NEW YORK – The Tony Awards don’t usually match the drama of the Oscars, but the 2014 edition at New York’s Radio City Music Hall did deliver surprises and buzzworthy moments Sunday.
Bouncing Hugh Jackman
If you are baffled by Hugh Jackman’s prolonged bouncing during the Tony Awards opening sequence, you might want to watch online video of musical actor Bobby Van performing “Take Me to Broadway” in the 1953 movie “Small Town Girl.” You’ll then understand what inspired Jackman to hop, skip and jump from the red carpet, through the backstage and then onstage where he sang “I Love the Tonys.”
‘Music Man’ rap
Jackman must have spent a lot of time researching 1950s musicals while preparing to host the 2014 Tonys. He revived the opening number from “The Music Man,” but turned it into a rap song. Hip hop artists LL Cool J and T.I. joined Jackman for an unconventional performance of “Rock Island.”
“Hands in the air, everybody on your feet,” LL Cool J shouted as a drum beat produced by Questlove played.
“First Hip Hop performance on #thetonyawards w/@troubleman31 @thehughjackman,” LL Cool J tweeted.
Judging from Twitter reactions, many viewers loved it, some didn’t, while others were just left puzzled.
‘Denzel, Denzel, Denzel’
A hint of sour grapes emerged from “A Raisin in the Sun” director Kenny Leon even though his show carried home three Tonys Sunday night. Leon, who won for best direction of a play and best revival of a play, acknowledged backstage that he believed his lead actor, Denzel Washington, should have gotten a best actor nomination.
“Yes, Denzel was snubbed,” Leon told reporters.
Washington, who owns two Academy Awards for film work, is the “anchor” of the Broadway production, Leon said in his acceptance speech. “Denzel, Denzel, Denzel. He’s truly a theatre inspiration.”
Leon did find some solace when Sophie Okonedo, who he called his show’s “glue,” was given the Tony for best actress in a featured role in a play.
“A Raisin in the Sun,” which first ran on Broadway in 1960, was the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman — Lorraine Hansberry.
‘All the Way’ with LBJ
If Denzel Washington had been nominated, he would have faced Bryan Cranston. The “Breaking Bad” actor’s ability to bring complex characters to life earned him a best actor Tony for his stage portrayal of former President Lyndon Johnson in “All the Way.” The Tony might find a place of honor next to the three Emmys Cranston won for his TV role of teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White.
Cranston wouldn’t say backstage if he would reprise his LBJ role in author Robert Schenkkan’s follow up play “The Great Society.”
“Thank you for electing LBJ once again,” producer Jeffrey Richards said as he accepted the best play Tony for “All the Way.”
Tony history made
Audra McDonald made Broadway history when she won the Tony for best lead actress in a play for her portrayal of blues legend Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” McDonald’s sixth Tony made her the first person to win in four different acting categories.
“I want to thank my mom and my dad up in heaven for disobeying the doctor’s orders and not medicating their hyperactive girl and finding out what she was into instead and pushing her into the theatre,” McDonald said in her acceptance speech.
She also paid tribute to women who paved the way for her success. “I’m standing on Lena Horne, I’m standing on Maya Angelou, Diane Carroll, Ruby Dean, and most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you Billie.”
“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” — billed as “an evening filled with personal tales of difficult choices, bad breaks, worse men and some of the most glorious songs ever written” — also won the Tony for best sound design of a play.
‘This is crazy pants!’
What’s a Tony Awards show without lots of Neal Patrick Harris? The actor who hosted the broadcast the previous four years got plenty of screen time Sunday night, including 90 seconds to accept the Tony for best actor in a leading role in a musical.
“A year ago I was hosting the Tonys,” Harris said. “This is crazy pants!”
Harris was honored for his title role in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a musical about a rock band led by a German transgender singer.
Harris, who is known for his big musical numbers as a Tony host, did not disappoint when he performed a song from the show with the “Tits of Clay” band.
“Hedwig” also won for best revival of a musical and Lena Hall got a Tony for best featured actress in a musical.
Hall’s acceptance speech included a “thank you” to “my soon-to-be born niece. I don’t know her name is yet but she’ll be born in October.”
Two Carole Kings
Jessie Mueller not only won a Tony for best lead actress in a musical, but she got to sing with the woman she portrays in “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.”
“Carole King, I never thought that I would get to sing with you once in my life — let alone twice,” Mueller said in her acceptance. “You have taught me so much and 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. And you’re just such an amazing woman.”
King joined Mueller for part of her performance as a young Carole King.
The show also won a Tony for best sound design of a musical, which went to Brian Ronan.
Thanks to mom for skydiving lessons
The Tony for best musical went to “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which also earned a best director Tony for Darko Tresnjak.
“I should thank so many people, but most of all, my mom literally taught me to jump out of airplanes,” the director said in his acceptance speech. “She fought during the Second World War and she was a skydiver in 1940’s.” He then spoke for several seconds in his native Serbian language to his 87-year-old mother.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which is based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal,” also won Tonys for best costume design of a musical and best book of a musical.
Praise shouting genie
James Monroe Iglehart might have earned the distinction of best acceptance speech dance. Iglehart, who sings and dances as the genie in “Aladdin,” erupted in joy after he was handed the Tony for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical.
“I know this is supposed to be the most, you know, dignified awards show of the season, but I have to do this,” he said. “This is a praise shout.” He then shouted “hey” and danced.
Iglehart told reporters backstage that he and his wife would celebrate his Tony with dinner at McDonalds, saying it keeps them grounded.