Tony Clip 11: Michael Jeter in Grand Hotel
Musical theater doesn't get better than Michael Jeter's breathtakingly joyful and soulful performance in this 1990 number from Grand Hotel, and acceptance speeches don't get more touching than Jeter's either. This may be my personal favorite Tony performance of all time—the one I return to when I need a lift, and which reminds me of extraordinary things a truly gifted performer can do. I remember being wowed by this performance when I saw it on TV as a teenager, and then tearing up at Jeter's sweet, vulnerable message of hope when he won the Tony for Best Featured Actor shortly afterward.
The bittersweet ironies of this clip only multiply its power. Jeter, here, is playing a dying man buoyed by a night of drunken excess; his speech, however, exalts the possibility of moving beyond alcohol and drugs. And the exuberance of "We'll Take a Glass Together" is shadowed by tragedy. This was 1990, near the nadir of the AIDS crisis that was ravaging the theater world. Jeter, who would later speak courageously about his own HIV-positive status, sang and danced the number with Brent Barrett instead of Grand Hotel's original star, David Carroll, who by then was too sick to perform it. A Best Actor nominee, Carroll watched it from the audience; he later died in a recording studio while trying to lay down his tracks for the Grand Hotel cast album.
This context, for me, adds deep dimensions to a song about enjoying life in the face of imminent horror. Every time I watch it, I marvel.—Adam Feldman