On Sunday night, almost nobody at Radio City Music Hall bothered to stand up for the late Stephen Sondheim.
After a far too modest tribute to the legendary composer/lyricist of “West Side Story” “Gypsy,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Into The Woods,” “A Little Night Music” and many others, who died in November at age 91, sung by Bernadette Peters, only a handful of show people begrudgingly got to their feet.
For one of the greatest musical theater composers of all time. Who gave his entire life to Broadway. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
At the Tonys, his death was a total afterthought — a quick song from Peters and a couple of videos — even though producers had months to plan a star-studded number honoring him. The debacle was befuddling.
As was most of the low-energy, poorly put-on 75th Annual Tony Awards on CBS.
Ariana DeBose, who won the Oscar this year for playing Anita in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” hosted the evening. It was a nice idea. The dwindling Tonys viewership isn’t going to get any bigger, so why not go with a fan favorite?
But being a master of ceremonies didn’t come naturally to DeBose, and her songs and banter were forced and unfunny. Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman and even James Corden were all leagues better in the gig.
The winners, in a season sorely lacking popular hits, were mostly predictable. Best Musical went to the outre “A Strange Loop,” Best Play to terrific, but already-closed “The Lehman Trilogy,” Best Musical Revival to “Company” and Best Play Revival to “Take Me Out.” But there were some tight races that ended in shocks.
Deirdre O’Connell’s win for Best Actress in a Play (“Dana H.”) was a lovely surprise — and her speech encouraging “weird art” was the best of the night — as was Simon Russell Beale’s first, richly deserved Best Actor in a Play victory.
Myles Frost, who plays Michael Jackson, won Best Actor in a Musical in a surely very close contest against Jaquel Spivey of “A Strange Loop.” And Joaquina Kalukango (“Paradise Square“) beat heavy-hitters Sharon D Clark (“Caroline, or Change”) and Sutton Foster (“The Music Man”) for Best Actress.
But aside from the all-important Best Musical prize, it’s the telecast’s performances that have audience members rushing to Telecharge to buy tickets to new shows… or choosing to see “The Phantom of the Opera” for the 43rd time instead.
What came off the best was “MJ the Musical,” about the Prince of Pop, and “Paradise Square,” the worst show of the lot, because the wonderful Kalukango sang the musical’s one good song — “Let It Burn.” (Her song got a standing-o, proving the audience’s legs weren’t numb.)
The “Spring Awakening” cast’s reunion performance of “Touch Me” was gorgeous, too. But that closed 13 years ago. And the sextet of pop-singing queens from “Six” brought a jolt of energy. Needlessly. Their sales are already huge, top Tony or not (they won Score and Costumes).
“A Strange Loop”‘s number (one of its few appropriate tunes) was adequate, although the winning show remains hard to explain in an elevator pitch, and Hugh Jackman was too low-key as Harold Hill in “The Music Man” — one of the night’s biggest losers.
Still, it’s the Sondheim snub that stung the most. Why, for one of Broadway’s best, did CBS send in the clowns?