Movie stars will glisten and music will rock at Sunday night's Tony Award telecast (8-11 p.m. on CBS). Sean Hayes, the evening's host and best-actor nominee for his endearing turn in the dreary revival of "Promises, Promises," will spread his appeal around both TV audiences and wistful fans of old-time Broadway.
Producers can be expected to crow about having broken the billion-dollar barrier with $1.02 billion in grosses this year. Someone is likely to mention the commercial theater's latest economic-impact statistics, that the industry contributed $9.8 billion to the city's economy.
Tony night is, after all, the annual national ad campaign to brand the importance of Broadway on potential customers, investors, even politicians.
In other words, we won't hear anyone express disappointment at the relatively weak lineup of new plays and musicals. Nobody is going to explain that the grosses are tweaked - adjusted upward for the first time (and retabulated for last season) to include credit-card fees and group-sales commissions.
What we also won't hear is a discouraging word about the evening's two biggest selling points - those fabulous movie stars and four nominated rock musicals. In fact, producers are depressed about the future of serious plays without high-priced talent in strictly limited runs. And while we're congratulating the American musical for finally opening up to cutting-edge youth music, this should not be allowed to squeeze out mainstream Broadway originality.
I'm sick that "Million Dollar Quartet," a glorified nightclub act, including an Elvis impersonator and '50s rock hits, has a best-musical nomination, while such brilliant and form-pushing, if imperfect, inventions as "Sondheim on Sondheim" and Twyla Tharp's "Come Fly Away" are shut out. And don't get me started on the sudden death of David Cromer's ravishing revival of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," which, cast without stars, closed before it could even be seen by Tony nominators and voters.
Sunday night's contests seem less interesting than the season felt. Although the year had four fewer productions and less astonishing work than last year's 43 shows, it has been a busy, healthy year. There have been amazing performances, especially in magnificent revivals of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" (with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson) and August Wilson's "Fences" (Denzel Washington and Viola Davis).
Before the season gets flattened into a few winners and more losers, I offer 10 favorite moments from an uneven but unpredictable and often vital year.
1. Although I had seen "A View From the Bridge" many times, nothing prepared me for the shattering grandeur of Schreiber as Eddie, the Brooklyn longshoreman who loves his wife's 17-year-old niece (the wonderfully comfortable Johansson) too much. When Schreiber picked up the pay phone to rat out the illegal immigrant who loves her, I shocked myself by silently screaming, "Don't make the call, Eddie! Please, don't do it!"
2. There are many harrowing moments between Washington and Davis in "Fences," Wilson's emotionally glorious, structurally messy drama about a black man's crushed dreams in 1957 Pittsburgh. But the one that says the most to me about what this marriage would lose is just a tiny, loving, playful gesture. As Davis is sitting with her knees separated in unselfconscious earthiness, Washington, without a word, goes over, grins adorably and pulls them together.
3. Just as "Red," John Logan's drama about Mark Rothko, seemed to be a standard-issue biography about another tormented artist, the marvelous Alfred Molina (Rothko) and Eddie Redmayne (his apprentice) start priming an enormous blank canvas in a frenzied bacchanalia of red paint. By the time Rothko declares his massive work is "here to stop your heart," the painting throbs as if they actually might.
4. In "La Cage aux Folles," the transvestite chorus of Cagelles has always been played to wow us by its ability to look female. But in Terry Johnson's delightfully tacky revival, starring Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer, these dancers get dangerous as big-muscle thug-femmes who relish the blatant incongruities between their ballet moves and pumped-up trucker glam.
5. Things are phony, dated and emotionally stunted in the revival of "Promises, Promises" until the second act, when the irresistible Katie Finneran suddenly changes the temperature for a few precious scenes as a sloppy drunk and ladylike raunchball who connects with Hayes, whereas the miscast Kristin Chenoweth, supposedly his dream girl, never does.
