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Bryan Cranston, Neil Patrick Harris, Audra McDonald Among 2014 Tony Award Winners

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Jun 09, 2014 12:06 AM EDT

Tonight's rather bland 2014 Tony Awards show was pretty light on great entertainment, and pretty light on surprises too. Already celebrated for his TV success in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston won the Tony for Best Actor in a Play for his role as LBJ in All the Way, which took the Best Play Tony as well, and Audra McDonald took Best Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill.

On the musicals side--the side which occupied nearly all of the broadcast--Neil Patrick Harris won Best Lead Actor in a Musical for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with his costar Lena Hall taking the Featured Actress award. The show itself nailed Best Revival of a Musical.

Jessie Mueller won Best Lead Actress for her portrayal of the young Carole King in Beautiful. And to no one's surprise, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder won Best Musical, Best Director (Darko Tresnjak) and several more.

The big story at the 2014 Tony Awards didn't come so much from the winners' envelopes, but from the number of shows focussed heavily or wholly on African-American culture or starring African-American performers.

Director Kenny Leon and his revival of A Raisin in the Sun both won Tonys, as did Sophie Okonedo as Best Featured Actress in a Play--though that particular black face belongs not to an African-American but, as she explained, to "a Jewish Nigerian Brit." (Another Brit, Mark Rylance, won his third Tony, this time for Best Featured Actor in a Play. The play was Twelfth Night, also by a Brit. Coincidence? I don't think so.)

The best production number was the one that opened the broadcast, and it was from After Midnight, the show about a Harlem nightclub (winner of the Tony for Best Choreography). The production number from Best Revival of a Musical nominee Violet climaxed with a gospel choir. The one from Aladdin was anchored not by the title character but the Genie, played by top-notch all-around-entertainer (and African-American) James Monroe Iglehart--who promptly took the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

The most striking voice in the production number from Best Revival nominee Les Misérables belonged to African-American performer Kyle Scatliffe in the role of Enjolras.

That put me in mind of the ascendance of Scandal's Norm Lewis as the new and first African-American star of Phantom of the Opera.

There were so many black faces on the stage that when LL Cool J, T.I. and host H.J. delivered a weird rap "Music Man" number ("He's a Music Man! He's a what?") it seemed an unneeded extra nod to African-American performers and African-American culture, which were already in plentiful evidence.

On stage, that is. The relative paucity of African-Americans attending the shows honored tonight is another story entirely, one for another day.

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TagsTony Awards, Tony Awards 2014, Bryan Cranston, Audra McDonald, Neil Patrick Harris, Carole King, Jessie Mueller, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig