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Sean Hayes, Broadway Star, Knocks ‘Em Dead as Tony Host

Sean Hayes, the Emmy-winning, ultra-Gay sidekick on “Will and Grace,” was delightful this evening as the host of the 64th annual Tony Awards. I got to see him in a new light as a multi-talented performer, the star with Kristin Chenoweth of the Broadway revival of “Promises, Promises.”

The kid can play the piano, romance a girl, insult closet cases, make fun of himself, show up in tights and a cup, put on a dress, act totally macho and run an adding machine while people are singing and dancing all around him. I predict a bright future for this handsome, smart funny boy. Maybe he’ll get a TV series someday.

(Agence France-Press)

I hated “Will and Grace.”

The cast was excellent, but the writing offended me; it was like watching the Gay “Amos and Andy.” I’m old enough to have seen “A&A” in reruns in the mid-1950s; it was hilarious at the time, just like “Will and Grace,” but the humor was racist, just like “W&G” was Gay-hateful.

That’s what made it a hit, appealing to Gay people and anti-Gay people. The same formula powered “Amos and Andy.”

“A&A” called Black folk every racist name in the book, save one; “Will and Grace” called Gay men every hateful name they could think of, save one.

“Amos and Andy” called Black folk “coons and jigaboos,” to huge laughs and high ratings. African-American viewers were thrilled to see themselves on TV, just like Gay viewers were in the ’90s; racist Whites rioted with laughter at the coons and jigaboos.

The two shows succeeded by playing both ends against the middle. “A&A” never said the word “nigger,” and “W&G” never said the word “fag.” They didn’t have to; the euphemisms supplied the humor.

After a year or two I wasn’t willing to listen to Karen anymore; I didn’t want her in my house, even though Megan Mulally is a fabulous comic talent.

No one remembers today the funny scrapes Andy and the Kingfish went through in their very successful TV run; what people remember is the atrocious language that was racist to the core—just like “Will and Grace” made millions indiscriminately, appealing to Gay people and Gay-haters simultaneously.

But now is a new day. Hayes and Chenoweth are starring in the revival of “Promises, Promises.” The Bachrach/David score is worth hearing again, but the show itself, if Hayes and his adding machine scene are any indication, is iffy at best; an insurance salesman? For this we’re to pay $100 a ticket? Why?

It was great to see Hayes get good material tonight; he ran with it, and even the occasional bump in the road (speeches going on too long, like always) he handled with something approaching aplomb.

I would pay money to see Sean Hayes acting Straight with Kristin Chenoweth to a Bachrach/David score. He was nominated as Best Actor in a Musical, didn’t get it, no problem. He has shown he’s a well-rounded actor. Kudos to the American Theatre Wing for choosing him.

And may Newsweek promptly go out of business. (A columnist said Hayes was too Gay to play Straight. Hayes proved he’s too talented to be confined.)

Catherine Zeta-Jones won best actress in a musical; she sang “Send in the Clowns,” the iconic song from “A Little Night Music.” She was quite good; a little mannered perhaps, but the piece is so well-constructed even a high school girl can do it well, and Zeta-Jones’ performance was satisfying. Still, I remember the original performance by Glynis Johns in 1974 (she also won the Tony), and between the memory and the live performance I found myself missing my mother, a Hoosier girl who’d never been to New York till I took her to see Glynis in “Night Music.”

Angela Lansbury has the Hermione Baddeley part now to great acclaim—but she didn’t win her sixth Tony; I tuned in thinking, “I want to see Angie win,” but when Katie Finneran (“Promises, Promises”) won instead I felt fine. It’s a terrible thing to have to compete with Angela Lansbury, but she’s halfway between 80 and dead and a younger woman won tonight. How exciting! Art should be full of surprises. Lansbury was named to some kind of honorary Tony post and at this point she no longer needs awards; she’s already immortal. So give someone else a chance, and they did. I bet she was thrilled, because it really isn’t a competition, it’s a recognition. The whole world knows Angie Lansbury; it’s about time we learned about Katie Finneran, who may be just as good or better if given a chance.

Wasn’t it great to see Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets football team introduce “Memphis”?

“Red” was the big winner among the plays, six Tonys, more nominations. I haven’t seen it, don’t know much about it, but I’d certainly catch this cast if I were in New York. Eddie Redmayne looked and sounded very appealing on the telecast. I was so glad I watched.

“Memphis” won Best Musical. “La Cage aux Folles,” the Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein drag extravaganza, won Best Musical Revival, with co-star Douglas Hodge as Albin beating out Kelsey Grammer for Best Actor. Hodge was favored, but still it’s an upset when the drag queen beats the “Straight” guy in a musical.

Apparently we’re past the days when we reward a Straight guy for his great “courage” in playing a Gay role. If anything, tonight was about Gay shruggability.

It was nice to see Grammer and his former co-star David Hyde Pierce from the “Cheers” spinoff “Frazier” together again. Hyde Pierce is rapidly getting thin on top, but they work together so well. He won a special award for his fight against Alzheimer’s Disease—not AIDS, Alzheimer’s.

