We feel like the Bush twins at happy hour,” crowed co-host Nathan Lane at the start of the CBS portion of the 55th Tony Awards, delighting the liberal legit types gathered in Radio City. With a year of legit highlights shoved like a reluctant, squirming pussycat into a two-hour web frame, this year’s Tony broadcast was a very efficient, classy and generally entertaining affair that avoided egregious omissions and struck a decent balance between high-toned thesps and naked buttocks from “The Full Monty.”
Still, for viewers hoping for a Mel Brooks-inspired banquet of outrageous yuks from the hosts, the Tonys just ain’t the place. There are so many constituencies to mollify, producers to keep happy, and shows needing plugs in a short time frame, that even talent with the clout of Lane and co-host Matthew Broderick eventually got shoved into the wings.
It was a tale of two hosts: Broderick seemed less than comfortable in places; the telecast would have been much funnier and more watchable with beaucoup de Lane; he deserved more of a chance to become the de facto host.
At least we got to hear a lot of Mel Brooks acceptance speeches. “Stop with the music will you,” Brooks grumbled in the initial PBS portion of the show, as they tried to cut him off, “unless it’s mine.”
By the end of the night, a triumphant Brooks was on a roll, thanking Hitler, referring to “an avalanche of Jews” (i.e., the producers of “The Producers”) and waking up the network’s bleeper.
And Lane got his licks in at the Eye web’s expense during PBS’ hour. “Welcome to the classy, dignified portion of the Tonys,” he said, “before we move over to CBS and start voting people off the island.”
The ambiance may have been as rushed as ever, but the Broadway constituency should still be delighted. A balanced blend of class and glitz, the primetime broadcast managed to include decent scenes from all of the nominations for best new play. And since someone had the smart idea of getting the playwrights to introduce the clips from their own works, the segments of shows like “Proof” and “King Hedley II” made more out-of-context sense than is usually the case.
Some attention was finally paid to picking scenes that had some mass appeal. The show also included a stirring clip from a revival — “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The musical segments were less visually spectacular than in previous years, but they all looked both dignified and entertaining: “42nd Street” nicely lent itself to an opener where the hoofers could be spotted tapping all over a glamorized Gotham.
Having “The Full Monty” on the best musical slate meant that viewers could be teased with the promise of completely naked men after the commercial break. But as the phalli were about to come into view, the CBS camera pulled back sharply.
A backstage camera segment fell flat, and there were some amusing shots of penguin-suited producers choking on the same smoke for “The Rocky Horror Show” segment that they make their actors swallow every night of the week.
Aside from that, the show clipped along without serious technical snafus. With the PBS segment feeling the need to offer Theater 101 for the entire viewing public, the first hour of the show was a bit too heavy on explanations and process. Having Heather Hedley sing with and without orchestrations was an entertaining choice. But few people taking the time to watch this broadcast really need to be told that a score means a collection of songs.
There’s no time for that on the main show. With Joan Allen following naked flesh and Robert Sean Leonard delivering the night’s classiest acceptance speech, this was a stellar commercial for Broadway theater. And that, after all, is the main point.