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An awards show worth watching

After Bernadette Peters' opening wows, Hugh Jackman keeps the night on track with class.

June 06, 2005|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

They gave out the Tony Awards on Sunday night for the 59th time, and CBS was there, as it has been before, preempting "Cold Case" and a TV movie to do it.

There has always been something rarefied about the Tonys. While it's a fair assumption that a large part of the audience for the Oscars goes to movies or rents them, and that Emmy Awards watchers watch television, and that Grammy Awards viewers listen to music, the Tonys honor an art that's not a part of the average person's cultural diet, along with productions that few will have seen or even heard of -- even if they're based, as many are now, on popular films -- and that you have to travel to New York to see.

The broadcast, about as good as it could be given that it lasted the standard unwieldy three hours, got off to a strong start. The camera circled around a woman who turned out to be Bernadette Peters, all curls and cleavage, as ageless as if she were sculpted from marble and with as much claim as anyone living to stand for musical comedy; she sang Cole Porter's "Another Op'nin', Another Show" and had me, at least, from "Another."

Next came surprise guest Billy Crystal -- later a Tony winner for "700 Sundays," his one-man "special theatrical event" -- briefly hijacking the proceedings from host Hugh Jackman. Crystal has a talent for making awards shows seem smarter than they usually are. The men exchanged remarks about gift baskets and rented tuxedos.

Though the show flagged occasionally, it remained exciting in a way that other awards shows usually are not. (For that matter, it seemed exciting even by Tony Awards standards.) In part, this had to do with the live performances -- including one number each from the four best musical nominees -- which did an exceptional job of communicating the real-time magic of the stage.

But that excitement was also due to a sense of occasion, helped in no small part by a crowd in a mood to applaud wildly and show love to local favorites. "All the people who paid for tickets up there," said Jackman, waving toward the bleachers, "they're making all the noise."

"Community" was the word on many winners' lips. Indeed, everyone in Broadway theater goes to work within the same several square blocks. Winner after winner expressed an overwhelming sense of gratitude and privilege to be working there.

"Now catch your favorite stars at the Tony Awards," was how the network led into the broadcast, and though most of the nominees, and winners, are names unknown in most households west of the Hudson, there were -- owing to the wholesale casting of film and TV actors in Broadway roles -- familiar faces aplenty: Christina Applegate, Matthew Broderick, Don Cheadle, Sally Field, David Hyde Pierce and so on, many of whom, of course, were stage actors before they were screen stars.

As a host, CBS got a special gift in Jackman, who, though his theatrical credentials are impeccable -- including a Tony last year for "The Boy From Oz" -- generates special heat in that he is also a bona fide movie star. He sang and danced, to fairly good effect, and once with Aretha Franklin -- though they took not quite the full measure of the usually sure-fire "Somewhere" from "West Side Story."

Random delights included Robert Goulet representing "La Cage aux Folles," New York landmark the Rev. Al Sharpton guesting in a number from "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and an early showstopping turn from winner Norbert Leo Butz in a number from "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

There was also a charming pratfall from "Sweet Charity" nominee-presenter Applegate, making light of the broken foot that threatened to sink her production out of town, and best featured actress in a musical Sara Ramirez ("Spamalot") struggling notably in and with a newsworthy red dress.

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