If we’re lucky homo sapiens, every few years a splendid anomaly occurs in the usually vapid space-time continuum of television awards shows that negates the basic dreary tropes and widens eyes with something that is, if you’ll excuse the cliché, purely magical.
The last time we were borne witnesses to such a thrilling spectacle was on June 8th, way back in 2013, and it was the opening number of the 67th Annual Tony awards. Renaissance man – and future Tony winner – Neil Patrick Harris (he would win the following year for Hedwig and the Angry Inch), performed the original song “Bigger,” written by Tony Award winners Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) and Tom Kittening (Next To Normal), and choreographed by Tony/Emmy winner Rob Ashford, and the number remains, (in?)arguably, the greatest opening number in any awards show history. Starting off with an ode to the 2012s Best Musical, Once, while alluding to the smaller Beacon Theater, where the awards took place the prior two years, Harris slowly morphs from intricate Irish troubadour…
I can break your heart with a work of art.
And a song that’s quiet and small.
But we’re back where we began it all. Radio City Music Hall.
So tonight we might go bigger…
…to full-on song & dance Master of Ceremonies, with a razzle-dazzle, lollapalooza EIGHT minutes of pure Broadway heaven. Saturating the stage of Radio City, Harris not only pays tribute to that year’s nominees, he also jumps through Pippin‘s circus hoops, gets hoisted in the air as a flyer for the cast of Bring It On, then landing without a beat, and even performs a classic, still confounding magic trick, all while continuing singing Miranda and Kitt’s brilliant ode to the theater, breathlessly and exuberantly.
It’s exhilarating to behold, and despite the spectacle of it all, with all its grandiosity, never once does it feel scattered, or discombobulated – it is overwhelming in the most wonderful way, never inundating the senses yet always dazzling them. You just sit there, mouth agape, taking in the beauty and wonder of it all. It defines the true essence of “Bringing down the house.”
Anna Kendrick and Debra Messing are ALL of us!
There are so many great lyrics in “Bigger” that it’s worth repeat viewings just to not miss them. From, “And you could bounce a quarter off the ass of Billy Porter. Lord he does eight shows a week in eight inch heels!” (Kinky Boots would go on to win 6 Tonys that night, including one for Porter) to “Hats off to Berry Gordy. He runs Motown like a boss. He dominates Top Forty and he banged Diana Ross!” (Gordy produced and wrote Motown: The Musical which ran that season, and was up for numerous awards) to poking fun of the ersatz movie version of Les Miserables (“Can I have my Tom Hooper ‘Les Miz’ closeup please? See, on Broadway we don’t need extreme closeups to prove we’re singing live. We sing live eight shows a week. Check it!”). Even Kathy Lee Gifford gets a lighthearted jab: “Mamma Mia, Lion King, The Jersey Boys are tappin’, Kathie Lee’s a Broadway lyricist so anything can happen!” (Gifford wrote the books and lyrics for Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, which ran briefly that season to some surprisingly favorable reviews.)
But it’s not all comedy. By the time Harris sing/raps…
There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere,
Who’s sitting there living for Tony Performances,
Singing and flipping along with the Pippins
And Wickeds and Kinkys, Matildas, and Mormanses.
So we might reassure that kid,
And do something to spur that kid,
‘cause I promise you,
All of us up here tonight,
We WERE that kid!
…we are all already screaming, or crying, or both.
“Bigger” nears it’s finale by filling up the aisles and stage of Radio City’s with countless Broadway gypsies, singers and dancers from nearly every show running that season. And when this miraculous extravaganza reaches its climax, not only does Radio City’s audience roar with a thunderous, beatific ovation lasting more than 60 seconds (a lifetime for a live TV awards show), but we at home are doing the same, emotionally drained, exhausted and intoxicated.
When Audra McDonald and Zachary Quinto walked out on stage to present the first award, Quinto wisely says to the still recuperating audience, and to a smiling, agreeing McDonald, “That’s the definition of a tough act to follow!”
Indeed, Mr. Quinto. And to paraphrase Harris’s womanizing sitcom character Barney Stinson, “This Tony performance is legen…wait for it…DARY!”