After just a few minutes of the opening number at last night’s Tony Awards it was clear this was a Broadway awards show like none other: Bret Michaels took the stage with Poison and performed “Nothin’ But a Good Time” from their 1988 album Open Up and Say… Ahh! with C.C. DeVille rocking right alongside him. The band joined the cast of hair-metal musical Rock of Ages, a show that also features the music of Warrant, Whitesnake and Quiet Riot — and yes, was nominated for five Tonys. Michaels unfortunately suffered a severe blow to the head when he was clipped by a moving set piece as the song ended; he didn’t break his nose, and still “had a blast performing,” his rep told People. Host Neil Patrick Harris even opened his monologue with a reference to Michaels’ mishap: “Gives a whole new meaning to headbanging!”
It might be the first mention of headbanging in Tony history, but Poison weren’t the only representatives of the rock & roll world with a major presence at the show. Elton John and Dolly Parton both performed (with the casts of Billy Elliot, The Musical and 9 to 5, respectively), and John’s Billy Elliot was the night’s big winner, turning 10 of its 15 nominations into Tonys, including Best Musical. The show made history when the three teenage boys who play the role of Billy won for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
Billy Elliot‘s score, co-penned by Elton John, wound up losing Best Original Score to the powerful original production Next to Normal. Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers has said that musical proves “rock is alive and rolling like thunder” on Broadway, and predicted a Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical win for Alice Ripley’s “simply magnificent” portrayal as the show’s bipolar manic-depressive mother. Next to Normal and Billy Elliot tied for Best Orchestrations, while Hair, Broadway’s first rock musical, whose songs have spawned several Top 40 hits over the last 40 years, was awarded Best Revival of a Musical.
Hair‘s famous “Let the Sunshine In” ended the night’s opening number as members of the cast scampered into the audience. The touring productions of Mama Mia and Jersey Boys were also on hand to sing songs by ABBA and the Four Seasons, respectively. And Rock of Ages made the most of its moment in the spotlight, performing a medley of Twisted Sister’s “I Want to Rock” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” as the audience waved LED lighters and the show’s lovable narrator Lonny bantered with Liza Minnelli, who was seated in the front row.
But in the end, it all came back to Poison. Host Harris was clearly tickled by Bret Michaels’ unlikely appearance at the awards, joking about doing shots with the singer and tossing another reference into his tongue-in-cheek song recap that ended the night: “What class, what drive / now Angela [Lansbury]’s won five / and she hooked up with Poison backstage!”