The Tony Awards are the highlight of the theatrical calender in New York City, and celebrate the very best of the past Broadway season. Much like London's Olivier Awards, top musicals and plays compete in a number of categories that eventually see the Best New Play and Best Musical gain a box office boost that more often than not go on to become sell out hits.
The 69th annual Tony Awards were announced on Sunday at the Radio City Music Hall in a star-studded and glamorous ceremony that was broadcast live on CBS to 6.3 million people, acting as a showcase to the whole of the USA of the very best talent on Broadway. Despite a small dip in the ratings, the telecast has long been an important marketing machine for all shows performing – with the opportunity to perform reserved to the shows that have received nominations for Best Musical or Best Revival.
This year the ceremony was hosted by Tony Award winners Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth – a break in tradition from seeing Neil Patrick Harris whip up the crowd with an original opening number. Whilst the opening lacked some of the usual energy, Cumming and Chenoweth kept the atmosphere light-hearted throughout, changing costumes and vamping with nominees throughout an otherwise tiring ceremony that last three hours, and sees 24 competitive awards given out, along with a number of special awards and dedications.
The performances throughout the night kept the crowd entertained, and here is my list of top 10 performances from this year's awards.
Fun Home – Sydney Lucas (“Ring of Keys” from Fun Home)
This beautiful show had a modest start off-Broadway, and went on to win the Award for Best Musical, and was this week the highest grossing show on Broadway. Based on Alison Bechdel's comic memoir of the same name, the show tells of the writer growing up with her family who own a funeral home, and the challenges surrounding both her own sexuality and that of her father.
This performance was one of the most important of the evening, and will no doubt go down in Tony Award history. Resisting the 'mashup' formula of the other shows, Producers decided to present the musical in its rawest and most honest form – giving the privilege to 11 year old Sydney Lucas who plays Young Alison. The song, “Ring of Keys” describes the moment Young Alison first found a woman attractive, and is an internal love song to an unseen woman. Sam Gold's Tony Award winning direction was emphasised by keeping the number in the round, showcasing how sometimes it is the simplest staging that packs the most punch.
The King and I – Kelli O'Hara, Ken Wantanabe, Ruthie Ann Miles and Company
From the newest Best Musical to one of the most loved. Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'The King and I' is currently running at the Lincoln Center Theatre in a glorious new production directed by Bartlett Sher. The revival, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival, was universally praised by critics, with the two central women, Kelli O'Hara and Ruthie Ann Miles deservedly taking home the trophies in their respective categories.
The show presented a medley, incorporating the nominated performers as well as the children's ensemble, giving an impressive rendition of 'Getting To Know You' followed by 'Something Wonderful', and ending with the most powerful moment from the show, 'Shall We Dance?' Even out of context, the magnetism between Mrs Anna and The King is electric, leading up to the climactic key change, which may well be the most powerful key change in musical theatre history.
The Visit – Chita Rivera and Company
Broadway royalty Chita Rivera made history by performing this selection from the very last Kander and Ebb musical to open on Broadway, following almost fifteen years of development. Based on the satirical play by by Friedrich Durrenmatt,The Visit is about greed, love, and one woman's carefully plotted revenge. Directed with absolute detail and precision by John Doyle, this performance may well be ten-time Tony nominee Chita Rivera's last Tony Award performance, and what a swan song to sing.
Something Rotten – Brian D'Arcy James, Brad Oscar and Company, “A Musical”
This hilarious original musical secured the top spot, performing first in the telecast with an ideal show-stopper to set the tone of the evening. The musical, which is set in Elizabethan England, is a highly fictional account of the invention of the very first musical and sees a soothsayer presenting the idea to struggling writer Nick Bottom. Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon, Aladdin)'s individual style is ever present in this tour-de-force performance that squeezes in as many musical theatre references as humanly possible. How many did you count?!
Josh Groban – In Memoriam, “You'll Never Walk Alone”
If you can forgive the fact that Groban's PR were using this as an opportunity to plug his new album, and the fact that he starts on the completely wrong note, this was a moving tribute to the people the theatre community lost this past season. Yes – the projections were moving very quickly, and yes – the camera angle was to wide so you couldn't read the writing – but let's remember last year CBS cut this segment from the broadcast entirely. Despite the dodgy start, things pick up when the full ensemble of performers come up through the floor for a perfect vocal ensemble performance of a much loved classic.
On the Twentieth Century – Kristin Chenoweth and Company
Perhaps an example where the medley didn't quite work, but once this got going the result was a pure delight. Cy Coleman's rousing score goes from one hit to the next, with host Ms Chenoweth knocking it out of the park, with “Babette” being a particular highlight. The show itself is effervescent and glowing with charm, and this performance goes most of the way to showing how entertaining this gem of a musical really is. Even if tap dancing porters do cut your acceptance speech short...
On The Town – Tony Yazbeck and Company
Another contender for Best Revival was the classic 1944 Broadway musical 'On The Town' which features an extraordinary score by Leonard Bernstein. Beginning in the audience, dashing Tony Yazbeck gave flowers to Anna Wintour and danced with Chita Rivera, before he was joined by the full company in one of the most dazzling dance performances ever seen. The show is a pure feel good musical comedy, and hopefully this performance will give it a much needed box office boot to see it through the tourist driven summer months.
An American in Paris – Company
Although it was the favourite to take home the prize for Best Musical, this Gershwin jukebox musical still managed to wow audiences and prove how far the bar has been raised for dance on Broadway. Combining classical ballet, jazz and musical theatre, this stunning show features a host of Gershwin hits and is based on the ever popular film of the same name. Expertly choreographed by British talent Christopher Wheeldon, we can hope to see this show in the West End very soon.
It Shoulda Been You – Lisa Howard and Tyne Daley, “Jenny's Blues”.
This modest new musical has been a slow burner on Broadway and continues to appeal to audiences thanks to the comedic story and exceptional cast which combines Harriet Harris, Tyne Daley and Sierra Boggess. Another example of a smaller number triumphing, hoofer Lisa Howard knocked it out of the park with this fun brassy number, which made you remember that this season has been dominated by more legit voices. This number certainly had me sold, and I'm now looking forward to seeing it more than ever!
Kelli O'Hara's quick change
Sometimes the best performances happen OFF stage, and this clip goes to show a tiny portion of the work that goes into putting any show on. Watch with your breath held as it takes four highly skilled dressers to change Kelly O'Hara from one dress into another with split second efficiency and precision, just in time for her to re-enter in the iconic ball gown for 'Shall We Dance'. One of the most heart-stopping performances of the night!
With all this success on Broadway – we can only hope that a selection of these shows will eventually make their way to London in the coming years.