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A rarefied kind of kicks

OK, most of the Tony hopefuls were probably unfamiliar to the show's TV audience. Still, the broadcast was lively.

June 07, 2004|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

There is an island called Manhattan on the eastern coast of America where the ancient art of the theater is practiced as if it is still a thing of widespread cultural relevance. Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockettes live, the men and women of Broadway got together to celebrate this island within the island: It was the 58th annual Tony Awards, and CBS was there with its TV cameras to bring it to you.

There are enough film and TV stars employed on the Great White Way -- some of them started there, of course -- that the evening is not short of names recognizable even to those for whom the word theater is always coupled to the words "movie" or "home." This year's presenters included John Lithgow, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Nathan Lane, Alfred Molina, Phylicia Rashad and the evening's super-dynamic host, Hugh Jackman, who in addition to singing and dancing won for his starring role as the late Australian pop singer Peter Allen in "The Boy From Oz."

Yet much of the show is devoted to people of whom you've probably never heard thanking people of whom you've probably never heard, while accepting awards for productions most of us -- nearly all of us, I feel quite comfortable in saying, and I include myself -- have not seen.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Tony Awards -- Monday's Calendar section review of the Tony Awards telecast said that actor Kevin Kline was a presenter at Sunday's ceremony. He was a nominee and was shown in the audience.

As difficult as this makes knowing whom to root for, we tune in nevertheless -- in what have been declining numbers, to be sure, but millions still. Compared to the audience for the Oscars, which the masses watch almost out of laziness, its audience is strongly self-selecting, this year including those who opted not to watch the season's last "Sopranos" (whose Edie Falco was a Tony presenter) or the NBA Finals.

If short on spontaneity, the broadcast was lively throughout, carried across its three hours by many musical numbers, all fairly exciting. Tonya Pinkins' singing of "Lot's Wife" from Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's "Caroline, or Change," was the most arresting. "It Sucks to Be Me," from the Generation Y puppet musical "Avenue Q," offered the night's only bleeped word. And there were out-of-competition numbers from Tony Bennett, who sang "The Lullaby of Broadway," con brio, and Mary J. Blige, who offered the only version of "What I Did for Love" I would ever care to hear again.

Apart from that, it was the usual parade of presenters, followed by the usual parade of grateful, excited winners. Slightly less than usual was the pairing of rapper LL Cool J (Broadway bona fides uncertain) and 83-year-old Carol Channing, in familiar Lorelei Lee drag.

That these were theater awards did not significantly improve the quality of scripted material, but as always, actors and actresses are unusually nice to look at, and on such occasions they dress well.

The world outside the Times Square area barely intruded. First presenter Billy Joel made a nice little tribute to his father among other veterans of D-day. The producer of best play winner "I Am My Own Wife" stood up for gay marriage, and Martin Short made one of the evening's few, if not only, political jokes: "A musical is only as good as its director -- the same goes for the CIA." Gregory Hines' passing was noted, as was Tony Randall's. But no one mentioned the death of President Reagan.

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