Neil Patrick Harris and just about everyone on Broadway made it bigger in the opening number to this year’s Tony Awards broadcast, creating an emotionally satisfying celebration of musical theater.
It has been an interesting year for the relationship between musical theater and television. We said goodbye to Smash, which improved upon its completely bonkers/joyous first season with 17 episodes that would not have existed if the show were on any network other than NBC. The recent Sound of Music Live experiment (also on NBC) proved to be far more successful than even the most optimistic Broadway fan could have imagined.
The biggest moment in this relationship happened in June, when CBS presented the 67th Annual Tony Awards with host Neil Patrick Harris. Here is the opening to that event:
You guys, there are so many moments in that sequence I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose we could start at the end of the first verse with all those on stage shouting “Go Neil, go!” I’m not sure how this happened through my Twitter curation, but a significant portion of my feed has people deeply interested in theater. As soon as NPH jumped through the hoop to transition to the Pippin section of the song, my feed started filling with others screaming “Go Neil, go!”
Then the host transitions to Bring It On, a show I wanted to see but closed before I had the opportunity to get to New York (if the workshop tour hit Cleveland, I missed it). Although I doubt the show would elicit a deeply emotional response, the line “Hey kids welcome to Broadway” hits me like a cannonball and causes me to tear up every time I watch this video. I hate the use of “feels” as a noun, but for this I make an exception.
By the time I recover, Neil has vanished, returned with Newsies, and has received his Tom Hooper closeup. His patter section gets me all misty-eyed again when he mentions “a brilliant beginner freaks out for a win on their first nomination,” and how this show in particular has the potential to inspire children who aren’t in New York City or Los Angeles.
And say what you will about Debra Messing: her reaction at 6:35 is the personification of every emotion this performance intended to conjure up:
The entire broadcast was fantastic, but opening with a brilliantly executed thesis has hopefully created the opportunity for this form of entertainment to thrive on television.
For more information about the writing of the opening number, I highly recommend the episode of Julie Klausner’s podcast How Was Your Week where she speaks with Lin-Manuel Miranda.