73rd Annual Tony Awards
The 73rd Annual Tony Awards happened last night. This is my favorite awards show because it is a celebration of the art form I grew up in and have worked in for most of my life. The Tonys offer a glimpse into the creative work for one of the best cities for theater. Is NYC the end all, be all? No, of course not. It is, through Broadway, the city that established itself as event viewing for a nationally broadcast awards show. Any opportunity to have people experience theater is a great opportunity to get keep building support for this medium.
Last night’s ceremony did something wonderful for the Best Play nominees that I’ve never seen on the telecast before. Each nominated playwright was brought onstage to introduce their work. They’ve tried various ways of making the Best Play nominees more accessible (it’s hard to just throw an excerpt of a full length play onstage as compared to a song or medley from musical) and I think this was the most successful yet.
It was also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the playwrights. There is no category specifically for playwriting at the Tony Awards. Playwrights receive nominations for Best Play with the producers of the show. It’s an odd distinction. The production of the play could not exist without the playwright, yet the actual text of the play is only considered in the context of a specific production. Compare that to the musical categories that separate Best Book into its own category. Obviously the production impacts how people view the text, but if musicals can separate the two, why not plays?
Last night, the playwrights took the stage and it was wonderful. Watching Heidi Schreck choke up while describing the influence of her mother on her phenomenal play What the Constitution Means to Me was heartwarming.
James Graham used dry humor to explain why the current political climate in the UK inspired him to write Ink, a play about the rise of tabloid news in the country.
Tarell Alvin McCraney gave a sincere introduction to Choir Boy, a serious and significant play with music about a queer black boy coming to terms with his identity in a strict school environment.
Taylor Mac Taylor Mac’d judy’s* way through an explanation of a Taylor Mac play in a way only Taylor Mac could for Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.
Sadly, there were massive sound issues during Jez Butterworth’s speech for The Ferryman, with a mic left on backstage having a much higher level than his mic onstage; people in the audience clearly heard him (thank you, projection) but it’s hardly above a whisper for the telecast.
Ultimately, Best Play went to The Ferryman, though the decision to allow these playwrights the opportunity to speak of their work on the telecast means they all received so much more attention than they usually do.
The musical categories largely went how they were expected to go. Hadestown triumphed as Best Musical, winning most of its nominations. Oklahoma took revival and Featured Actress for the wonderful Ali Stroker. Tootsie won Best Book and Best Actor for Santino Fontana. Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations won Best Choreography. Beetlejuice, The Prom, and Kiss Me, Kate went home empty-handed.
The performances were among the best we’ve had on a telecast in years. Hadestown showed off Reeve Carvey’s Orpheus (a surprise snub considering the other four major players in the story all received nominations) with “Wait for Me,” a haunting, dark, and immersive moment where Orpheus first sneaks into the Underworld to try to save his beloved Eurydice from death. I have not seen the Broadway production yet, but I have been a huge fan of the show since its run at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016.
Ain’t Too Proud… performed a very clean medley of songs from the show, a musical biopic about The Temptations. It worked and it should sell a lot of tickets. The show looks fun and the music, unsurprisingly, is catchy. The approach to the show is often compared to Jersey Boys and that had a very long and successful run on Broadway.
Tootsie put Tony-winning star Santino Fontana front and center in a performance of “Unstoppable,” where Michael Dorsey explains all of his goals he can now achieve through the assumed identity of Dorothy Michaels. The choreography is slick and Fontana has a gorgeous voice.
Beetlejuice did a medley of “Day-O” into “The Whole Being Dead Thing” and it worked. It’s a meta-musical where Beetlejuice acts as narrator and villain, interacting with the audience to tell his own story. “Day-O” showed off the rest of the principal cast while “The Whole Being Dead Thing” showed off the style of the show, both visually and in its humor. My friends who have seen Beetlejuice love it, but the amount of high contrast patterned imagery and flashing lights means I won’t be able to sit through the show myself.
The Prom showed off nominees Brooks Ashmanskas and Caitlin Kinnunen with “Tonight Belongs to You” leading into “It’s Time to Dance.” This is just a wonderful show that hasn’t found a consistent audience yet. It makes me sad. The performance should help sell tickets on Broadway. The choreography and singing is wonderful.
Oklahoma showed off Ali Stroker’s masterful Ado Annie with “I Cain’t Say No” leading into a brand new vision for the titular finale number. They couldn’t exactly do the dark and bloody version that plays onstage eight times a week on a national telecast. The only part that stayed true to the…tone of that interpretation was how angry and upset everyone onstage was singing “Okla, homa…” at the end. This Oklahoma is dark and upsetting in ways you probably never imagined before, yet not one word of dialogue is changed to suggest Curly might be as dangerous as Judd and Laurey might not be too happy being fought over like a prize to win.
Kiss Me, Kate showed off its wonderful choreography with a performance of “Too Darn Hot.” There’s nothing wrong with a traditional production of a great musical; Kiss Me, Kate just had the misfortune of opening the same season as a critically acclaimed transformative production of Oklahoma. They’re both worth seeing.
Only one musical not nominated for Best Musical opted to perform, which is a very expensive proposition even if you do receive the big nomination. The Cher Show celebrated the now Tony-winning Stephanie J. Block with a performance of “Believe.” Fellow Chers (the role is split between three performers representing three eras of Cher’s career) Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond joined her, followed by the ensemble showcasing the incredible, Tony-winning costumes from Bob Mackie. This was an easy opportunity to market the show to a wider audience. The cast is great and the title alone is selling tickets.
Best Play nominee Choir Boy also performed. Frankly, I think it was the best performance of the night. The play uses spirituals and dance to move the plot forward and it’s stunning. Music director for the production Jason Michael Webb received a Special Tony Award for his arrangements of these songs and the choreographer Camille A. Brown received a choreography nomination (a rarity for a play). The performance announcement was unexpected as the show as a limited, non-commercial run that already closed in March. Are they trying to market the show for future licensing? A larger tour? A new sit-down commercial run in NYC? Regardless, we all win when shows like Choir Boy get a chance to show off a the Tony Awards.
There were some surprises despite the dominance of Hadestown and The Ferryman in their respective categories. For musicals, Beetlejuice missing out on any technical award (especially Scenic Design and Lighting Design) was a pretty big shock. Same with Oklahoma missing Best Orchestrations. Acclaimed revivals that reinvent the orchestrations usually win this category. Hadestown took all three of these awards and is a worthy winner for all three. It just bucked popular opinion and/or trends to do it.
For plays, Elaine May took Leading Actress in a Play for her wonderful work in The Waverly Gallery, a production that closed in January. The only production that closed sooner and won was The Boys in the Band for Best Revival of a Play; it closed in August and opened before last year’s Tony Awards telecast. Those are both surprises as closed shows, especially plays, don’t usually win in the bigger categories. Running shows are easier to vote for, though clearly these two productions were well-loved.
You can find a complete list of the winners at the Tony Awards website.