Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Nobility of Acting Nobly: The 2011 Tony Awards Show.

Oh joy. A chance to spend an evening listening to actors blow smoke up each other’s butts as they discuss the Extreme Nobility of Acting.

The amusing opening number, It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore, might have been more convincing if they could have found a straight man to sing it. And I hope whoever rhymed “breeder” with “theater” is not gay. Whomever he is, he isn’t Sondheim. (Actually, the piece was written by David Javerbaum, and except for the aforementioned bum rhyme, it had a lot of genuinely clever wordplay throughout.)

How nice of Brooke Shields to illustrate exactly why movie “actors” are out of their depth in the theater with actual actors.

There was Hugh Jackman in the audience. Why wasn’t he hosting? Now he’s a straight man who could have sung the opening number and made us believe it.

The Tonys got kicked out of Radio City Music Hall? Was it something they said? Are they unable to fill it? Will The Tonys end up in a sports arena, or under a circus big top? A lot of Broadway workers just love being under a big top.

I’m sure Ellen Barkin is fine in her Tony-winning performance, but anytime Joanna Lumley is up for an award, they should just give it to her, for being Joanna Lumley, which is a great thing to be, and no one else has ever managed it but her.

I know The Normal Heart is a great and moving play. I’m certain Ellen Barkin was sincere in her acceptance speech, but ye gods! She was: “welcomed into your community,” she was “grateful and humbled to be in your company,” (Winning an award is NOT “humbling”! It is precisely the opposite!), performing in her play is “a very profound experience,” doing this play is “the proudest moment in my career,” playing this role has “transformed me, not just as an actor, but as a human being.” (It “transformed” her into a human being? What was she before?), the play “taught me something that I never believed in.” That winged monkeys fly out of your butt while you sleep? That Santa Clause isn’t real? Evolution? That Paul Revere rang bells and “tolled candles” to warn the British? The one thing she never believed in turned out to be “that one person can change the world.” I guess she’d never heard of Hitler or George Oppenheimer.

To continue, as she did: Larry Kramer “went to war,” and “picked up his most-powerful weapon, his pen” (I’m almost certain The Normal Heart was typed, but I could be wrong.), her director, George Woolfe, is a “towering visionary genius,” the production is “a Molotov cocktail that we can ignite every night.” (The play must have been substantially rewritten since the production I saw of it, years ago.) Joe Mantello, “like Atlas, carries us across the stage night after night on his slim shoulders,” (Let's hope for the cast's sake that Atlas doesn't shrug.), the rest of the cast are “the bravest ensemble of actors I’ve ever had the honor to work with.” Do they dodge bullets on their way to and from the theater each night? Is there a madman at a large, systematically killing one cast member each performance (or am I confusing someone with Julie Taymor?) Anyway, all the revolting cowards Ellen has had to put up with in the past, that is, everyone else she’s ever acted with, would like to tell her where to lodge her Tony.

But wow. She hit every Actress Nobility cliche except for “I’m all about the craft.” What a pretentious load.

Are they trying to tell me that they could not find one American actor to recreate Bobby Morse’s J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business By Using Witchcraft?

Has John Leguizamo stopped talking yet? Has he developed any point to make it worth the four minutes out of an already overlong show that it took him to say whatever he was blathering about?

Viola Davis’s introduction of Best Featured Actor in a Play, Religious Ritual, or Trampoline Act was steeped in the same sort of Nobility-of-Acting sludge Barkin had just ran on in. The actors in this category “have created inspiring portraits that touch our deepest emotions,” They challenged us “to think” (Why didn’t I think of thinking myself? Because I hadn’t been challenged to think, and therefore, I wasn’t thinking! Doh!), dared us “to feel” (Hey Viola, I dare you to feel this!) and made “us laugh while our hearts cry.” What pretentious bilge. A greater accomplishment would be to make us cry while our hearts laugh. At least, that’s how I dare to feel about it.

John Benjamin Hickey was also joining in the Nobility of Acting suds, which may well be the reason why a show full of popular stars singing and dancing gets such dismal ratings every year. His award was “an amazing honor.” Being nominated with the other actors, and being part of part of this season, was “an incredible honor.” My amazement is stretched to the point of incredulity, but I honor that. Being in this play’s ensemble has been both “the greatest privilege” and “the proudest moment” of his career at the same time. He’s multi-tasking.

Hickey thanked George Woolfe “for ever-so-gently taking us all by the throat and dropping us into the mouth of a cannon.” My goodness! I’ve worked over the years with a lot of grumpy, irascible directors - I may have mothered one of Otto Preminger’s children. I don’t recall for certain. I know one of us did. Fess up, girl - but I have never had a director do either of those things to me, let alone both, though I did once see Busby Berkley, in a rage, drop-kick a male dancer into a cardboard-and-blowing-silk-drapes volcano. But that smart mouth had it coming.

And then along came the divine David Hyde Pierce, who turned all the Theatrical Nobility bunk sideways by brilliantly sending it up, with one mispronounced word. David Hyde Pierce: elegant and hilarious always.

