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Tony Awards 2014: ceremony surprises more than results

Jefferson Mays and the cast of A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder. Photo: Joan Marcus
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Yesterday morning I went to the dress rehearsal for the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, and it was full of surprises. Then I flew home overnight to London as the awards were unfolding, without knowing the results. But there were few surprises when I landed back in London and discovered what had actually won.

All four of the major acting awards went to the expected front-runner candidates:  Neil Patrick Harris and Jessie Mueller for best leading performances in a musical (for Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical respectively), and Bryan Cranston and Audra McDonald for best leading performances in a play (for All the Way and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill respectively). McDonald’s win puts her in a record-breaking category of her own, with six Tony’s to her name now including one in every female acting category for both plays and musicals.

Harder to call in advance were the wins for Best Play for Robert Shenkkan’s All the Way and for Best Musical for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the latter boasting the sole entirely original score of all the four nominated candidates which also included the jazz dance revue After Midnight, the Carole King bio-musical Beautiful and Disney’s film-to-stage version of Aladdin.

But in one of those paradoxes which invariably abound in the Tonys, the deserved winner for best original score was Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County, which had failed to pick up a best musical nomination but also ended up winning its composer a second Tony for his orchestrations of his own score, too.

Bridges of Madison County was denied a performance slot in the Awards ceremony because it had already shut, while If/Then and Bullets over Broadway, neither of which secured any wins, both got showcased. Ditto, among the revivals, we saw extracts from Les Miserables, Cabaret and Violet, all of whom also went home empty-handed.

Overall, 27 shows went into the race this year with nominations; only 13 went home with any prizes. But the biggest prize isn’t necessarily the award itself: it’s what the broadcast might do for business. Though Rocky may have only secured a single win for its scenic design in terms of being showcased – with a burst of the famous Rocky film theme and otherwise a bit of the key fight to orchestral accompaniment only – it probably scored the best visual display of the night to translate into possible ticket sales.

Another odd anomaly at this year’s awards was the inclusion of numbers from a couple of shows yet to even arrive on Broadway: Sting’s The Last Ship begins previews in Chicago tomorrow ahead of a Broadway premiere in October, and an entirely revamped version of Finding Neverland (premiered in Leicester last year but now with an entirely new creative team on board, including director, composer and book writer) is set to open in Cambridge, Massachusetts next month. Sting sang a song from his own show, while the Finding Neverland extract had Jennifer Hudson (who won’t be in the show itself) performing on one of its power ballads. The denial of a performance slot to the Tony winning original Broadway score of The Bridges of Madison County seems even more egregious in the circumstances.

But it is also striking that, unlike the years when one show swept all before it – like The Producers taking home a record 12 wins in 2001, or The Book of Mormon nine wins in 2011 – the Tony’s spread their riches this year, with Gentleman’s Guide and Hedwig winning four awards each and the revival of A Raisin in the Sun three, with five shows taking two each and four shows taking one each.

British shows and performers didn’t score particularly well this year, though the Globe’s Twelfth Night took wins for both Mark Rylance (for his featured performance in Twelfth Night, and Jenny Tiramani’s costumes), and Sophie Okonedo deservedly won for her Featured Performance in A Raisin in the Sun. Warren Carlyle, the British choreographer of After Midnight, also took home the Tony for choreography.

But if the results were not particularly exciting, parts of the ceremony at least were. While the days of the Tony Awards being broadcast on UK terrestrial television are long gone – we are lucky to have finally got the Oliviers back there – you can at least catch up with it on YouTube.

Amongst the particular treats were to see Carole King singing with her stage impersonator Jessie Mueller, while Hugh Jackman – returning to host the Tony’s for the first time in nine years – was effortlessly charming, kangaroo jumping to make his stage entrance. He’s jumping even higher next on Broadway as he returns in October to star in the American premiere of Jez Butterworth’s The River at the Circle in the Square. No doubt he’ll be returning as a nominee next year.

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