You certainly can’t knock Hugh Jackman for trying.
In his fourth time as host of the Tony Awards, the bearded actor pulled out all the stops Sunday night —hopping, singing, dancing and even rapping on stage.
Jackman kicked off the evening by bouncing from the red carpet, through the bowels of Radio City Music Hall and finally onstage, his kangaroo-like movements an obscure homage to the 1953 Bobby Van film musical “Small Town Girl” and not, as some might have guessed, a cheeky allusion to his Australian roots. Despite all the bouncing, however, somehow Jackman’s efforts fell a bit flat.
In a season that featured a number of shows in which issues of sexual and gender identity were central — “Casa Valentina,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Cabaret” — Jackman leaned rather heavily on gay-themed jokes. Too bad so many of them were such groaners, like when Jackman quipped that he was right behind four-time emcee Neil Patrick Harris “which is still illegal in 13 states.”
Jackman, a Tony winner for “The Boy From Oz,” seemed more at ease relying on his skills as a song-and-dance man, as when he stepped into the audience — a move that, thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, now seems all but required of awards show hosts — to serenade the nominees for best actress in a musical.
“Wolverine in tap shoes” even tried his hand at rapping, teaming up with L.L. Cool J and T.I. for a hip-hop version of “Rock Island” from “The Music Man.” And, though the Aussie accent didn’t exactly lend itself to rap rhythms, he wasn’t half bad. To his credit, just about the only thing Jackman didn’t do was reprise his role as Jean Valjean in the performance of “One Day More” from the revival of “Les Miserables.” (Jackman, of course, starred in the 2012 film version.)
But as amiable and unfailingly hard-working as Jackman was, Harris still managed to steal the show with his performance of “Sugar Daddy” from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Clad in Hedwig’s signature blond wig and a denim miniskirt, he gave lap dances to Kevin Bacon and Sting and planted a big kiss on his real-life fiance, David Burtka. Later, accepting the award for best actor — he was all but a lock in the category — Harris struck quite a different note, sweetly apologizing to his children for not being at home to read to them at night. (Cue the awwwws.)
One of the awkward realities of the Tony Awards is that Broadway’s biggest night happens to be broadcast on network television, leading to a cavalcade of celebrity presenters — some with strong ties to the New York theater community (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke), and others whose connection is, shall we say, not always immediately clear (Anna Gunn).
Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, director of the upcoming film version of the long-running hit “Jersey Boys,” stumbled through the directing awards, his dazed demeanor an unfortunate reminder of his head-scratching appearance at the 2012 Republican National Convention. At least we can be glad he left the empty chair backstage this time.
Still, this being the Tony Awards, the end game was promoting Broadway, which meant an almost overwhelming number of performances from musicals past, present and future. In a standout moment from the broadcast, Carole King appeared onstage to perform with Jessie Mueller, the actress who plays her in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” (Ticket buyers beware: King does not appear in the show.)
The evening also featured previews of upcoming shows, including a number from the film-to-stage adaptation of “Finding Neverland” performed by Jennifer Hudson (who will not be starring in the show) and introduced by Tina Fey (nope, not her either). Sting even stopped by to showcase a ditty from his upcoming musical “The Last Ship,” while other winning shows from this season, like the now-shuttered “The Bridges of Madison County,” got no air time.