The 2004 Tony Awards: A Mixed Bag

Mon. June 7, 2004 12:00 AM
by David Viggiano

I have many conflicting feelings about this year’s Tony telecast. Last year the Awards show drew in its lowest numbers ever (a 5.4 rating which translated into less than 8 million viewers.) So I certainly understand why some of Hollywood’s biggest names were called in to boost the ratings. But how many reaction shots of Nicole Kidman can we take? OK, after the first 5 minutes we got it. Nicole was there. And just to make sure we knew it wasn’t a fluke, they continuously went back to see her reaction to nearly every performance and award given out that evening. Even Nicole herself was starting to look self-conscious when she realized how often she was on camera.

And the outreach to the hip-hop community started to reek of desperation. Sean Combs, OK. He had a legit reason for being there since he’s starring in a Broadway show (though he was blatantly overlooked for a nomination for his role in Raisin in the Sun.) But why was LL Cool J on stage? And with Carol Channing no less. The writers must have watched one too many MTV Awards show where they love to pair up unusual combinations of people on stage to keep the audience with ADD interested. Poor Carol. It saddens me to see Legends in the twilight of their career go down the Stony End. Rapping with LL Cool J is just not an appropriate Swan Song.

And as much as I love Mary J. Blige , her unfortunate arrangement of A Chorus Line’s “What I Did For Love” did no justice to her voice or the song.

Hugh Jackson was a great choice as host for obvious reasons. Charming, attractive (OK, hot), amusing and just what the show needed: a movie star with a true talent for live performance. Since his background is in musical theater, it was a great showcase for the talent he’s known for in his native Australia, but that American audiences have not seen. I loved his opening number. No doubt, if his movie career wanes, with those legs he’ll have a future as a Rockette. His musical performance from his award-winning role of Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz was fine until he brought Sarah Jessica Parker on stage to perform an improvised dance. Sarah wasn’t playing along for fear that she’d fall out of her dress and the whole interchange went on a little too long. It did keep me glued to the TV set however, in that train-wreck sorta way.

Phylicia Rashad brought some much needed class to the evening with a moving speech after she made history as the first African American woman to win the “Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play” for her role in Raisin in the Sun.

For me, the highlight of the Tony Awards is the chance to see performances from the nominated musicals. You can’t go wrong with “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. Alfred Molina and cast stopped the show.

As much as I love 2-time Tony winner Donna Murphy, she ain’t no Rosiland Russel. With all the terrific musical numbers in Wonderful Town, why they chose to showcase “Ballet at the Village Vortex” is beyond me. Donna Murphy’s way-over-the top performance added to the “huh?” factor.

When I first heard about the musical, Avenue Q I thought it was a gay-themed show. Then I saw some publicity photos and I thought it was a spin-off of “Sesame Street Live!” After seeing the performance of “It Sucks to Be Me”, I’m still confused. The odd mixture of actors, puppets, and cross-gender casting left me baffled, but curious. I loved the song (I could totally relate to the lyrics) but was lost when the women entered at the end saying she was Gary Coleman of Different Strokes. When did he have a sex change and become a building janitor? Or is that what they call satire? From a marketing stand point the number was a success. I’m now dying to see the show!

What surprised me the most was that Wicked, the musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz was overlooked for Best Musical. It seemed to be a shoe-in, but the little musical that could, Avenue Q pulled the upset of the evening when it stole the Gold from the big budget favorite, Wicked.

Wicked is still on the top of my must-see list, and fortunately for all of us who may not be able to fly to New York to catch a Broadway show, it has just been announced that the First National Tour will be coming to Chicago . First stop is the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre beginning May 5, 2004.

Tickets are on sale now for priority seating of 20 or more by calling 312-977-1710. Individual tickets will go on sale in the near future. No word yet on casting.

Finally, I’d like to congratulate Chicago’s premiere gay and lesbian Theater, About Face Theatre . The production of I Am My Own Wife, Doug Wright ’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about an East German transvestite won The Tony for best play and for its sole actor, Jefferson Mays, who plays more that 40 characters. When Mays gave his acceptance speech he thanked the About Face Theater where the show had a successful pre-Broadway run.

And if you haven’t seen an About Face production, may I recommend in advance their next show, Winesburg, Ohio that opens June 17? This original musical is produced with the Steppenwolf Theatre and will be performed at Steppenwolf upstairs.
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The Photos of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackson by Anita and Steve Shevett from the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards Website.