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3 Life Lessons from Neil Patrick Harris’ Tony Awards Opening

I was in sort of a funk when I clicked on a link this morning, and NPH’s opening number for the 2013 Tony Awards changed everything. So fabulous! Can you believe the choreography, the energy and the sheer skill and athleticism Neil Patrick Harris possesses? Is anyone more talented or charming? I defy you to stay in your own personal funk/ennui/end-of-school-year-blues/Monday grumpiness after seeing the opening number.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BraXq07kkM

It occurred to me that in addition to being sheerly delightful, there are some pretty useful life lessons in this number that I really needed to hear today and to keep in the front of my mind this week. 

1. Make it bigger. 

The anthem of the piece is buoyantly demonstrated throughout. I don’t know how you even organize that many moving parts backstage let alone produce a number like that. Cheerleaders! Contortionists! Orphans! Now wheel in the disappearing booth! There’s a great lesson here in not holding back. I’ve been riding the brakes on a few things…but why? I think it’s time to make it bigger.

2. Own it.

I loved the bravado woven throughout. Broadway knows it is badass, and Neil claimed it. My favorite line in this vein was a poke at the Les Misérables movie, delivered by NPH after he ran the length of the house twice for the magic act:

See, on Broadway we don’t need extreme closeups to prove we’re singing live. We sing live eight shows a week. Check it!

You know, we could take this example to heart. Don’t hold back, and no apologies for rocking things this week, my friends. Own it. Say it. Check it.

3. Infuse it with meaning. 

The opening number is hilarious and full of bawdy jokes, insider humor and self-deprecation, all of which are fantastic. But it’s the tender, triumphant moment at 5:47 that elevates it. Young people drawn to the performing arts often feel like outsiders, out-of-sync with their football-loving classmates. Additionally, theater has long been the refuge for tender people who finally find a homebase for their creativity. Writing, acting, singing, dancing and staging productions in company can be a place where feeling and expressing emotions deeply is an advantage not a weakness, and a place for queer people to experience acceptance as they define their identites. Neil celebrated this by rapping to the kids in the middle of nowhere  who might be living vicarious creative freedom and acceptance through the Tony performances:

So we might reassure that kid

and do something to spur that kid

I promise you all of us up here tonight

We were that kid

And now we’re bigger!

That might be the best It Gets Better message yet. Middle school definitions of cool have a short expiration date. As adults, we must find ways to reach and inspire others so that they know that and can hang in until it gets better.

I love watching the audience in awe of this amazing work. Just brilliant, in every sense of the word. This phenomenal opening piece also left me with this important lesson: The ineffable Neil Patrick Harris must host all shows now, please. Until then, I’m watching the 2013 Tony Awards opening again. And then again after that. Is it a ringtone yet?

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