‘Red Mill!’ and “Heritage” take top honors at the Tony Awards


It was the first Tony Awards in 27 months. It followed the longest Broadway shutdown in history. It happened during a pandemic that has already killed 687,000 Americans, and as the theater industry, like many other sectors of society, grapples with growing demands for racial fairness.

The Tony Awards on Sunday night were unlike any previous one – always a mix of awards and performance, but now with a mission to catch audiences as the endangered industry and sustainable art form seek to bounce back .

The biggest prize of the ceremony, that of the best musical, went to “Moulin Rouge! The Musical ”, a sumptuous stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film about a love triangle in fin-de-siècle Paris. The musical, filled with current pop songs, swept through musical categories, winning 10 awards.

The award for best play went to “The Inheritance,” a two-part drama, written by Matthew López and inspired by “Howards End,” about two generations of homosexuals in New York City. The victory was an upheaval; “The Inheritance” had received mixed reviews at best in the United States, and many observers expected Jeremy O. Harris’s “Slave Play” to win the award. López, whose father is from Puerto Rico, described himself as the first Latin writer to win Tony’s best play, which he said was a point of pride, but also suggested that the industry should do better.

“We make up 19% of the population of the United States and we represent about 2% of playwrights who have performed on Broadway in the past decade,” López said. “This has to change. “

From the start there were reminders of the extraordinary difficulties encountered by theater artists. Danny Burstein, a beloved Broadway veteran who had a fatal bout of Covid-19 and then lost his wife, actress Rebecca Luker, to a neurodegenerative disease, won his first Tony. It was the seventh time he had been nominated, for his performance as a cabaret impresario in “Moulin Rouge!” The Musical ”, a show in which at least 25 members of the company fell ill.

In his speech, he thanked the Broadway community for their support. “You were there for us whether you just sent a note or sent your love, your prayers, your bagels,” he said. “It meant the world to us, and it’s something I’ll never forget. I love being an actor on Broadway.

The ceremony took place at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway, which accommodates 1,500 people, far fewer than the 6,000 who can enter Radio City Music Hall, where the event was often held in previous years. Participants were subject to the same restrictions as patrons of Broadway shows: they were required to show proof of vaccination and were required to wear masks that covered their mouths and noses.

The forked four-hour show relegated most of the awards to a fully commercial first half, which was only viewable on the Paramount + streaming service. This freed up the second half, which aired on CBS and hosted by Leslie Odom Jr., to focus on art rather than awards, as a parade of musical theater stars, including Josh Groban , Ben Platt, Anika Noni Rose and Darren Criss, sought to remind viewers and potential ticket buyers of the joys of the theater.

At the start of the streaming portion of the show, the call for nostalgia began: Marissa Jaret Winokur and Matthew Morrison opened by directing the alumni of the original cast of “Hairspray” in a rendition of the Ode to the irrepressibility of that 2002 musical, “You Can’t Stop the Rhythm.” And, just in case anyone missed the message, the awards show host Audra McDonald, six-time Tony Laureate, explained it, saying, “You can’t stop the pace of Broadway, the heart of New York. “

“We’re a little late, but here we are,” McDonald added. And then she urged the industry to do better when it comes to diversity, saying, “In the past 46 years, there has been too little change. But I hope we are finally ready to embark on the change that will bring more awareness, action and accountability to make our theater industry more inclusive and fair for all. Broadway is back – and it must be, and it will be, better. “

An emotional first moment came when Jennifer Holliday, whose performance of “Dreamgirls” “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” at the 1982 Tony Awards was described as Tonys’ best performance of all time, is came back to sing the song again. The audience stood up halfway through the song and stood there until their last heartbreaking moan, their hands thrown in the air.

The road to this 74th Tony Awards – honoring a set of plays and musicals from the 2019-2020 season truncated by the pandemic, which abruptly ended when Broadway was forced to close on March 12, 2020 – has been long.

Only 18 shows were deemed eligible to compete for prizes, which is about half the normal number, and only 15 shows were nominated.

The nominees, chosen by 41 theater experts who saw all eligible shows, were announced last October. Electronic voting, by 778 producers, performers and other industry insiders, took place in March. The ballots were kept by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP, which has managed to keep them secret ever since.

