti, who has quite the Broadway credits list. She’s fast becoming a member of a very cool club.
JB: Ah yes, the slow and treacherous process of going from ingénue to diva. I love that you brought up the Rose role in Gypsy. Broadway has been providing strong female leads for decades and the strength of the genre’s divas really prove that. And I’m talking old definition of diva here. It’s a great way to track the history of musical theatre. These amazing roles get passed down to divas and it elevates them in such cool ways. You can go back and watch performances from Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch; and then seek out Barbra Streisand, Patti Lupone, and Bernadette Peters; and then work your way up to Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, and Kristin Chenoweth. This year we had performances from Jessie Mueller, Laura Benanti, and Megan Hilty, and I’m so excited to see them start to join the club. All in all, I think it was a really great year for theatre.