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Tuesday 9 June 2009, by Webmaster
Neil Patrick Harris Slam-Dunks CBS Tony Awards with Naughty Musical Finale
Completing my book left me a day behind, so watching and reacting to the CBS Tony Awards is a day tardy. But I have to do it anyway, because the closing number by Neil Patrick Harris, as wickedly funny as anything served up by a real musical in years, deserves praise, annotation, and a revisit. You can read the lyrics, parse the references, and even watch and listen to a clip of the finale, by reading on.
In my Best Bet in advance of Sunday’s Tony Awards, I wrote that Neil Patrick Harris had done so well as host of the TV Land Awards, musically as well as comically, that I expected good things out of him as Tony host. Plus, having seen him on Broadway in both Assassins and Cabaret, and loved him as the lead in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I knew he had the right stuff.
But now, after the Tonys, I’m thinking even bigger. If Justin Timberlake doesn’t want to be the guy to single-handedly save the TV variety show, maybe Neil Patrick Harris does.
On the Tonys, Harris held back his biggest star wattage until the credits were about to roll, and kept singing even as they DID roll. It was a closing number tweaked until the last minute to reflect who did and didn’t win, with a video montage to match, and was a brilliant piece of instant theater.
The music was provided by Leonard Bernstein’s "Tonight" from West Wide Story, with a middle break set to the tune of "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" from another of the night’s musical revival nominees, Guys & Dolls. The wonderfully witty lyrics were written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, of Hairspray. And also, it should be noted, of Harris’ TV Land parodies, and of Billy Crystal’s still-memorable Oscar medleys.
Crystal opened the Oscars when he sang, whereas Harris closed the Tonys. But what a closing.
Harris, in the lyrics, recognized that Angela Lansbury picked up her fifth Tony, and that the three young actor-dancers from Billy Elliot, who rotated performances in the difficult lead role, won by sharing a single Tony. He name-checked several other winners — Geoffrey Rush, Karen Olivo, Alice Ripley, Liza Minnelli, the cast of Hair — and even mentioned several people who didn’t win, but who played a part in the evening’s festivities.
Elton John, for example, who wrote the score for Billy Elliot but didn’t win, was mentioned. So was Bret Michaels, the Poison frontman who was one of several guest stars during the massive opening production number (Elton John took part there, too, as did Dolly Parton, who had written music and lyrics for 9 to 5).
Harris even poked fun at one actor, Chris Sieber, whose role as the mini-tyrant in Shrek: The Musical required him to play part of it on his knees, with a costume designed to make it look as if he had very tiny legs.
All of this, and more, made it into the lyrics, which Harris began singing at 11:03 ET, starting to the tune of "Tonight"...
What class! What drive! Now Angela’s won five!
With heels as sore as poor Achilles
Tonight, all three
[At this point, the music shifts to "Luck Be a Lady"]
And Geoffrey won a Tony tonight
[The music shifts back to "Tonight," and the credits begin to roll. "Credits? That’s not going to stop me!" Harris shouts. And he continues:]
Chris Sieber. Please!
[Spontaneous applause from the black-tie audience for that risque in-joke.]
I hope tonight
This show could not be any gayer
The curtain falls,
[Big applause and ovation, with good reason]
Wow. Harris, who came out in the last few years and saw his career suffer no repercussions whatsoever, not only gets to host the Tonys, but to sing about going out to "hit some big Tony balls." And truly, the gayer/mayor couplet about Liza Minnelli... Whatever your sexual orientation, that IS entertainment.