I could relate to Hugh Jackman’s four minute, bouncing entrance to the Tony Awards. Often, I feel like I’m bouncing from one theater to another. Like many theater geeks (and moms) on the west coast, I stay in touch with the Broadway community through local and touring productions and look forward to this year’s Tony shows coming our way. Right now, I drive my daughters to rehearsals for community theater productions of Les Miserables and Sideshow at far reaching ends of the greater Bay Area, so my own acting is on temporary hiatus. But I’m lucky; this afternoon, I bounced in the door from down the street after sitting in the audience at City of Angels—Tony award winner for Best Musical in 1990—to watch the opening of the Tonys on my DVR.
The star-packed cast of After Midnight (nominated Best Musical), including Patti LaBelle, Fantasia, Gladys Knight, and Dule Hill, first presented a high intensity song and dance where every moment pulsed with electricity. And Jackman joined the cast for the rousing finale.
Choreography—tap dancing in particular—maintained center stage throughout the night as sensational mobsters from Bullets Over Broadway (nominated Best Musical) showed exceptional moves, and the Genie (James Monroe Iglehart, nominated Best Featured Actor in a Musical) from Aladdin (nominated Best Musical),led the number “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me.” During his award speech, after thanking his tap dancing teacher, Iglehart—who grew up singing in churches in the Bay Area—couldn’t hold back what he called a “Praise Shout,” which looked like yet another enchanted piece of tap work.
Jackman kept the dance party going during his introductory song in honor of the nominees for Best Actress in a Musical. For the finishing touch, he engaged Jessie Mueller (Best Actress in a Musical) in a funky running man.
Alan Cumming—now also of television’s Good Wife fame—sultried up the stage in a reprisal of his previous Tony award winning role as master of ceremonies in Cabaret, (nominated Best Revival of Musical). Afterward, Jackman commented that “Broadway is really good for the local economy. Thanks to Alan Cumming in Cabaret sales of nipple glitter have skyrocketed.”
Hedwig and the Angry Itch (Best Revival of a Musical), and its star Neil Patrick Harris (Best Actor in a Musical), stole a good deal of attention from the evening. Previously unseen outside the Broadway theater, Harris’ character—a German rock-n-roll singer who suffered a failed sex-change operation—paraded into the audience with lap dances for Sting and Orlando Bloom, licking Samuel Jackson’s glasses before handing them back.
But after calling his own award, “Crazypants,” Harris promised his kids he’d be home soon to read them a bedtime stories, and thanked the teachers who “when sports was the only option, showed that creativity had a place in the world.”
Audra McDonald (Best Actress in a Play) looked upon the crowd in tears during her standing ovation for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill for her record six acting awards. She thanked all “the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I am standing on . . . Lena Horne . . . Maya Angelou . . . and most of all Billie Holiday,” the character she portrays.
Perhaps most poignant, however, was Jessie Mueller’s encounter with her onstage icon, Carole King, in Beautiful (nominated Best Musical.) From Ms. King’s glossy-eyed introduction about her reluctance to see the play and eventual falling in love with it; to the two meeting at center stage during “I Feel the Earth Move;” to Mueller’s acceptance speech: “I never thought that I would get to sing with you . . . you teach me so much every time I get up on stage. What you went through and to come out of it with kindness and love and forgiveness and pure heart . . . ” The event read like a love story: one of our timeless singer-songwriters meeting a younger version of herself.
Jennifer Hudson delivered a powerful performance in Finding Neverland’s preview, along with Melanie Moore, from television’s So You Think You Can Dance, as Peter Pan. But another actress reportedly is slated to replace Hamilton following the Tony awards.
Amidst reports that Jackman’s choreographer based the bouncy opening on an old television show, a great deal of social media attention has already focused on criticism that Broadway and the Tonys have become too commercialized with too much Hollywood crossover, and too focused on marketing. But you have to sell tickets to make theater. Kenny Leon, director of Raisin in the Sun (Best Director of a Play, Best Play) expressed his gratitude: “To all the people . . . who buy tickets and see plays in Atlanta . . . for the stage and theatres like Seattle Rep and LA Theatre Center . . . to all the people who get on buses and planes and trains to come to Broadway to see our work. I thank you.”
What interested me more than the reason behind the bouncing was the visible joy and unity of purpose that sent the rest of the Tony attendees bouncing, onstage and off, along with Jackman after the final award. Let’s rally behind Hugh Jackman’s bouncing spirit since his very first high school production. When he and L.L. Cool J and TI turned Music Man’s opening number into a rap for the Tony Awards, James Monroe Iglehart danced in the aisles with a giant smile. Thank that teacher who inspires your kid to remember, as Neil Patrick Harris said, that there’s more than just sports if you have a mind for something more creative. Maybe by next year’s Tony Awards, we’ll be just a little bit closer to Kenny Leon’s goal: “I’m looking for the day when every child in America can have a little piece of theatre in their daily educational lives.” I’ll bounce to that.