You'd think what I would remember most from the 2009 Tony Awards (which aired on CBS June 7) would be the performances. After all, it was a year filled with ridiculously talented actors and musicians. But no, that's not what stuck with me. Instead, it was the shoddy microphone work.
I hope the soundboard operator got canned immediately following the show.
The opening number, which included every nominated musical act for the evening, kicked off with Elton John singing a number from "Billy Elliot the Musical" (you remember the movie: the one where the little boy from the UK wanted to dance but his pops thought boxing was the way to go...yeah, now it's a musical), and his first two stanzas were un-mic-ed.
If you ever doubted that Sir Elton still had the music in him, you should've heard him belt out that first bit of "Electricity"--he filled that hall. He is the consummate performer.
The next noticeable atrocity happened mere moments later, when the opening number presented the folks from the revival of "West Side Story". While the gangs went all "beat yo' ass" (musical theatre-style--meaning tight pants, coiffed hair and power stances), a perky little blonde backstage had her mic turned on too soon. You can hear her clapping, followed by a pep talk, followed by clapping, followed by coughing, followed by lip trills, followed by more lip trills, followed by more lip trills....and then someone very kindly informed her that she was audible. So she shut up until she stepped on stage, approximately twenty seconds later.
Next up (we're still in the opening act, by the way), we have Bret Michaels and Poison, introducing "Rock of Ages"--an 80s rock music musical (why did we need one of those, again?)--and they only let him sing the first verse into the bridge of "Good Time" until they put up a recording. And it was noticeable. Don't believe me? Take a listen:
(Evidently, Michaels also is suffering from fractures and brokenness...of some sort. Unruly sets: The performer's worst enemy.)
It goes without saying that when ensembles were on-stage, the sound balance was just awful.
(By the way, is there anything Allison Janney can't do? She's in Dolly Parton's hit musical "9 to 5". Or Liza Minelli, for that matter. Say what you will about the woman, but she's a legend, absolutely timeless and born for the freakin' stage.)
Let's move into the actual awards show, hosted by his Holiness, Neil Patrick Harris. (What, you thought that was the end of the mic mistakes? Ha!)
A revival of the classic "Guys & Dolls" put up a number at the Awards, featuring the estimable Tituss Burgess as Nicely. And as soon as he started singing, the bead mic attached to his forehead just...died. In a crackling, annoying, dying sort of way. Some lackey (well, a lackey in a suit...hmmm) runs out with a wireless mic. Right before that happens, you hear said lackey, in a nasal East Coast accent, say, "Am I goin' in wit' it? Am I goin' in? I'm goin' in!" Good for him. Fifteen seconds of fame; goin' once, goin' twice.
The terrible screen-to-stage translation, "Shrek the Musical", was another early-in-the-song fail for Sound Dude. A screeching chorus gal found herself mic-ed a bit too hot. (Plus, Lord Farquaad--a booming, baritone Christopher Sieber--had fake legs... Instead of being cute, it was, um, distracting. And, frankly, poorly executed.)
The one stand-out performance of the night came from the rock musical "Next to Normal", showcasing an hallucinating suburban housewife, her frustrated husband and her dead (and studly) son. Though "Billy Elliot" swept most of the big awards, "Next to Normal" nabbed Best Actress in a Musical for the very talented Alice Ripley, a fabulous performer (as seen in the clip below), as well as Best Original Score and Best Orchestration. I'm completely in love with this show--and definitely daydreaming of a roadtrip to NYC.
The ever-awesome Neil Patrick Harris showed off his vocal chops in the comedic mockery of a final number, closing the broadcast as the credits rolled. Who doesn't love NPH?
Moral of the Tony-2009 story? Check the résumé creds on your soundboard op. Fo' realz. Oh, and go see more musical theatre.