Neil Patrick Harris charms during smooth, straightforward Tony Awards telecast

The Tony Awards were so eager for another “Book of Mormon”-size hit this year that they even invited the show back for an encore, opening the telecast with its number “Hello” a year after it won Best Musical.

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone‘s irreverent musical introduced a relatively sedate telecast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris with aplomb. Though he never had a moment as memorable as last year’s riotous ode to theater, “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore,” it would have been unfair to expect that particular kind of lightning to strike twice. He book-ended the event with charming musical performances but made sporadic appearances in-between, mostly taking a backseat to the show’s efficient cycle of performances and awards presentations. (See recap here and winners’ list here)

The Tonys, along with the Grammys, are special for their live showcases of the nominated work – though wouldn’t you love to see selections from “Breaking Bad” or “Downton Abbey” performed on-stage at the next Emmys? This year’s offerings lacked significant showstoppers. Best Actor in a Play winner James Corden single-handedly outshone most of the musical ensembles simply by fighting with himself in a scene from his play “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

The “Newsies” cast impressed with their Tony-winning choreography, dancing precariously on sheets of newspaper. The cast of “Once,” which won eight prizes including Best Musical, performed the ensemble number “Gold,” though the strongest numbers from that show are really its intimate solos and duets.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” compressed its impressive score into a medley that offered a sampling but couldn’t quite capture the show’s full emotional heft. It is notable, I think, that the selected performance from “Evita,” “And the Money Kept Rolling In,” lacked any singing from Elena Roger, who plays the title role and has received mixed reviews; taking center stage instead was the show’s box-office draw, Ricky Martin.

The most memorable moments from the telecast came from the winners themselves, including Judy Kaye (“Nice Work If You Can Get It“) and Steve Kazee (“Once”), who dedicated their wins to loved ones who recently passed away. Audra McDonald was emotional as she accepted her record-tying fifth Tony for “Porgy and Bess,” her first win for a leading role.

So were surprise winners Corden and Nina Arianda (“Venus in Fur“). Hugh Jackman was visibly moved and overjoyed when his wife, Deborra Lee-Furness, surprised him by presenting him with his special Tony. Those are the kinds of moments and reactions you can’t plan for, and they were the true highlights of the evening.

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