The Gayest Night of the Year

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 8 2009 12:24 AM

The Gayest Night of the Year

Tony Sunday is a special day for theater queens, people whose dramatic interests center on venues with more than 500 seats located between Times Square and 65 th Street , and thrill seekers who set their TiVo to record anything with the words awards and ceremony in the title. Unless you're an All That Chat natterer or take your evening cocktail in one of the fast-disappearing theater bars off Broadway, the Tonys are a three-hour wonder—the one place on the TV schedule where song and dance rules and Angela Lansbury and Liza Minelli are bigger than Brad and Angelina.

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June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

This year, though, the excitement started before the curtain went up on the day's matinees, as several fast-thumbed folks live-tweeted the morning's Tony rehearsal. Ugly Betty 's Mark Indelicato : "So everyone. I can say that the opening number is EPIC. It shall be remembered forever by all those who love broadway." StageDoorOnline : "Angela Lansbury got an applause at the #Tony rehearsal for just crossing the stage during a comm. break. (It WAS a great cross though.)" And nominee Jane Fonda : "Liza gave me pointers on how to walk and not hurt. Pull up, tuck butt under, swing shoulders sexily, stand with legs apart to balance, etc."

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Indelicato was right; the 10-minute opening number was epic. It started with the dude who sang at Princess Diana's funeral and eventually grew to include everyone in the 10020 ZIP code: the Jets; the Sharks; Dolly Parton; at least two West Wing cast members; a green ogre, a donkey, and a princess; the cast of Hair letting the sun shine in; and the members of Poison throwing around their hair. If only Liza had given Bret Michaels pointers on how to avoid the moving scenery, which knocked him flat on his back when he was slow off his mark.

The evening offered few surprises —the biggest being that the creators of Next to Normal , the story of a bipolar housewife, beat out Sir Elton John and Lee Hall of the heavily favored Billy Elliot, The Musical in the race for best score. Otherwise, Billy Elliot tapped and twirled its way to domination of the musical categories, and God of Carnage wreaked havoc over the awards for plays.

My big question was whether the Tony telecast could win back the title of gayest awards ceremony. After all, in the last couple of years the Oscars have featured more same-sex shout-outs and kisses than their Broadway counterparts. There were some missteps along the way; as when the TV cameras confused Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter, both nominated for leading actress in a play for their roles as Mary and Elizabeth in Mary Stuart . As Twitterer Kimberly_Kaye put it, "If Broadway can't keep track of queens, who can?"

True enough, Oscar Eustis of the Public Theater pointed to his (mixed-sex) wedding ring as he called for "equality now" while accepting Hair 's award for best revival of a musical, but I didn't catch any winners thanking gay partners, and there was no equivalent of Dustin Lance Black's tear-jerking Oscar acceptance speech for Milk .

Still, it's impossible to out-gay the Tonys. An out emcee in Neil Patrick Harris; a win for Liza Minelli; a lifetime achievement award for Jerry Herman ... As Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote in Harris' divine 11 o'clock number (let's see you replicate that at the Oscars, Hugh Jackman): "This show could not be gayer/ if Liza was named mayor/ and Elton John took flight."

 

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