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Neil Patrick Harris Slam-Dunks CBS Tony Awards with Naughty Musical Finale
June 9, 2009  | By David Bianculli
tonys-nph-top-new.jpgCompleting my book left me a day behind, so watching and reacting to the CBS Tony Awardsis a day tardy. But I have to do it anyway, because the closing number by Neil Patrick Harris, as wickedly funny as anything served up by a real musical in years, deserves praise, annotation, and a revisit. You can read the lyrics, parse the references, and even watch and listen to a clip of the finale, by reading on.

In my Best Bet in advance of Sunday's Tony Awards, I wrote that Neil Patrick Harris had done so well as host of the TV Land Awards, musically as well as comically, that I expected good things out of him as Tony host. Plus, having seen him on Broadway in both Assassins and Cabaret, and loved him as the lead in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, I knew he had the right stuff.

But now, after the Tonys, I'm thinking even bigger. If Justin Timberlake doesn't want to be the guy to single-handedly save the TV variety show, maybe Neil Patrick Harris does.


On the Tonys, Harris held back his biggest star wattage until the credits were about to roll, and kept singing even as they DID roll. It was a closing number tweaked until the last minute to reflect who did and didn't win, with a video montage to match, and was a brilliant piece of instant theater.

The music was provided by Leonard Bernstein's "Tonight" from West Wide Story, with a middle break set to the tune of "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" from another of the night's musical revival nominees, Guys & Dolls. The wonderfully witty lyrics were written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, of Hairspray. And also, it should be noted, of Harris' TV Land parodies, and of Billy Crystal's still-memorable Oscar medleys.

Crystal opened the Oscars when he sang, whereas Harris closed the Tonys. But what a closing.


Harris, in the lyrics, recognized that Angela Lansbury picked up her fifth Tony, and that the three young actor-dancers from Billy Elliot, who rotated performances in the difficult lead role, won by sharing a single Tony. He name-checked several other winners -- Geoffrey Rush, Karen Olivo, Alice Ripley, Liza Minnelli, the cast of Hair -- and even mentioned several people who didn't win, but who played a part in the evening's festivities.

Elton John, for example, who wrote the score for Billy Elliot but didn't win, was mentioned. So was Bret Michaels, the Poison frontman who was one of several guest stars during the massive opening production number (Elton John took part there, too, as did Dolly Parton, who had written music and lyrics for 9 to 5).


Harris even poked fun at one actor, Chris Sieber, whose role as the mini-tyrant in Shrek: The Musical required him to play part of it on his knees, with a costume designed to make it look as if he had very tiny legs.

All of this, and more, made it into the lyrics, which Harris began singing at 11:03 ET, starting to the tune of "Tonight"...

Tonight, Tonight
The Tonys were tonight
and Elton's Billy was all the rage

What class! What drive! Now Angela's won five!
And she hooked up with Poison backstage

With heels as sore as poor Achilles
three tutu-wearing Billys
were such a winning sight


Tonight, all three
won Tony, plus they hit puberty

[At this point, the music shifts to "Luck Be a Lady"]

And Geoffrey won a Tony tonight
Karen won a Tony tonight
Liza at the Palace, Mr. Ripley's daughter Alice,
They all won a Tony tonight...

[The music shifts back to "Tonight," and the credits begin to roll. "Credits? That's not going to stop me!" Harris shouts. And he continues:]

Chris Sieber. Please!
Performing on your knees?
Dude, that only works to win Golden Globes!

[Spontaneous applause from the black-tie audience for that risque in-joke.]

I hope tonight
when they're high as a kite
to be there when the Hair cast disrobes.


This show could not be any gayer
If Liza was named mayor
and Elton John took flight --

[More applause]

The curtain falls,
I'm off to hit some big Tony balls

[Big applause and ovation, with good reason]


Wow. Harris, who came out in the last few years and saw his career suffer no repercussions whatsoever, not only gets to host the Tonys, but to sing about going out to "hit some big Tony balls." And truly, the gayer/mayor couplet about Liza Minnelli... Whatever your sexual orientation, that IS entertainment.

Here's a link, I hope, to a clip of the complete Neil Patrick Harris closing number. Click HERE to watch it.

Enjoy it, then ask yourself: When How I Met Your Mother is over, couldn't THIS guy host a variety series?





Ron Casalotti said:

You and I must go to the same Broadway shows. I, too, saw NPH in 'Cabaret' and 'Assassins' and thought he was great in each. I also remember him performing on one of those seasonal Broadway in New York specials where he sang "What You Own" in the role of Mark from the L.A. production of 'Rent.'

And I loved his stint as host of the Tony Awards. It was, as Barney Stinson would say, legen... (wait for it)... dary! (can I get a virtual high 5?)

I think the negative reaction to his announcement as host was initially fueled by a lack of understanding of his credits/abilities. To some, he's a TV actor, to others simply "gay" and to a few "Doogie Howser".

The truth is he's a talented actor and singer and may indeed be the biggest winner of this year's ceremonies. (I couldn't agree more -- and I'm glad to hear someone else saw him in those Broadway shows, and was just as impressed. - David B.)

Comment posted on June 9, 2009 12:35 PM

Alicia-Marie said:

I would love to see him host a Variety Show. There's not many people who could pull it off, but he could. I think the idea should hold off for a little while though. The timing has to be perfect with these things.

Comment posted on June 9, 2009 2:45 PM

Sarah said:

He was awesome! I just have two things to add-

The Emmys (Which NPH should win) need to take I re-look at this years Oscars and Tonys and fallow suit and that leads me to my second point, Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris now need to do a showbiz duet.

Comment posted on June 9, 2009 2:54 PM

Jim Forkan said:

I too thought Neil Patrick Harris was terrific as the Tony Awards host. He even had a Billy Crystal-style moment with his topical finale song near the end. I vote for him to host the Emmy Awards as well. He'd be light years better than most of those they've chosen lately.

Comment posted on June 9, 2009 4:39 PM

LC said:

I didn't even know he could sing! But his performance was, for my money, the highlight of the show.

I was impressed by his voice AND the fact that the lyrics had obviously been tweaked up to the final moments.

Kudos to all involved.

Comment posted on June 9, 2009 9:28 PM

giggles said:

I agree, he was terrific...worth waiting up and staying through the credits.... More of THAT, please!

Comment posted on June 10, 2009 12:20 PM

ASH said:

Don't know how to contact you, David B.,
but I'm wondering why you didn't mention the
guest star appearance of David Carradine in "Mental" yesterday.


(My only excuse is that I don't like "Mental" enough to steer people towards it, even when it employs effective stunt casting. It's nothing against Carradine, or you, believe me. -- David B.)

Comment posted on June 10, 2009 12:54 PM
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