It’s always a bittersweet experience watching the Tony Awards when you live in Los Angeles. Sweet, because hey, you’re watching the Tonys, arguably the most important showbiz night of the year (although obviously a case can be made for the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race on any given season), and the only televised award show where you can get a reaction shot from Broadway legend Chita Rivera, who performed a number from The Visit. And bitter, because you’re in L.A., where nobody cares about the Tonys.
Here in Southern California, nobody, unless you’re very lucky, is going to gossip with you about The Tony Awards around the water cooler or the cold pressed juice fridge at work. And since I’ve been stuck in L.A. for the past year and a half, I haven’t actually seen any of the new shows on Broadway anyway, except for the revival of On the Town, which I managed to see by getting a last-minute matinee ticket while in the City a couple of months ago. Which was wonderful, and should have been nominated for way more stuff.
The point is, I tuned into the Tonys on Sunday night with the trepidation one might feel about attending, say, a wedding where one knew a particularly tricky ex-boyfriend might be in attendance. In other words, I hoped for the best, but was resigned to a certain kind of wistful melancholy likely to persist for days afterward. Instead, I was delighted to find myself watching a broadcast so welcoming, so low-key, so utterly haimish that I almost felt like I was sitting right there in Radio City Music Hall, maybe in the seat that my friends and I carved our tiny initials into the bottom of during our college graduation ceremony as we watched the proceedings unfold.
It could have been very different. This was, after all, supposed to be glamour Tonys, when legendary costume designers prevailed upon the even more legendary Vogue editrix Anna Wintour to help Broadway’s leading ladies come up with something better to wear this year than whatever they could find on sale in the Midwestern wedding-guest section on the fourth floor of Saks. (At least, it used to be on the fourth floor. My apologies if it’s moved since my semi-voluntary exile from the department stores of Midtown.) But refreshingly, even the queen of haute-froideur couldn’t quite turn the unabashedly beaming and relatively normal-sized (you need a nice big pair of lungs to be heard all the way in the back row, which means a nice big ribcage to go with them) show biz troopers on the red carpet. Nor was Wintour able to convince anyone to lend them any decent jewelry. Annaleigh Ashford, who won for Best Featured Actress in a Play, was radiant in her apple-green Zac Posen, but would it have been too much for someone to let her have a freaking bracelet?
As for the star power, yes, there were the usual movie stars (e.g. Helen Mirren) and fancy British people (e.g. Helen Mirren). And yes, it would have been nice if CBS had deemed the actual writers of the shows all the fancy actors were winning awards for worthy of a couple of minutes of camera time, or had aired an acceptance speech in its entirety. But with these winners, it’s hard to complain.
The newly minted Best Musical, Fun Home, is an off-Broadway transfer whose creators–composer Jeanine Tesori, lyricist and librettist Lisa Kron, and director Sam Gold–have been working in the New York theater scene for years, if not decades. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which won the Tony for Best Play, was beloved by critics and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. And any day that Kelli O’Hara finally wins a Tony—after six nominations, she finally made it happen with her rapturously lauded portrayal of Anna in Bartlett Sher’s splashy revival of The King and I—has to be categorized as a good one for humanity.
But the real credit for the cozy–and by me, much appreciate –feel of this year’s Tony Awards has to go to the hosts, Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming. Musical theater fixtures to the core and clearly close friends with practically everyone in the room, Kristin and Alan mugged, joked, and screwed around in a way that always let the audience in on the joke. Sure, they may have muffed a line or two—it seemed like they might have made up their opening medley over some pre-game Prosecco in their dressing room twenty minutes before places—but what they lacked in preparation they more than made up for in fun. In doing so, they proved their stage credentials a thousand times beyond Neil Patrick Harris’s bland snark, or Hugh Jackman’s distinct sense that he—despite his good nature—was slumming it. It’s the first rule of the theater that if you’re not having fun, the audience isn’t either. Kristin and Alan seemed like they were having the time of their lives. And this homesick Broadway aficionado in L.A. felt like her regards were given indeed.
Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.