“American Idiot,” the Green Day musical, contributed more to the Tonys-as-TV-show than anything else tonight; I found both the music and the visuals a bit assaultive, but I’m still young enough to want people under 30 in the theater. Anything that simultaneously tears down and builds up Broadway is good in my book; “Idiot” does both.

Broadway can’t survive by worshiping the past; it has to be renewed by today’s performers, today’s ideas, today’s sounds. It’s never been opera, frozen in the past, and never will be; if it ever becomes opera it will die. “American Idiot,” even Broadwayfied, renews the form—which after all is about one thing more than any other: Now, Live, One-Time-Only, Just You and Us! Every performance is different, it will never be this way again.

Film is great, but theater is a rose that opens before your very eyes; yes, her color will soon wither, but now is all we’ve got.

Matthew Morrison of “Glee” was phenomenal, singing and dancing to “All I Need Is the Girl.” His co-star Lea Michele was a virtual Streisand copycat with “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

And then there was “Fela!” Bill T. Jones won for Best Choreography. He has a new lover now, but I thought of Arnie Zane. It’s great to see Bill T. continue to create.

I gained a new appreciation of Frank Sinatra tonight, from Twyla Tharp’s non-book musical “Come Fly Away.” I’ve never much liked or respected Sinatra, a Mafia boy, the bobbysox whore. But it was great to hear him sing “That’s Life!” And you can’t deny it; I thought of giving up, but my heart wouldn’t buy it. He was an artist if anyone was, and I have to set aside my Protestant judgments of his constant moral compromises. The man could sing. He knew what he was doing with a lyric. He could sell “New York, New York” to New Yorkers with a smile on his face. Who wouldn’t buy from that kid from Hoboken?

Denzel Washington won for “Fences.” So did his co-star Viola Davis, her second Tony. I found myself thinking during the telecast, seeing all these fabulous performers from all these different nations, genders, orientations and races, how stupid and destructive it is that we still have to endure prejudices based on skin color, religion, fatness, thinness or any of the other dividing lines of the past. Prejudice robs us of talent we’re desperately in need of.

Broadway, unlike Hollywood, puts fat people onstage—and man, they can move! I was as impressed by the people in the chorus as the big name stars.

They’re Broadway to me, the best in the world. The CBS cameras captured as many of them as they could, and my word, they can dance, they can sing, they can act, they can sell—they’re the theater.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and Sean Hayes, who got his name up in lights at Radio City Music Hall: “Sean Hayes hosts the 64th Tony Awards.” I hope his mother took a picture.

He’s moved beyond Jack the Fag that Karen was never allowed to pronounce, because it would have destroyed the show and revealed it as no improvement on “Amos and Andy.” Coon, jigaboo, watermelon boy.

He’s beyond that now, becoming a well-rounded entertainer with a sense of humor and a certain dignity. (Or not!)

Glynis Johns was a bit more ironic, but Catherine Zeta-Jones sang very well and I’m happy for her award.

Still, even the Tony Awards show ought not to be about watching celebs or applauding the winners who may or may not have been “better than” the other nominees. No one in New York thinks there was a better performance this season than Angela Lansbury’s; she’s peerless, no one can touch her. The Tonys are about something else, sparking creativity in you and me.

I’m a bit surprised and pleased to say it actually worked this year; I cut out during the commercials. They went on for two or three or four minutes at a time, and being a Sunday, I started watering my plants on the side porch, where I noticed my yucca plant in full bloom, four feet tall, white blossoms all up and down this magnificent spike. I got a new idea, which I wouldn’t have had without the stimulus of artists on Broadway. Why not bring those flowers inside? Why not treat them as flowers, like roses or marigolds or tulips? Why did I see them as a nuisance instead of a beauty?

The yucca stalk is really thick, so I had to get out my loppers and then catch the stem as I cut through it; it’s four feet tall, gorgeous, beautiful, but I’d never really seen it as flowers before, just the plant reproducing itself, and later a stalk to cut down.

For the first time I’ve brought those flowers inside; even my tallest vase isn’t adequate—I’ve never used that blue sculpted glass for a function before—but now it sits in my kitchen, propped up a bit but looking magnificent.

I got the idea from watching creative people on television. Sean Hayes, Green Day, Catherine Zeta-Jones (who gets to sleep with a movie star every night!), Viola Davis. I now have this beautiful stalk covered with flowers, four feet tall in my kitchen.

We go to the theater to see their creativity stimulate our own. That’s why we pay them money.

My litttle innovation will never win a Tony award, but it doesn’t have to; I got an idea just from being around creative people.

Angela Lansbury would like my yucca flowers; four feet tall!++

6 Responses

  1. Angela Lansbury’s “A Little Night Music” role was played by Hermione Gingold, not Hermione Baddeley (of Bewitched fame, in addition to her film and theatre careers).

