Maybe it was inevitable that in the year after “Hamilton’s” triumph, the Tony Awards would seem to be lacking in pizzazz.
The 71st annual Tony Awards was, as always, a well-produced affair, stocked with incredible displays of talent and passionate winners. A highlight was actress Rachel Bay Jones, a winner for “Dear Evan Hansen,” saying that she finally forgave her parents for “cursing me with a love of the theater.”
The musical numbers were lively and engaging and the flow of the show was well-paced.
The biggest shortcoming was host Kevin Spacey, who just didn’t deliver the same kind of engaging effort as his recent predecessors. The contrast was especially sharp against last year’s emcee, “Late Late Show” host James Corden, who so memorably rose to the occasion when faced with the daunting task of pulling it off less than 24 hours after the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Spacey’s big opening number was all about himself not being the first choice for the job. He also relied on his stock of celebrity impressions that just seemed out of place for the setting. There were groans in the audience at Radio City Music Hall when Spacey came out as Bill Clinton and took some dumb shots at Hillary Clinton. His Johnny Carson fell even flatter. Ahead of the best musical announcement, when he came out in his Frank Underwood persona from “House of Cards,” with his on-screen wife Robin Wright in tow, it was at least mercifully brief. “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, who presented the award, even quipped “It’s been a long night.”
“Dear Evan Hansen” was the night’s big winner. That provided a nice showcase for the musical and the meteoric success story of star Ben Platt, who capped a huge Broadway debut with a Tony win on his first at-bat. Bette Midler provided another highlight with her filibuster of an acceptance speech, gushing about the enduring charm of “Hello, Dolly!” She went so far as to tell the orchestra “shut that crap up” when they tried to play her off.
But overall, it was a ho-hum night for the best and brightest of the Great White Way. That may have been the biggest surprise of all.