James Corden got the Tony Awards off to an electrifying start with a nearly 10-minute song-and-dance extravaganza that persuasively extolled the virtues of the live stage while smuggling a celebration of TV into theater’s biggest night.
It was the CBS late-night host’s second outing hosting the show, with the last coming back in 2016, and he delivered an opening that drew an enthusiastic standing ovation from the Radio City Musical Hall crowd. The number also managed the complicated feat of both passionately arguing that audiences needed to “put down the remote” and watch live theater, while delivering that same message via, yes, a televised awards show. The number also, endearingly but strikingly, was bursting with as many shoutouts to buzzy new shows as a TV blog recapper on Red Bull.
The segment began with Corden on his couch, in front of the TV. An Alexa-like voice informed him there were “24,601 shows remaining” in his queue.
He then launched into a musical lament about the flood of programming we’re all drowning in — shows that light up “Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, till you can’t remember which program-is-on.”
After continuing to remark on the overabundance of shows, he paused to note, “I’m not speaking of network TV which is wonderful … or is it?”
The only solution, per the number? “Trade the remote for the near / Leave your couch and travel here.”
With that, his sweatsuit was ripped away to reveal a red velvet tuxedo and a host of singers and dancers joined him on the stage to sing the praises of the theatrical experience.
“It’s a different kind of show,” he sang. “Actual people in an actual place.”
Two minutes into the opening, Corden paused and looked down into the audience as the music came to a screeching halt. When the camera found Network star Bryan Cranston standing up to sneak out of the theater, Cranston asked him what he was doing. “I need to go to the bathroom,” he shrugged. Corden replied that the show was barely two minutes old.
Cranston fumed, channeling his Howard Beale character in Network: “I am bloated as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
The music and dancing then revved back up again. Corden showed off his verbal dexterity by rattling off a Sondheim-worthy list of dozens of show titles in rat-a-tat fashion, capping it with a plug for the Late Late Show and CBS, “America’s most-watched network.”
He then slyly paid tribute to the medium through which viewers were watching him praise the theater. “I love you, TV — you pay us so much more money than the theater,” he said. “Law & Order corpses?” he asked, and several hands shot up in the ensemble of dancers behind him.
Corden got his big break at CBS thanks to Broadway theater. CBS executives who saw his Tony-winning lead acting turn in One Man, Two Guvnors were persuaded to give Corden the Late Late Show. In addition to stage work, Corden He also has appeared in the musical film adaptation of Into the Woods and is slated to star in the upcoming big-screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats.
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