The long-delayed ceremony – originally scheduled for June 2020 – was ultimately to coincide with the reopening of Broadway, in order to maximize the ceremony’s potential to motivate viewers to purchase tickets after a long period in which it was unsafe. . nor possible. Plans to reopen Broadway have been complicated by the spread of the Delta variant, which has spiked the number of cases over the summer and added new uncertainty to the question of when tourism, which is typically around two-thirds of Broadway audiences will return to pre-pandemic levels.

But there are already 15 shows going on on Broadway – home to 41 theaters – and every week more are arriving.

Among the returning shows are the three nominees for Best Musical. “Red Mill!” started performances on Friday; “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical,” a biographical musical about the life and career of Tina Turner, returns October 8; and “Jagged Little Pill,” a contemporary family drama inspired by Alanis Morissette’s album, returns October 21.

All three musicals have won victories.

“Tina” star Adrienne Warren won for her stunning performance as the main character. Warren, who is one of the founders of the anti-racism Broadway Advocacy Coalition, leaves the post at the end of October; she too urged the industry to transform. “The world is crying out for us to change,” she said.

“Jagged” won the award for Best Book by Diablo Cody and Best Featured Actress Lauren Patten, who electrifies audiences with her breathtaking rendition of “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. Patten’s performance is the subject of some controversy, as some fans had perceived the character as non-binary in a pre-Broadway production and were not happy with the evolution of the role; the show’s producers said the character was “on a genre-expanding journey with no known result.” In her acceptance speech, Patten thanked “my trans and non-binary friends and colleagues who engaged with me in difficult conversations and joined me in a dialogue about my character.”

Among the multiple awards won by “Moulin Rouge” were a first Tony for director Alex Timbers and an eighth record for costume designer Catherine Zuber. The show’s main man, Aaron Tveit, won for the first time, in an unusual way – he was the only nominee in the category, but needed the support of 60% of those who voted in the category to win, what he got. He cried as he thanked the nominators and voters.

“Let us continue to strive to tell stories that represent the large number and not the few, by the large number and not the few, for the large number and not a few,” he said. “Because what we do changes people’s lives. “

None of the nominees for Best Musical had an original score, so for the first time this award went to a play – Jack Thorne’s new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, which featured music composed by Christopher Nightingale. . This sparkling production, from the Old Vic in London, also won the award for stage design, costume design, lighting design and sound design.

There was no better musical cover category this year, as the only one that opened before the pandemic, “West Side Story,” also didn’t get enough voters. It was also not seen by many spectators: its producers have decided not to reopen it.

A production of “A Soldier’s Play,” directed by Kenny Leon and produced by the non-profit Roundabout Theater Company, won the Tony for Best Replay. The play, a 1981 drama by Charles Fuller, is about the murder of a black sergeant in the US military; it won the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published and was later adapted into a Hollywood movie, but it didn’t make it to Broadway until 2020.

The production starred Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier and was presented by the non-profit Roundabout Theater Company. Grier won the first prize of the evening, for the best star actor in a play.

Leon gave a fiery acceptance speech, repeating the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the start, saying “We will never forget you”. And then he urged the audience, “Let’s do better.

“No say to Shakespeare, no say to Ibsen, to Chekhov, to Shaw; they are all at the table, ”he said. “But the table has to be bigger.”

The result in the Best Play category was surprising enough that gasps were heard in the theater when the winner was announced. “Slave Play,” with 12 nominations, had been the most nominated play in history, and a victory would have made it the first play by a black writer to win the Tony since 1987, but the play won no price. “The Inheritance”, which had been praised in London but lukewarm reception in New York, won several, notably for Stephen Daldry as director, Andrew Burnap as actor and for Lois Smith, 90, as actor. star actress. Smith is now the oldest person to win a Tony Award for his acting, a record previously held by Cicely Tyson, who won at 88.

The award for Best Leading Actress in a Play went to Mary-Louise Parker for her haunting performance as a writing teacher with cancer in Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside”.

The Tonys have also awarded a number of non-competitive awards. Special Tony Awards were presented to “American Utopia”, David Byrne’s concert performance; “Freestyle Love Supreme”, an improvisation troupe co-founded by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, a group that campaigns for racial justice.

“I want to admit that I’m only here because George Floyd and a global pandemic has stopped us all, brought us to our knees and reminded us that beyond costume, beyond glamor, beyond design was a pain we weren’t seeing yet, ”Coalition Chairman Britton Smith said. “It created this nice openness that allowed us to say ‘Enough. “”

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