DIVA TALK: The 10 Best Moments of the 68th Annual Tony Awards
By Andrew Gans
June 13, 2014
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Hello, diva lovers! Well, the 2013-14 Broadway season is officially over, and the 2014 Tony Awards were bestowed upon creators and performers from 13 different productions June 8 at Radio City Music Hall. What follows are my thoughts about The 68th Annual Tony Awards, which were broadcast live on CBS.
Most Exciting Performance
The most exciting performance of the Tony Awards came early on when a lively Fantasia, in terrific voice, was joined by veteran singers Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, also both in fine form. In fact, I could have listened to an entire evening of this trio and wish they could have had the additional few minutes that it took the always-affable Hugh Jackman to hop to the stage. If only Jackman had made his initial entrance dancing with the cast of After Midnight, it would have been a thrilling way to first appear and one of the great Tony openings.
Best Acceptance Speech
My favorite acceptance speech of the night was delivered by Lena Hall ("Oh my God! Oh my God!"), who won for her gender-bending performance (and terrific vocals) as Yitzhak opposite fellow 2014 Tony winner Neil Patrick Harris in the Tony-winning revival of Hedwig And the Angry Inch. Hall's stunned reaction, which gave way to sheer joy, was everything that makes awards-watching enjoyable for the audience, and her speech was funny, a bit scattered, but gracious and ultimately moving. Congratulations, Ms. Hall.
I'd give the award for Best Introduction of the evening to Spring Awakening's Jonathan Groff, who was most recently seen in the wholly moving HBO film of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. When it was announced that Idina Menzel would perform on the Tony telecast, I wondered whether there would be any reference to the frenzy that surrounded John Travolta's "Adele Dazeem" introduction of Menzel on the Academy Awards telecast. Groff good-naturedly poked fun of that incident by borrowing a line from Travolta's intro, stating with a sly grin, "[Please welcome…] the Wickedly talented, one and only" Idina Menzel (pronounced correctly).
The best belting of the 68th Annual Tony Awards is a tough call, so I'll give the title to three dazzlers: the aforementioned Idina Menzel, two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, who poured out their voices in selections from, respectively, the new musical If/Then, the Broadway debut of Violet and the forthcoming Finding Neverland. Those women sure can sing!
Best Acceptance Speech Choreography
James Monroe Iglehart delivered the one true show-stopping performance of the season: The night I attended Disney's Aladdin, the production actually stopped momentarily for a standing ovation mid-show following Iglehart's joyfully contagious delivery of "Friend Like Me." So, it was no surprise that the singing actor took home the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. What was a surprise, however, was the conclusion of his acceptance speech, when Iglehart said, "I know that this is supposed to be the most dignified awards show of the season, but I have to do this" before launching into a "praise shout," which featured a few deep yells and some fancy, fast footwork. I particularly enjoyed Disney producer Thomas Schumacher and Tony-winning composer Alan Menken's delighted response to their star's joyful dance.
Best Parental Thank You
Darko Tresnjak, who won the Tony for Best Director of a Musical for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, began his moving speech by thanking his artistic home, his husband, his co-creators and cast and then explained, "I should thank so many people but most of all my mom, who literally taught me how to jump out of airplanes. She fought during the Second World War. She was a skydiver in 1940s. She's 87 years old, and she's too frail to be here tonight, so I'm going to thank her." Then, the first-time Broadway director said, "Mama…" before switching to his native Serbian language. Cue the tissues.
Best Non-Singing Performance
How clever to have Jefferson Mays introduce the production number from the Tony-winning A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. It gave audiences a chance to see some of the magic — and three of the many characters — that Mays displays eight times a week at the Walter Kerr Theatre. I particularly enjoyed how the dressers managed to change his outfits so quickly and how Mays expertly morphed from one character to the next.
Best Surprise Performance
One of my other favorite performances of the evening was delivered by 2014 Tony winner Jessie Mueller and the cast of Beautiful. Singer-songwriter Carole King, upon whose life the musical is based, expertly set up the scene that was to follow and then joined the cast for a rousing rendition of one of her biggest hits, "I Feel the Earth Move." How exciting to watch King and King (Mueller) share the Tony spotlight.
Best Hugh Jackman Moment
Hugh Jackman, who oozes talent and charm, had a bit of fun singing to the nominees in the Best Leading Actress in a Play category, but it was his dancing with the actresses nominated for their leading roles in musicals that I found particularly enjoyable. It was great fun to see how all five gifted artists — Mary Bridget Davies, Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel, Jessie Mueller and Kelli O'Hara — reacted to dancing (or some form thereof) with host Jackman. Even if they were acting, it was still worth seeing these Broadway favorites become a touch starstruck.
Most Historical Moment
Congratulations to the super talent that is Audra McDonald for making history in not one, but two ways June 8: becoming the first actor to win six competitive Tony Awards and the only actor to win prizes in all four acting categories. If you've yet to check out McDonald's uncanny embodiment of the late Billie Holiday, be sure to get thee to Circle in the Square.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.