Friday, April 19, 2024

Tony Awards Without Writers: Aaron Rodgers, Mrs. Maisel, Grand Wizards, Bleeped Words, Non Binary Winners, and a Shake Shack Dinner in Washington Heights


By now, anyone who’s interested in the Tony Awards has an idea of what happened last night.

Without writers, the show– hosted by Ariana DeBose— was a refreshing free-for-all. Not to say they didn’t need a script — they did — but DeBose made the experience lively and off the cuff. She’s full of charm. When she returned in the middle of the show and effectively announced, looking at her wrist, “I don’t know what these notes are, or who’s next,” she won the audience over.

But lack of script meant some people on stage surprised the audience. Actress Denee Benton called Florida governor Ron DeSantis a “grand wizard,” meaning of the KKK. That got a huge applause. Another winner used the “f” word, which was bleeped on screen but we heard it loud and clear. My phone blew up from all over the place with people asking what he said. “I’m a f***t with a Tony Award!” will probably become a t shirt.

There were two non binary winners, definitely a first. J. Harrison Ghee won Best Actor in a Musical for “Some Like it Hot,” dressed in a beautiful blue gown. Alex Newell picked up Best Featured Actor in a Musical for “Shucked,” arriving on stage in what looked like a peach swirl with decolletage. They’re each very talented, but the Tonys were making a point. With all the insane enmity toward the trans and gay community in the world beyond Broadway, representation was paramount.

The United Palace Theater, an ornate former Loews movie palace in Washington Heights, was the setting this year instead of either Radio City Music Hall or the Beacon Theater, both owned by Madison Square Garden Productions. Either the Broadway League couldn’t make a deal with MSG or this was the idea of Lin Manuel Miranda, the change to a neighborhood foreign to most of the Tony audience added to the adventure. We had airy seats in the front of the mezzanine that afforded a spectacular view of the stage. There was even a cool breeze. Down below, ironically, the stars suffered from heat prostration because the orchestra section was trapped without much ventilation.

Some people theorized what would have happened if there had been writers: wouldn’t the show have been much longer? No. Producer Glenn Weiss and I chatted at the after party about that. Last night’s show was bulked up a extra numbers. Weiss and producer Ricky Kirshner managed to load and unload about 20 Broadway shows in what seemed like a magic act. Some of them, like Josh Groban leading “Sweeney Todd,” were mesmerizing. Others were simpler, like “Into the Woods” and “Kimberly Akimbo,” which won Best Musical despite not looking like one compared to “Some Like it Hot.” We’ll see which shows get ticket sales bumps this week.

(My only quibble: the “Sweeney Todd” number, while magnificent, didn’t feature nominee Annaleigh Ashford.)

After the show, instead of heading to the Plaza Hotel for the after party, wrist band holders had dinner al fresco right in front of the theater under three tented sections. Shake Shack was the main caterer. It wasn’t easy to find people, and most everyone left right away for individual shows’ parties held back in midtown. But a few hearty celebs stuck around including new Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who stood on line for a Shake Shack burger in a gray Dolce and Gabbana suit with a matching pin from the designer. Derided by many for a variety of reasons, Rodgers was incredibly pleasant and forthcoming. I asked him the most important question: “Are we going to have a good season?” He didn’t hesitate to respond: “We are!”

Rachel Brosnahan — Mrs. Maisel to you — came to support the show’s Tony winner, Miriam Silverman, who picked up Featured Actress in a Play for “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” Brosnahan was not nominated for anything, and it’s rare that an actor would come to the Tonys anyway, But that’s Brosnahan, who has a lot of awards of her own and just wanted to be there.

I also ran into “SVU” star and theater producer Tamara Tunie, “Some Like it Hot” director Casey Nicholaw, and a few others, but for the most part the outdoor dining scenario was not star studded. Where was Lin Manuel Miranda, our nominal host? A source told me he left almost immediately. “He’s having a little get together at his place,” I was told.

Next year may we all be back at the Plaza.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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