Tony's memorable moments (high and low)
The 63rd Tony Awards may have been kicked off by Liza with a Z, but it was ultimately ruled by Billy with a B. The glittery ceremony at New York's Radio City Music Hall had more than its share of memorable moments:
Tears of joy: Karen Olivo, who won best featured actress in a musical as Anita in “West Side Story,” was so overcome with emotion for her win that she could barely speak after thanking her cast mates and her husband. Olivo accomplished a feat that her predecessors, Chita Rivera and Debbie Allen, could not. Rivera, who originated the role on Broadway, in 1957, and Allen, who was nominated in the 1979 revival, lost out on the Tony. (Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the role in the film version.)
Best fish story: Host Neil Patrick Harris returned from one commercial break eating sushi. “This gives you so much energy,” he said smugly as he munched. “You could do show after show, night after night.” Broadway followers caught the clever dig at Jeremy Piven, who sparked an uproar when he abruptly departed the production of “Speed-the-Plow” after complaining he had gotten mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi.
For ladies of a certain age: “Who knew, who knew that at this time in my life I’d be presented with this lovely, lovely award,” said Angela Lansbury, 83, who won for best featured actress in a play (“Blithe Spirit”), just the second actress to win five Tony Awards (the first being Julie Harris). To be back among “you Broadwayites is the greatest gift I can imagine in my old age,” she said. “Thank you for having me back!”
Not ready for her close-up: Dolly Parton performed “9 to 5” during the exuberant opening number, but she inexplicably appeared again later in the broadcast when she lost out for the Tony in the best music and lyrics category. As winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”) came on stage, the camera cut to Parton standing backstage. She waved awkwardly at the camera, then turned to leave.
A postcard from the edge: Carrie Fisher introduced the cast from “Next to Normal,” a show about a mentally ill mother and “the toll it takes on her family.” Fisher’s pregnant pause after this description was long enough for a mini-psychotherapy session.
Really bad hair day: As he was finishing his opening number from the musical “Rock of Ages,” Poison singer Bret Michaels had to duck to avoid being hit by a scrim being lowered for the next number. His hat didn’t make it, leading Harris to comment, “That brings new meaning to ‘head banging.’”
Not bad, newbie: Will Ferrell, nominated for best special theatrical event for “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush,” may have had a lousy showing at the movie box office this weekend with “Land of the Lost,” but he received a rousing welcome when he appeared as a presenter during the Tonys, particularly when he described himself as “a Broadway veteran with 18 previews and 46 exhausting performances trodding the boards.”
Thanks, but no thanks: John Scher, producer of “Liza’s at the Palace,” which won the Tony for best special theatrical event, had some heartfelt thanks to extend to the show’s crew and his family. But he was upstaged during his acceptance speech — he was the show’s designated acceptor — by the show’s star, who was mouthing her own thank-yous to audience members and making faces during his speech. That’s Liza with a Z.
Boffo performance: Trent Kowalik’s solo dance for “Billy Elliot, The Musical” made the “hottest” ticket on Broadway the “impossible” ticket on Broadway.
Reason to shine: Geoffrey Rush, named best actor in a play for “Exit the King,” thanked Manhattan theatergoers for proving that “French existential absurdist tragicomedy rocks.” He joked that the plays in which the other best-actor nominees appeared were proof that the genre was on fire, pronouncing the Yasmina Reza play with a French accent, “God of Car-NAHGE” and calling Neil LaBute’s play “reasons to be pretty,” “les raisons d’etre jolies.”
No hard feelings, voters: Frank Langella had great fun with poking the Tony nominating committee for overlooking his stint in “A Man for All Seasons,” which he noted had a four-month sold-out run. “I don’t know how they missed it, they must have been out of town,” he said. “Maybe they missed this,” he said, reaching into his tux pocket and pulling out what was supposed to be a full page ad for the show, then joking, “Oh, that’s my Oscar acceptance speech.”
Family affair: Marcia Gay Harden, upon accepting the award for best performance by a leading actress in a play, thanked her husband for helping her prepare for her role in “God of Carnage,” a drama about “marital strife.” (She’s such a good actress it wasn’t entirely clear that she was kidding.) She then movingly thanked her mother for “helping me lug the suitcase up so many flights when I first moved to New York.”
Hello, Jerry: A montage of Jerry Herman’s brilliant theater career (“Hello, Dolly!” “Mame,” “Mack & Mable,” “La Cage Aux Folles”) was introduced by his friend and leading interpreter, Angela Lansbury, who attested that this musical theater dynamo really does understand the meaning of “I am what I am.” Herman then came out and, in a classy speech, shared that he was born on the same street that Radio City Music Hall (the site of the Tony ceremony) is on. “Well,” he added, “here I am, 77 years later, still on 50th Street but enjoying the ultimate moment of my life.”
Speech, interrupted: The “Next to Normal” winners seemed to have missed the course on “short and sweet” acceptances. Speeches for two of their three awards were cut off by the orchestra.
Let’s hear it for the boys: The three Billys (David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish in a single nomination) who won for leading actor in a musical for the title role of “Billy Elliot” took turns being awe-struck in the first moments of their acceptance speech, alternating exclamations: “Oh My God!” “Wow.” “Unbelievable.”
He’s the host with the most: Harris ended the telecast with a Tony-flavored version of “Tonight.” Our favorite line: “This show could not be gayer if Liza was named Mayor, and Elton John took flight..."
-- Greg Braxton with Charles McNulty in Los Angeles and writer Patrick Pacheco in New York
Top photo: James Gandolfini arriving at the Tonys. Credit: Getty Images.
Bottom photo: Poison. Credit: Associated Press.