Tony Awards 2013: NPH Stages Another Complete Triumph

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Photos: Getty

Neil Patrick Harris‘ fourth time hosting the Tonys was a triumph — even if Cicely Tyson nearly killed us.

The Tony Awards telecast is the So You Think You Can Dance of award shows: It’s perpetually underrated. It’s an exuberant summer distraction. It’s hosted by an endearing emcee and populated by monumentally talented people; it’s far less cynical than its higher-rated counterparts (The Oscars = American Idol, natch); and frankly, you might actually learn something watching it. You glean so much from the Tony Awards that you actually feel caught up on Broadway by the end of the show, and that’s shocking and edifying. Then again, any award show featuring the talents of Cicely Tyson, Tracy Letts, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Cyndi Lauper, Neil Patrick Harris (and an appearance by Jake Gyllenhaal for the hell of it!) is probably awesome even without the didactic element.

2013 was a choice year to watch the Tonys, and not just because we were treated to a colorful melange of winners in Kinky Boots, Pippin, Matilda, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and The Trip to Bountiful (MISS YOU, GERALDINE PAGE). As expected, host NPH strode through his fourth time as host with what can only be described as total control. He powered through every dance number, every punchline, and every ad-lib like a slick sorcerer, entrancing the Radio City Music Hall congregation and winning over you and your conservative grandmother with another hilarious, extemporaneous rap at the end of the show. If only Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hadn’t destroyed and reinvented the art of emceeing with their magnificent Golden Globes gig earlier this year, I’d say with Khrushchev-like conviction that NPH gifted us with the best ceremony of the past five years. He came close, and that’s an otherworldly feat in itself. Remember: It’s easy to call Neil Patrick Harris the Gay Justin Timberlake, but it’s right to call Justin Timberlake the Tacky Neil Patrick Harris.

Here were some of the finer points of Sunday’s big night:

 

Neil Patrick Harris opens the show by spilling talent on plebeians; they all live for the first time, then perish.

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I don’t know what to say about this thundering achievement, but let it be known that NPH actually jumped through a hoop for your entertainment. Mike Tyson is unfortunately a part of the act, but he would be replaced by a fiercer Tyson (Cicely) by night’s end. Phew. The jabs at Les Miserables and Shia LaBeouf struck me as unnecessary.

Tracy Letts gives a speech that’s almost as staccato and powerful as Virginia Woolf itself.

You know what’s pretty exceptional? Winning both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony for Best Actor in a Play. In my wildest award-hauling fantasies, the idea has never occurred to me. But Tracy Letts, the playwright of August: Osage County and star of the paralyzing reboot of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (seriously, I saw it during its Steppenwolf run in Chicago — Letts is somehow scarier than Richard Burton), can claim both feats. His speech is bursting with dignity, if such a thing is possible. Note: He’s engaged to Carrie Coon, who costars in Virginia Woolf as Honey. Sandy Dennis dances like the wind at the news of this relationship.

Judith Light cannot stop winning Tonys.

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Judith Light is an out-of-control Tony-eating awardsborg. She picked up her second Tony for Richard Greenberg‘s The Assembled Parties, and because I’m the president of Respecting And Rewarding Sitcom Mothers Of The ’80s, this feels like a triumph of the human spirit. Go, Judith. She beat out the gorgeous Condola Rashad, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more of Phylicia’s kid in the future nonetheless. (If you’re ever in the mood for a weird gay play character you haven’t heard everything about, read Greenberg’s The American Plan. Confused dude played by hotyoungsexy Tate Donovan in the original 1990 production.)

Cyndi Lauper’s Best Score win is so unusual.

Well, it happened. Captain Lou Albano’s main dame is a Tony winner now. Cyndi picked up a trophy for Kinky Boots’ score, and it’s a historic moment for a few reasons. 1) She’s the first woman ever to win the Best Score Tony. Uh, wow. 2) She now has a Tony, a Grammy, and an Emmy, which means she’s an Oscar short of an EGOT just like Cynthia Nixon. 3) She is Cyndi Lauper, and she’s winning major awards in 2013. Hell yes, guys. Her speech was as kooky and vulnerable as you expected, and she followed it up with a kooky, vulnerable performance of “True Colors” during the In Memoriam reel. You can’t help but root for her off-kilter, yet self-possessed attitude, even if you agree with me and think “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is potentially the most annoying ’80s radio classic of them all. (I also hate “Another One Bites the Dust,” so we can debate this.)

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