Neil Patrick Harris’ fourth time hosting the Tonys last night has—rightly—been declared a triumph, but my favorite bit of the evening identified several potential hosts for future award ceremonies.
At the ceremony’s halfway point, Harris invited Andrew Rannells—who was nominated for a Tony in 2011 for his role as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon—onto the stage and razzed him about abandoning Broadway for the fame and fortune of television—especially since Rannells’ show, The New Normal, was canceled. Rannells then “spontaneously” burst into a very special version of “America” from West Side Story, turning the Puerto Ricans’ listing of New York’s advantages over San Juan’s into TV’s superiorities over live theater. Then along strode Megan Hilty—star of now-canceled Smash—with her own twist on “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” from Gypsy, this time singing, “You gotta have a series if you want a shot at fame.” Hilty was followed by 2008 Tony-winner Laura Benanti, who after starring in The Playboy Club and Go On, has suffered the indignity of two cancelations in the course of two seasons. Benanti offered a play on “The Ladies Who Lunch,” from Company, with the refrain, “Both my shows were canceled, it’s true/ Not one show, but two./ And so I raise a bottle to you./ Television sucks!” The number’s big finish borrowed from “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line.
Some critics interpreted the number as a dig by CBS—which broadcasts the Tonys—against NBC. CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, starring Harris, is about to enter its ninth season, while all the sad performers’ canceled shows were on the peacock network. For me, though, it was an indication that theater performers are prone to the same phenomenon that is supposed to help new mothers forget the pain of giving birth. After all, it’s not like Broadway shows always run forever—the twice-canceled Benanti’s last turn on the Great White Way was in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a show that closed early.