  2. I loved your review, thank you, Josh…I love Broadway Theatre and when I was a youngster (my parents were enthusiasts and the first show I saw was a road version with Mary Martin of South Pacific)…my Dad would go to New York on business and we had 78 albums filled with trasures like Oklahoma and Carousel…I waited until nobody was around and I´d play them and leap around the living room and often build sets out of cardboard boxes (and people have the nerve to say that gay isn´t inborn)…later I was a young fashion buyer for Department Stores who went regularly to ¨market¨ in New York on business…oh, the thrill of it all and the free ¨vendor¨ ticket pairs too…I saw Jerry Orhbach in Promises Promises when it was new…he, and the show, knocked my drunken socks off…oh, the wonders of youth! I have a cousin who was in the original Broadway cast drag chorus of “La Cage aux Folles¨ and he was earlier in the movie ¨The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas¨ as one of the Texas Aggie´s (yes IT surely is IN the genes)…I saw Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd…actually, I didn´t like it and I am/was far more inspired by other leading ladies in general…but, what the heck, it was grand to see the Tony´s through your review…somehow I must have missed it because I often am out of the loop in Central America and if it isn´t on CNN INTERNATIONAL or BBC I´m completely uninformed even about BREAKING NEWS…may your flowers reach the sky.

    Love to you and Luke,

    Leonardo and friends

  3. Yes, indeed, KeaauRich, I got my Hermiones mixed up. You may not, however, confiscate my toaster oven. (Thanks for the correction.)

    Leonardo, you got to see Mary Martin on the road? Wow! My mother got the Broadway cast album from the Columbia Record Club (Terre Haute, Indiana) back when they offered a Broadway category; the sound of Ezio Pinza singing “Some Enchanted Evening” is in my personal all-time Top Ten.

    Mom bought this stereo, see, a huge Voice of Music piece of furniture the size of a china cabinet, and since we lived in a town too small for a record store, she joined the club. I missed out on Oklahoma and Carousel, but I hit the jackpot with MY FAIR LADY IN STEREO, the London cast recording that was the first stereo recording ever released. I want Julie Andrews singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” at my funeral, my all-time favorite sound.

    Leonard Weir sang “On the Street Where You Live” in London, and that’s a favorite sound too.

    Years later when Jack started watching “Law and Order” with Jerry Orbach, I sat down and watched too. “He’s a Broadway star,” I said.

    “Oh yeah?”

    “Promises, Promises.”

    Once, Johnny Carson had Hal Linden on “The Tonight Show,” where he sang “In My Own Lifetime,” which is an anthem of liberation from “The Rothschilds.” Mayer wants to see the fighting cease, the ghetto walls come down. It’s sung for and about the Jews, but it applies equally to Gay people or anyone else who’s oppressed. Linden won the Tony that year and I shouted the house down. He’d spent 30 years in showbiz and was about to quit until he got that part; later it led to “Barney Miller.”

    So, as you might imagine, even though I’m from the middle of a cornfield, I got myself to Broadway at 22. And people have the nerve to say that Gay isn’t inborn!

  4. WILL&GRACE WAS OF THE BEST SHOWS IN HISTORY! And the cast was just perfect. I can’t imagine better sitcom (except Friends or The Nanny).

  5. I have no idea how I stumbled across your blog (I came upon this post, in particular, in a Google search), but I have to say something. “Will and Grace” did use the word ‘fag’ at least once during it eight-year run, and on several occassions dipped into the more serious aspects of being a gay man (and in a few episodes, a gay woman) in contemporary society.

    The episode I’m thinking of is the one in which Will runs into a client at the gym and refuses to introduce him to Jack because, as he later tells Grace, ‘he can be such a fag.’ Jack confronts Will, and Will later makes ammends by introducing him to the client. There’s no emotional meltdown, no fireworks, no camp — but I think the end of that episode was one of the best-written of the series; Will is proud to introduce “[his] friend, Jack,” suggesting inclusion for even the most flamboyant of homosexual men. I know I’m reading into a sitcom like this is a high school English class, but it’s a quiet and optimistic way of addressing internal discrimination in the gay community.

    Yes, there’s a great deal of self-deprication and self-parody on the show, but I think that’s true of many sitcoms of the last decade. I think those two things are just major elements of this generation’s brand of humor.

  6. Thank you for your comment, Peter. I didn’t know that Will & Grace ever used the word “fag,” but no matter how artistically they handled it, it’s despicable.

    I do know that “Amos and Andy” used every substitute for “nigger,” including “coon and jigaboo.” and that the two shows used the same technique, pro-Gay and anti-Gay, racist and Black-proud, playing both ends against the middle. That is why I will never have any respect whatever for “Will and Grace.” “Amos and Andy” also had giant ratings and a talented cast. So what?

    I wouldn’t show my face in public if I were Karen (Megan Mulally), I’d be ashamed; but she struts around as if she’s some sort of star. Her job was to get laughs from homophobes—and man, she ate it up like Butterfly McQueen.

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