Kevin Spacey kicked off the 71st Tony Awards Sunday night and showed he still had the stuff to bring it on the live stage. The versatile “House of Cards” star didn't try to be James Corden, rattling off a rap of every song sung through the year on the Great White Way. Kevin Spacey used his own wheelhouse of talents to win over his audience and had some help from political and past popular hosts. Receipts keep proving that no matter how connected humanity has become via devices, and no matter the wizardry of CGI graphics, there is nothing as memorable as seeing human actors portraying real human dramas and dynamic musical numbers live before more human beings.

That kind of gratification is instant, and there can be no retakes for mistakes, making every night all the more endearing. This was the night to honor the best of all performances by the American Theatre Wing. The journey was one of the past, the present, and continuing purpose for the future.

The guest groundhog

The festivities began with Kevin Spacey living out his own “Groundhog Day” bad dream with worries of his hosting duties.

He went through a myriad of costume changes, from Nora Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” with Glenn Close looking on from the seats, to various stages of tux and tails. He got counsel during his dream state from Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal. The highlight of his nighttime guests came when the slam to shut off the alarm clock summoned out a groundhog-headed Stephen Colbert to coax Spacey through. Finally, in full black tie dress and white wing-tip shoes, Kevin Spacey was dazzling in his closing number, backed by a cavalcade of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and invited guests. Despite the fact that he won his own Tony 25 years ago, Kevin Spacey was full-on Broadway and had a few more tricks up his sleeve.

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Past hits and a place for everyone

In reviewing the nominees for the 2017 Tonys, it's evident that a passion for the past still prevails. There was a heartrending scene from “Miss Saigon,” and it brought a warm feeling to anyone growing up watching “The Waltons” or loving Hallmark movies to see Richard Thomas celebrating his nomination for Best Featured Actor in a play for “The Little Foxes.” Thomas would not take the trophy that would go to the star of “Oslo,” but stars of television won big through the night.

Laurie Metcalf, known as the no-nonsense sister on “Roseanne,” took home honors for Best Leading Actress in a Play for the snarky, inventive “A Doll’s House Pt. 2.” Bette Midler was born for Broadway and has brought show-stopping pizzazz to the stage for five decades. Her turn at a Tony was long overdue, and she refused to be played off the stage at her acceptance moment for “Hello, Dolly.” “Oh, turn that crap off,” she insisted.

Even for the Divine Miss M, this night meant a lifetime.

Familiar actor, Kevin Kline, took honors as Best Actor in a Play for “Present Laughter,” and made a point to remind everyone of the significance of the National Endowment for the Arts. Cynthia Nixon used her moment of recognition for “The Little Foxes” to give gratitude to those in theater “who don’t just watch” as people and the earth are eaten by the devouring counterpart, per a Lillian Hellman quote.

Stephen Colbert made politically pointed comparisons between the production and the Trump administration, reminding that the four-year contract might not be fulfilled. Kevin Spacey provided interludes of his favorite impressions, Johnny Carson, Bill Clinton, and of course, Frank Underwood.

Another favorite of film and TV, Sally Field, gave a moving history of The American Theatre Wing, which began women doing service to those in the World War I aftermath, and then grew into its movement for the arts. She closed in affirming its mission to “illuminate the darkness with the blazing truth of art.”

Music and song spoke best of all that calls the human condition higher with numbers from “Come From Away,” “Falsettos,” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” which took six awards, including best musical, presented by “Hamilton” creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda. That production, among others, went from a "sleeper" to a mammoth hit with its theme of inclusion for those "tapping on the glass."

There was no “Hamilton” to take the lion’s heap of hardware this season, and that meant much more diversity and delight for every theatrical taste. One of the sweetest appeals came from Gavin Creel in accepting his award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for “Hello Dolly.” “I know a lot of you have a lot of money,” he told those in the audience. “So start a scholarship,” relating his benefit from his Michigan days in college. That kind of legacy is a forever-giving gift to the arts that lasts long after the final curtain.

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