Kevin Spacey can sing, dance, and crack jokes too. The “House of Cards” star kicked off the 71st annual Tony Awards with an extended and highly energetic musical parody that left him joking he needed to visit the cardiologist.
The broadcast also started off with a surprise as Michael Aronov won a best featured actor in a play award for his work in “Oslo” over the heavily favored Danny DeVito (“The Price”). Aronov plays an Israeli Foreign Ministry enlisted to help with negotiations with Palestinian representatives that led to the Oslo Peace Accords.
Gavin Creel took home his first Tony Award after two previous nominations, picking up best featured actor in a musical for “Hello, Dolly!” Creel plays Cornelius Hackl, a clerk visiting the big city.
The Tonys Awards are always a niche affair, honoring the newer Broadway shows that haven’t yet had the chance to cultivate a national profile like longrunners such as “The Phantom of the Opera” or “Wicked.” This season, with no “Hamilton” to give the proceedings a jolt of pop-culture currency, the telecast’s opening number embraced its inner theater geek with a comic medley of songs drawn from the four new musical nominees, a sequence that recalled the best-picture montages with which Oscar hosts like Billy Crystal have opened that show.
To tunes from musicals including “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Groundhog Day,” Spacey made an ongoing joke of his last-resort emcee status in a lineup of well-liked Tony hosts that has included Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris and (last year) James Corden. Making a determined effort to show off the actor’s stage chops, the segment had him singing rewritten excerpts from each of the four nominated musicals and, by the end of it, tapdancing in top hat and tails. He used the number to crack jokes about mean tweets and the Tonys’ historically low ratings. There were also cameo appearance from Stephen Colbert, whose late night show airs on CBS, the network broadcasting the awards show, as well as hosting recidivists Whoopi Goldberg and Crystal.
Early on in the night, Spacey joked that Broadway’s busy, eclectic 2016-17 season addressed themes like divorce, infidelity, suicide, greed, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We are in for such a fun night tonight,” he said.
“Hello Dolly!,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” are among the plays and musicals that are hoping to be crowned winners at the 71st Tony Awards on Sunday. Unlike last year when “Hamilton” dominated the annual celebration of Broadway’s best, this year’s edition kicks off without a clear front-runner.
“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” leads the pack with 12 Tony nominations, but it is not expected to take home the top prize. Instead, “Dear Evan Hansen,” a look at the aftermath of a high school suicide, and “Come From Away,” the story of a small town in Newfoundland that welcomed travelers stranded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, are seen as the most likely best musical winners. “Dear Evan Hansen” has nine nominations and “Come From Away” nabbed seven.
“Hello, Dolly!,” which brings Bette Midler back to the Great White Way, has ten nominations and is expected to pick up the musical revival honor. It won’t need help at the box office. The show is one of the hottest tickets on Broadway. Midler is also expected to end the evening with a Tony statue.
The best new play race includes Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” which has a Pulitzer Prize on its mantle, along with J.T. Rogers’ “Oslo,” Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” and Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” Best play revival nominees include “The Little Foxes,” “Jitney,” “Six Degrees of Separation,” and “Present Laughter.”
There are a number of notable actors who will be adding some star power to Sunday’s show. Cate Blanchett, Kevin Kline, Josh Groban, Laura Linney, and Sally Field are among the big names up for Tonys.
The night’s initial performance from a nominated musical — and pride of place in the earliest moments of the show — went to an ensemble number from “Come From Away” that made no secret of the story’s links to the terror attacks of 9/11. As a de-facto national TV ad for the production and its upcoming road tour, it also effectively answered the question of how the show could address the topic sensitively in the context of a feel-good musical.
Next up came a high-drama medley from “Miss Saigon,” a love story set in the Vietnam War, that spotlighted the work of lead actress nominee Eva Noblezada.