The Tony Awards voters love Hollywood, and 2014 was no exception. "Breaking Bad" star and Broadway rookie Bryan Cranston and popular Tony host Neil Patrick Harris took home their first Tonys, for playing a flamboyant president (Lyndon Baines Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way,” which won Best Play) and crossdresser (in Best Music Revival "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") respectively. Audience member Samuel B. Jackson, for one, will never forget Harris's Tony performance of “Sugar Daddy.”
While Harris sat this one out as host, "X-Men" star Hugh Jackman did the singing and dancing (and, strangely, hopping?) honors this year. Sporting a scruffy beard and a seemingly bottomless pit of energy, Jackman succeeded in propelling the award show forward, even when it seemed to get a little tired in the last hour.
Audra McDonald broke a Tony record for most awards, winning her sixth as Billie Holliday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill." Songstress Carole King was on hand to cheer as Jessie Mueller took home Best Actress in a musical (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”), performing “I Feel the Earth Move" for the house.
As expected, Best Musical went to “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which had scored the most nominations with ten. Featured actress Lena Hall took home a surprise win for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” And “A Raisin in the Sun” was named the best revival of a play. Interestingly, although Jason Robert Brown won Best Score for his adaptation of "Bridges of Madison County," no songs from the show were featured during the telecast and, in fact, neither was Brown's acceptance speech. (That seemed to happen with many of the awards, in fact.)
Broadway draw Idina Menzel ("Frozen") ripped into a dramatic number from “If/Then” which did not take home any prizes.
The two biggest show-stopper moments of the night both came from musicals that were adapted from film. There was "Rocky," whose Tony number included very little singing but came complete with a rotating boxing ring, an on-stage, cheering crowd and, oddly, a jumbotron displaying the action that looked very modern-day ESPN. And of course there was "Aladdin," which presented the genie's signature song "Friend Like Me"--for which actor James Monroe Iglehart later in the night won the featured musical actor award--and showed just how challenging adapting an animated film into a Broadway show can be.
Tonys night--with its coast-to-coast broadcast--is always seen by Broadway producers as a chance to entice viewers into pricey theater tickets, and this year showcased plenty of celebrity talent, many of whom had nothing to do with the theater world. Perhaps the lowest moment came when Jackman invited on rappers LL Cool J and T.I. for a modern-day take on the opening number of Meredith Wilson's iconic "The Music Man." It was cringe-worthy, and while the crowd at Radio City were exhorted to stand up and (of course) make some noise, they mostly ended up looking around uncomfortably at each other.
In another tip of the hat to the film world, this year's Tonys included a few trailers, if you will, for next season's shows. Sting was in attendance to sing the inscrutable title song from his upcoming show "The Last Ship"--not to be confused with the TV series of the same name--and Jennifer Hudson was featured in an odd promo for the Harvey Weinstein-produced "Finding Neverland." (Broadway stalwarts were miffed at the choice, because Hudson has no connection to the project, but Weinstein, who's trying to push his way onto the Broadway stage, likely thought the big-name star would drum up excitement for his new musical.)
All in all, while the show lagged at times, this year's Tonys were a celebration of a strong season for Broadway, with box office receipts and attendance numbers up from last season. No, there weren't many standout moments--aside from Harris's "Sugar Daddy" and Tony-winner Jessie Mueller's moving performance of "I Feel the Earth Move" with Carole King, who she plays onstage in this year's "Beautiful." But it was a good reminder of the power of live theater, and an exhortation to keep filling those seats--in New York, in Chicago, in LA, and across the country--to keep the art form alive.
A full list of awards and highlight clips are below.