Hugh Jackman presents Jessie Mueller with the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical for “Beautiful.”(Theo Wargo / Getty Images for Tony Awards Production)
Aussie actor and host of the evening Hugh Jackman, center, and the cast of “After Midnight” perform.(Theo Wargo / Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
This year’s Tony Awards celebrated the best from the 2013-2014 theater season that ended in April, handing multiple awards to popular shows such as “The Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and “A Raisin in the Sun.”
But viewers of the CBS telecast Sunday could be forgiven for thinking the Tonys also had another goal in mind: touting a Broadway season that has yet to even begin.
The Hugh Jackman-hosted show at Radio City Music Hall featured numbers from Sting’s story of a struggling shipbuilding community, “The Last Ship,” performed by Sting himself, as well as a song from the stage adaptation of the J.M. Barrie film “Finding Neverland,” sung by Jennifer Hudson.
The catch? Neither production will arrive on Broadway for months and is unlikely to be known even by ardent theater fans.
Hudson’s number in particular was puzzling to some, given that the performer isn’t scheduled to be in “Neverland.” At the close of the song, the telecast cut to a shot of film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is producing the stage adaptation and is known for bold publicity gambits. Weinstein has suggested Hudson could appear on a concept album for the show, which is set to being a tryout in Cambridge, Mass., and has not yet locked down a Broadway date. (“Last Ship” opens on Broadway in October.) It was not clear if any money was paid to include the two shows. A spokesperson for the Tonys did not comment on the arrangement.
The choice to include the numbers amid the more standard songs of musical nominees elicited some eye rolls at the Tony after-parties, with some wondering whether the show had taken a step too far in the direction of telecasts such as the MTV Movie Awards, which heavily promote upcoming movies. Others echoed a blind quote from a theater insider in the New York Daily News, who said the Hudson number was “like Beyoncé being hired to sing ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’”
But producers said the Hudson and Sting numbers, despite their promotional dimension, served the show’s goal of exposing theater to a wider audience.
“They’re both really good numbers and have big stars singing them,” Ricky Kirshner, one of the Tonys’ two producers, told The Times before the telecast. “And if we can get someone who’s a huge Sting fan or a huge Jennifer Hudson fan to watch the Tonys and say, ‘That ‘Gentleman’s Guide’ is kind of cool, maybe I should buy a ticket,’ that’s a win-win for everyone.”
The early indicators validated that thinking: ratings were solid compared to last year, with 7.0 million viewers, down just slightly from 2013’s four-year high of 7.3 million.
Inside the theater during commercial breaks, a series of spots for upcoming shows also ran on screens above the audience, as they do most years. Tony Danza’s upcoming “Honeymoon in Vegas” and the Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick reunion in Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only a Play” were both teased, providing an early litmus test of their insider appeal.
An informal kind of touting was also on display during the broadcast from other luminaries who approached the Tonys podium.
Kenny Leon, who won for director of a play for his “Raisin” revival, ended his acceptance speech with a call to “holler if ya hear me.” To the uninitiated it sounded like a non sequitur, but it was a winking reference to the title of his new project, a Tupac Shakur musical set to open next week. (Leon might have noted, as he did to The Times in a recent interview, that “Holler” and “Raisin” are companion pieces of a sort, both looking at the intersection of race and poverty across decades of American life.)
Another teaser came when Clint Eastwood presented the awards for director. Before he got to that, the filmmaker dropped the name of the new “Jersey Boys” film, his adaptation of the theater smash that opens in multiplexes next week.
Asked by The Times on Monday about the decision to include what seemed like an ad lib, Eastwood gave a mischievous smile and offered his rationale. “It just seemed,” he said, “like the right place to do it.”