6. Chad Kimball - with his porkpie hat, bitter-lemon voice and motor-mouth patter - bursts into an all-black club as Huey Calhoun, an irrepressible poor-white DJ hipster in "Memphis," winning us over as he wins the trust of the wary musicians. "Memphis" is a passionate, exuberantly believable musical about '50s black musicians fearing whites would steal their music and make it acceptable to the mainstream. (Not incidentally, "Million Dollar Quartet" is about how whites in Memphis in the '50s did steal black music and created early rock and roll history.)
7. Angela Lansbury, in a white wig as tall as Marge Simpson, plays the delicious Madame Armfeldt, aged courtesan of royalty, in an elegant wheelchair in Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," articulating the devastating lyrics of "Liaisons" with the dazzling precision we've cherished all the way back to her creation of Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd." This is theater legend.
8. Actors are supposed to be temperamental, but a truly grand onstage tantrum is hard to find. I cherish the one Jan Maxwell let loose in the sumptuous revival of "The Royal Family," with the exquisitely dry Rosemary Harris, matriarch of the acting family, looking on approvingly.
9. A wounded soldier conflates a woman in a burqa with "I Dream of Jeannie" in a strange, gorgeous fever dream of an aerial ballet in "American Idiot," the slick and smart Broadway adaptation of Green Day's punk-pop opera. The show is not as groundbreaking as "Spring Awakening," but director Michael Mayer has brilliantly envisioned this high-concept multimedia concert/collage of adolescent suburban angst and entertainment. Not to have nominated Mayer and some of his cast is a theater crime.
10. The unjustly shuttered revival of "The Miracle Worker," starring the daring Abigail Breslin and Alison Pill, was thoroughly respectable if not a revelation. What was, however, was the sight of rapt preteen audiences sniffling at serious theater in which, bless them, no screaming green witches flew. A shame this won't be here for families this summer.
Who should win and who will win at the Tonys?
Should win: "Red"
Will win: "Red"
Should win: "Memphis"
Will win: "Memphis"
Should win: "A View From the Bridge"
Will win: "Fences"
Should win: Liev Schreiber, "A View From the Bridge"
Will win: Denzel Washington, "Fences"
Should win: Viola Davis, "Fences"
Will win: Davis
Should win: Douglas Hodge, "La Cage aux Folles"
Will win: Catherine Zeta-Jones, "A Little Night Music"
Should win: Gregory Mosher, "A View From the Bridge"
Will win: Kenny Leon, "Fences"
Should win: Terry Johnson, "La Cage aux Folles"
Will win: Johnson (because Michael Mayer wasn't nominated for "American Idiot")
Should win: Twyla Tharp, "Come Fly Away"
Will win: Bill T. Jones, "Fela!"
Should win: "Memphis"
Will win: "Memphis"
FEATURED ACTOR, PLAY
Should win: Stephen McKinley Henderson, "Fences"
Will win: Eddie Redmayne, "Red"
FEATURED ACTRESS, PLAY
Should win: Scarlett Johansson, "A View From the Bridge"
Will win: Jan Maxwell, "Lend Me a Tenor"
FEATURED ACTOR, MUSICAL
Will win: Levi Kreis, "Million Dollar Quartet"
FEATURED ACTRESS, MUSICAL
Should win: Angela Lansbury, "A Little Night Music"
Will win: Katie Finneran, "Promises, Promises"
WHAT 64th Annual Tony Awards
WHEN|WHERE Sunday from 8 to 11 p.m. on CBS, also simulcast on the Clear Channel screen at the Times Square plaza, 42nd-47th streets, beginning at 6 p.m. with red-carpet frolics, followed by NY1's welcome coverage of the so-called creative awards - 15 important categories without enough famous faces for prime time. (Available on Long Island via NY1.com.)
INFO Sean Hayes hosts at Radio City Music Hall. The show includes bits of Tony-nominated musicals, plays and revivals, along with performances by Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison (yes, they had Broadway lives even in the prehistoric days before "Glee") and Green Day. Presenters - and occasionally also receivers - include Liev Schreiber, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Kelsey Grammer, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Helen Mirren, Tony Shalhoub, David Hyde Pierce, Chris Noth and Justin Bartha.