You are about to gain access to a side of me that not everyone who knows me strictly as a US Skeleton athlete may be aware of. Though, come to think of it, if you know me even a little you’d know that this was lurking somewhere in me. There are many people out there who know quite a bit about this aspect of me, but only a few who have really witnessed it first-hand.
Anyone who knows me semi-well knows I come from a family of performers. My grandfather was a director at Bell High School in California. My grandma sang. My parents both sing. My siblings are all extraordinarily talented both on stage and off. I grew up surrounded and immersed in the performing arts.
As such, I’m a bit of a nerd. So deep are my roots in the theatre and the performing arts that I can’t even remember how it started. I know I grew up watching the Original Broadway Cast of Into the Woods and listening to West Side Story (clearly, we are fans of Sondheim) but I can’t recall the “first” time I experienced them.
The first recollection I have of live theatre is seeing (what I think was) a Bell High production of Evita as a young girl; so young, in fact, that I remember asking if the girl on stage really died. Obviously, that performance left a mark on my psyche. I can picture that moment fairly accurately in my mind, and I must have been only five or six.
All of this back story hopefully proves the following point: I’m a theatre nerd.
Which is why it may be surprising to hear that I’ve never actually watched the Tony Awards until this year.
I know. Calm yourself. I am, too. But after a great deal of thinking (which really hurt my brain) I can confidently say that I have never watched the entire broadcast until this year. I vaguely recall watching Hugh Jackman open the 2004 Tony Awards with Kristin Chenoweth but that’s the only concrete memory I have of the Broadway-equivalent of the Academy Awards.
I don’t know why I’ve never watched it before. My siblings and I performed in musicals and plays pretty much from when we could walk, all the way through high school graduation. One of my best friends in college spent many hours with me watching musicals (*cough illegally? cough*), awards shows (that fateful Emmy night freshman year “In Which Lauren Ruined her Roommate’s Comforter With Nothing But a Ballpoint Pen”), and playing “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted on repeat until we had memorized it.
Even after seeing my first Broadway show last year (A Little Night Music with Broadway legend Bernadette Peters at the Walter Kerr Theatre) I didn’t watch the Tonys. I just wasn’t aware of the broadcast date. I didn’t know the plays and musicals that were nominated. Heck, until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t even know what station aired it.
So why the change this year? I can venture a few guesses.
1. I have a friend.
A friend who (I’m pretty sure) knows everyone and their mother’s agents’ cousin in the show business. It was at Amber’s urging, back in January during a very frustrating month of sliding, that sent me to New York City for only the second time in my life. On this solo adventure, I battled my fears of The City and attended two shows. With Amber’s help, I decided on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, starring one of my personal favorite Broadway actors, Stephanie J. Block (who earned a Tony Award Nomination for her role as Drood) and my first Broadway play, the revival of The Heiress, starring two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain.
This one-day Trip of Awesome is what started me down this new/childhood dream path of visiting New York City and seeing shows on the Great White Way. It’s where every theatre nerd wants to be to see a show. And it’s where I was revisited by the Theatre Bug.
Which brings me to:
It’s hard to be invested in an awards show when you haven’t seen the medium being recognized. I don’t watch the Grammys because I don’t really pay attention to what I’m listening to (sorry, David!). I don’t usually watch the Emmys because I only have one or two TV shows I follow closely, if that. I didn’t watch the Tonys because the only musicals I had ever seen before this year were at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre, and those were shows that had already had their Tony day.
I watch the Academy Awards every year because it’s what I grew up doing. Every single year. Sure, sometimes I didn’t watch the ENTIRE broadcast, but I would tune in to see what would win Best Picture. This year, I gave predictions on the 2013 Academy Awards because I had made an effort to see every film nominated for Best Picture and so felt much more invested.
I watched the Tonys this year because I had seen three shows that were nominated for the 2013 Tonys (Drood, Heiress, and Kinky Boots), and two more than had won in the past (Peter and the Starcatcher, and Rock of Ages). Not only that, but in my last visit to The City, I had the privilege of meeting (through Amber) several cast members of various shows. I even got to enjoy a drink and enlightening conversation with Matilda‘s own Lesli Margherita, who plays Mrs. Wormwood. (Lesli, if you’re reading this, please know Matilda is next on my docket to see!) If you’re looking for a way to be invested in a performance or show, there’s NO better way than to meet the talented people who are responsible for it.
The great thing about the Tonys, as I found out last night, is that it’s pure entertainment from start to finish.
The shows nominated for Best Musical perform their own sets throughout the broadcast and they spare no expense. The sets are there, the costumes are there, and the energy is there. If you watched this year’s broadcast, you saw a phenomenal performance by the cast of Matilda open the show. It wasn’t until the cast of Kinky Boots had their moment a couple of hours later that anything even came close to the brilliance of that first act, if you don’t include the incredible, on-stage costume change that took place during Rogers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. (My mind is still blown on that one. Stage magic!).
The Tonys have a host who really knows how to perform…because they’re Broadway veterans themselves. Neil Patrick Harris, in his fourth hosting stint at the Tonys, showed what a good host should be: charismatic, funny, impulsive, and punctual. And, BOY, can that man sing! Really, though, if Neil Patrick Harris could host everything (he’s already committed to the Emmys), the world would be a better place.
Unlike the Oscar broadcast, which annually runs over the allotted three hour time “limit” and drag on to the point of wanting to jam a fork in your eye, the Tonys ended precisely when it was scheduled to, at 11PM, three hours after its start. Unfortunately, this meant that not all of the award winners were aired receiving their trophy. But they were all mentioned after commercial breaks, and short clips of their gracious speeches were shown.
I was compelled to write this about halfway through the Tony broadcast because I simply had too much energy and excitement for Broadway that I couldn’t hold it in. I felt like climbing up to the roof and throwing out my arms and singing a loud, belty ballad, though that would have immediately reminded the world why I’m an athlete and not an actor. The music and costumes and colors and lighting and cheers simply captivated me. The actors were humble and thankful, notably Kinky Boots’s Billy Porter, who won the Tony for his portrayal of drag queen Lola. And if you think you’ve heard a gracious speech, check out Cicely Tyson’s classy monologe after winning for A Trip to Bountiful.
Capping it all off was the surprising twist of the evening, when Kinky Boots won the Tony for Best Musical that was expected to go to Matilda. Even with my limited knowledge of the Broadway community, I knew that decision had ruffled some feathers in some circles. (Side note: As I have not yet seen Matilda, I will not give an opinion here about who “should have” won. I thoroughly enjoyed Kinky Boots as it was one of the best nights in the theatre I can remember.)
The Tonys annually have the lowest TV ratings of the “Big Four” (the Academy Awards, Emmys, and Grammys being the other three). But perhaps because of that, they don’t have to sell every other five minute commercials to make the bank. The Tonys do more of what the viewers want: more performances, more acts, with far fewer commercials, fewer speeches, and fewer awkward “improvised” presenter introductions.
It’s a night exclusive to celebrating Broadway, a place that already celebrates show business. The Tonys are a show within a show, a performance put on by the professionals themselves. It’s a night meant to be fun, dramatic, diva-esque, and utterly enjoyable. There’s song and dance, laughter and tears, music and lyric that everyone can appreciate.
THAT’S show business.