The "Late Late Show" host's best moment was a small, cute joke about stage actors who had appeared on "Law and Order" — which included at least a half-dozen of those sitting in the audience — that culminated with six different appearances (in wildly differing hairstyles) by "Fiddler on the Roof" star Danny Burstein, currently heavily bearded for his role as Tevye. Too bad Corden's "Carpool Karaoke" shtick with Broadway stars belting showtunes had already been released. It made the telecast feel late to its own party.
But last night wasn't Corden's show, and he had the grace — or the good guidance from the producers — to know it.
The telecast actually had savoir faire, and I say that as someone who often watches the Tonys from behind the couch or ducks out altogether. Here were the moments that mattered:
Corden's inevitable prancing musical mashup (which was, again, fine, but a trope that's tough to reanimate every year) was not the highlight, but rather his framing of the night's awards against the tragedy of the mass shooting in Orlando.
At first it seemed that Corden's very brief statement ("Hate will never win," it went in part, "together we have to make sure of that") was not a significant enough gesture for a night that in some measure simply had to be about solidarity with the victims in the shooting. Yet the tragedy was never far out of mind, and Frank Langella delivered a particularly moving tribute as he accepted his best actor award for "The Father."
"When something bad happens, we have three choices: We let it define us, we let it destroy us or we let it strengthen us," Langella said. "Today in Orlando, we had a hideous dose of reality. And I urge you, Orlando, to be strong, because I'm standing in a room full of the most generous human beings on earth, and we will be with you every step of the way."
The musical performances
Only "On Your Feet!" looked tacky. "Waitress" received lovely work from composer Sara Bareilles, accompanying herself on piano, and from lead performer Jessie Mueller. "The Color Purple" was reliably powerful, led by eventual best actress winner Cynthia Erivo. Broadway can look so frantic on TV that you have to stand back, but CBS seems to be figuring out how to invite viewers in. Deaf West's "Spring Awakening" was crisp and intriguing; "Hamilton" showed its muscle; and the sharp dancing of "Shuffle Along" and the easygoing bluegrass of "Bright Star" looked like shows you'd like to see.
The president and the first lady introduced the "Hamilton" number, because — surely you remember this — writer-composer-star Lin-Manuel Miranda debuted his opening song at the White House in 2009, long before Miranda had anything like a full show. "I confess, we all laughed," the president said, recalling Miranda's cheeky notion of a show about the first treasury secretary. "But who's laughing now?"
The opposite of #OscarsSoWhite
Performers of color won all four major acting awards in musicals: leads Erivo ("The Color Purple") and Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr in "Hamilton"), and featured actors Daveed Diggs and Renee Elise Goldsberry. That's right, Oscar, you should be blushing.
The network did not pull the plug precisely at 11 p.m. See last year's debacle during a historic win for the female composing team of "Fun Home" (whose acceptance speech came after the cutoff) to understand why that matters.
While the show may be very old news by now for the New York theater crowd (Jealous? Naaaah.) inside the Beacon Theatre, it surely fanned enthusiasm with viewers not only with the force of its performances but with the joyful way team "Ham" does it. The quickie renditions of vintage show tunes outside on the street as the telecast broke for commercials? That's a #Ham4Ham thing. Miranda's acceptance speech as he won for his hip-hop score? A sonnet, thank you very much, that beautifully embraced both his pleasure in winning and the monumental loss in Orlando.
The 11 wins for the musical? Not up to the all-time best of 12, held by "The Producers," but the charisma and sensitivity of "Hamilton" had a lot to do with the winning tone of the TV show.