How can you not get excited to see a musical number when, in addition to being told it’s a toe-tapping tale of horrific racial injustice in the American south told in Minstrel Show style, we are also informed that it’s already closed? Nothing says “crowd-pleaser” like closing before The Tonys.

Angela Lansbury said: “A life in the theater is a wonderful one.” That’s a pretty sweeping generalization. Anglea Lansbury’s life in the theater has been a wonderful one, but that has not been everyone’s experience. John Wilkes Booth, for one random example, clearly had “issues.”

When Nikki M. James was gushing out an acceptance sob a mile a minute, she said that their show, with that skin-crawly title The Book of Mormon, “is changing the face of American Musical Theater.” You know, I thought the American Musical Theater had had work done.

Has John Leguizamo stopped talking yet? Is Nikki M. James, by any chance, really John Leguizamo in drag?

About The Book of Mormon. I really hope it is as excellent as everyone says it is. I really hope I love it when I finally see it, as I’ve loved much of Matt & Trey’s work in the past. I did enjoy hearing a big musical number on CBS that ridiculed religious faith in general, and idiot Mormon beliefs in particular, although it should have ended with the warlord shooting the missionary in the face and getting back to his warlord chores.

But my dad was born in Salt Lake City into a family of Mormons, some prominent (though blessedly not Grandpa, which is why they were eventually driven out of Utah). I’ve grown up surrounded by Mormon relatives, and endured their proselyting, and been subjected to their hair-brained beliefs all my life.

For a musical with the creepy, my-lifelong-personal-nemesis title of The Book of Mormon to be what I would need it to be for me to love it, it would have to have been closed down for gross offensiveness in the first week. If Mormons aren’t storming out in high dudgeon every performance, with editorials denouncing Matt & Trey, and prices on their heads in Utah, then it hasn’t gone far enough for me.

I’d have found Hugh Jackman and Neal Patrick Harris’s bit funnier if I hadn’t been so solidly rooting for Hugh. Why was Neal hosting when Hugh was available? And when Hugh sang “You’re the top” to Neal, I didn’t believe it for one second.

Brooke Shields came out, still making excuses for the total train wreck she’d made of her part of the opening number. It was an hour and twenty very dull minutes later. No one but her was still thinking about it. No one but her even remembered it happened. In fact, most people there had forgotten she was even present. When she came out, didn’t she hear the people whispering: “Oh look. Brooke Shields is here. I always liked her What is she now? 60?”

And then, instead of apologizing, she went into an unexplained mime performance. I guess she’d fouled her bit up because she was locked in an invisible box? I dunno. I don’t “get” mime, although I will never forget that sublime weekend I spent locked in an invisible box with Harpo Marx back in 1930.

Anyway, Brook repeatedly told us she was “thrilled,” which may explain why she took to screaming out words more foul than what Angela Lansbury belows while writhing underneath a drunken Greek sailor, doing “The Mariana Trench”.

No! John Larroquette? Are they crazy? Why? Because he’s easier to work with than Rudy Vallee was? Who isn’t? Attila the Hun was easier to work with than Rudy Vallee, and a better tipper.

Okay, just seeing Bono and The Edge at The Tonys at all is funny. That they are there for the Spider-Man musical, which isn’t nominated for anything because, officially, it hasn’t opened yet, although more people have seen it than Warhourse, is the arsenic in the icing.

We saw the Spider-Man musical’s two current, surviving, romantic leads, or, in the words of their contractual job description, “Cannon Fodder” (Wait! Bono called them: “extraordinary artists.” I stand corrected.) do a song that either is in, or was in, or will be in, or shall have never been willing to may haps be, in the show. Or not.

Jim Parsons informed us that this was Broadway’s “highest-grossing season on record.” Of course, that may have less to do with high attendance, and more to do with the fact that, for the price of a front row orchestra ticket to The Book of Mormon on a Friday night, you could fully mount and open a second Spider-Man musical across the street from the first one, with bigger stars.

I had a couple friends nominated for a Tony last night, but they lost to The Book of Mormon. Damn Mormons.

Was Whoopi Goldberg wearing her dining room rug? She looked like she was auditioning to play a teacher at Hogwart’s. Whoopi darling, the Harry Potter films are all done.

I correctly predicted that The Normal Heart would win Best Revival of a Play, Musical, ‘80's Sit-Com, or Dead Evangelist. I must be psychic. Frankly, the revival I had courtesy of that lovely little blond Paramedic Bob, and his magic de-fib paddles, last Tuesday was the Best Revival this year in my opinion.

I WON A TONY??!! This is so sudden! I haven’t worked on Broadway since 1980-something, so I thought all of my stage work was ineligible, or expired, or something, and, well, really bad. Anyway, I’d like to thank The Liquor Barn, my gardener’s son Eduardo, my — What? What? Oh.

Sorry. I misheard. Apparently Best Play, Skit, or Sidewalk Sales Pitch went to a play named Warhorse. I thought they said: “And the Tony goes to The Old Warhorse,” which is my official listing in the Screen Actor’s Guild directory.

No wait. My bad. My official Screen Actor’s Guild listing is “The Old Whorehouse.” It’s a natural mistake.

Is my hearing going? First I thought I heard a voice say that Christi Brinkley was about to make her Broadway debut. That surely can not be right. And then, when Christi began spewing out random words at high speed, like Vanna White on cocaine, I do believe I heard her present the reunion of a show that hasn’t opened yet. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anything Goes beat out How to Succeed for Best Moribund Old Musical With Fresh Stars and “Relevant” Choreography? Ouch. How to Succeed must really bite it.

Francis McDormand loves her job. That’s nice. She does it well.

Sutton Foster has never been happier in her life. That’s nice. She likes her boy friend, Bobby Cannavale. (who wouldn’t?) She likes Bobby’s son. But then she was thrown into a tizzy of hysteria over the imminent departure of her true soul mate: her “dresser.” It turns out that her dresser sidelines as “The World’s Greatest Artist.” Remember all those years Pablo Picasso spent choosing scarves for Isadora Duncan? Why if she hadn’t strangled to death on one of them, Picasso wouldn’t have been forced to flee the scarf-choosing industry and go into art full-time. Lucky break for us all there, except for Isadora that is, and she’d probably understand. She was an artist herself.

At one point they mentioned the winners of about seven or eight categories in about 30 seconds. This left room in the show for It’s Raining Men. I felt the huge drag number, full of wildly-costumed transvestites from Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, was a touchstone for a generation, my proudest moment, which yet left me humbled, a profound and moving human experience, and a testament to Mankind and Mankind’s need for testaments to itself. I felt transformed, both as a human being, and as a transvestite, which I’m not. My throat is naturally shaped like that. It picked up its most-powerful weapon, its bedazzler, and taught me something I did not, and still don’t, believe, that Winstons taste good like a cigarette should. It dared me to think and it challenged me to feel, and touched my deepest, innermost recesses, and most-highly-sensitive intimate nooks. Here. I’ll show you on the doll where it touched me. That’s him, officer! Him!

As with his last Tony acceptance speech, Mark Rylance recited a dissertation on, well, something to do with walls this time. It was a funny bit two years ago, and it’s still funny now.

Norbert Leo Butz, in accepting for Best Actor in a Musical, Non-Musical, Semi-Musical, or Silent Movie, was not to be outdone by Sutton Foster, and thanked two dressers, Leonardo DaUnderwear and Michaelangelo of the Sock Drawer.

The Book of Mormon beat Sister Act for Best Religious Musical? Since when did Mormons start beating nuns? I was amused by Trey Parker thanking “co-writer” Joseph Smith. His script revisions, all inscribed on Golden Tablets, were never seen by any other persons besides Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Once again, the Tonys have forgotten that, at the end of a three-hour show, which has run long and is well into the nightly news by now, you say “goodnight” and switch-off. You don’t do a finale musical number (Well, “rap.” Hardly music.), when all the winners want is to celebrate and get drunk, all the losers want is to forget and get drunk, and all the home viewers are drunk, and just want to shut off the TV before they are told again how brave acting on Broadway is. Neal. Stop talking, rapping, chanting, whatever that noise is you’re making. At this point in the evening, no one wants jokes, even from the Marx Brothers. Which is why I’m saying: Cheers, darlings.

Has John Leguizamo stopped talking yet?

To read more of Tallulah Morehead, buy her book, My Lush Life. Also, you can read Little Dougie's contributions to the newly published book Creatures of the Night That We Loved So Well: The TV Horror Hosts of Southern California by James Fetters.


Warren Deacon said...

As always, Tallu nails it: the incessant, endless windbag speeches about the nobility of acting that increasingly infest the Tonys. Acting is a great profession. A perfectly genuine, even admirable career choice. It makes us laugh and cry. It frees our repressed spirits, if only for a moment. But it is not noble. It does not feed starving children, stop wars or search for the cure for cancer. So, broadway actors in general, and Tony winners in particular, give it a rest. It's only slightly less pretentious than a film actor talking about how dangerous and courageous he is because he does his own stunts.

James Nichols said...

Great piece. Thank you for sharing your work with us. I greatly appreciate it.

Tallulah Morehead said...

This just in: "Ellen Barkin Has Cured Cancer."

No wait. She was merely offered an "important" script about women discovering their sisterhood in a cancer ward. My bad. Natural mistake.

Natalie Sztern said...

Just when I thought you've given up writing the blog u came out with this extremely comprehensive commentary. Of course I stopped watching when 'what's her name' couldn't remember her lines. But isn't that what Broadway plays are all about: knowing your lines?

Anyway as a mother whose daughter is an actor I have given up on waiting for her to win a Tony know I just want her to marry one; and have a few little tony's too.

btw gay or straight makes no difference when it comes to talent...that song was ridiculous because truth is everyone knows the 'gays' are so much more talented than the 'straights' and Jewish girls DO swallow....

Kirk said...

"Winning an award is NOT humbling! It is precisely the opposite!"

You nailed it. Hilarious.

LizinSR said...

Although I do like Neil Patrick Harris, his presence became totally superflous when Hugh took the stage. I know Hugh is doing a one-man show tour (which I was lucky enough to see!) so maybe he didn't have the time to host, but I vote for having him back next year.

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