Never bet against the sweep, folks! In a Tonys ceremony dominated by strong performances, endearing speeches, fun hosting, and the worst damn production team I’ve ever seen, eventual (expected) winners The Ferryman and Hadestown ran the table with 4 and 8 Tony awards, respectively. In fact, the only categories Hadestown lost were the categories where another show was too heavily favored (specifically Ain’t Too Proud, Oklahoma, and The Cher Show).
Before we get too far along, let’s break down the play categories. As mentioned above, Jez Butterworth’s family drama surrounding “The Troubles” that plagued the U.K. and Ireland during the 80s won four Tonys, including Best Play, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Director for Sam Mendes. I’m particularly thrilled about that last one not only because I love Mendes as a director (he previously lost for his work on Cabaret), but because he is currently off directing 1917 in Scotland. I love when people who win aren’t there. I find it so funny. The only other play to win more than one Tony was Ink, the story of the creation of the infamous tabloid The Sun. The show won two awards, one for Best Lighting and the other for the great Bertie Carvel’s performance as Rupert Murdoch. Carvel also won the award for Worst Speech of the night, thanks to a blathering nature and a weird-ass metaphor surrounding nuclear warheads (this could have been his British-ness shine through). The highlight of the early parts of the show was far and away the legend Elaine May winning a Tony for her performance in The Waverly Gallery – and giving one of the three best speeches of the night in a hilarious and heartfelt tribute to her cast and crew (Nichols and May were two of my comedic inspirations, so this was a dramatic moment for me). The show, however, failed to win Best Revival – nor did the award go to All My Sons, my underdog pick. In one of the only shocks of the night, Ryan Murphy’s take on The Boys In The Band took home the award, aided by a very game cast of young, attractive actors. Choir Boy won Best Sound Design (should have seen that coming) and Bryan Cranston bested Jeff Daniels to win his second Tony in five years (and give a pretty powerful speech that also indicates he does not understand the point of Network as a whole). And in one of the most exciting moments of the night, Celia Keenan-Bolger, who has been nominated for four Tonys since bursting onto the scene in 2005, finally managed to earn her award for her portrayal of Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Highly deserved, and made for an exciting kickoff to a decent show.
As for the musical side of things, Hadestown won the most Tonys of the night with a shocking 8 awards. Some were expected, like Best Musical, Best Score, Best Sound Design, Best Scenic Design, and Best Orchestrations. Some, like Best Lighting Design, were hard-fought, but could have been predicted if I were paying attention. And in one particular case, the show won the Tony…by beating out its own presumptive favorite. That’s right, Broadway legend Patrick Page ended up losing Best Featured Actor to his own co-star, other Broadway legend André De Shields. That’s not a slight to De Shields – as the show’s performance later highlighted, he was a deserving winner, and a humble winner at a sprightly 73 years young. It’s just…Page was Hades. It made for the only other major upset of the night. However, if there’s one Hadestown win we have to talk about, it’s Rachel Chavkin becoming only the fourth woman to ever win Best Director of a Musical. And if this statistic sounds wrong to you, don’t worry: she made sure to call it out in her speech (and rightly so). It was one of the night’s best speeches, made better by the fact that Chavkin is a legendary director in the same vein as Julie Taymor and Bob Fosse, and deeply deserved this award. Meanwhile, Hadestown’s technical sweep was blocked by The Cher Show, which won an extremely-expected award for Best Costume Design, as well as brought about the other highly overdue win of the night, Stephanie J. Block for Leading Actress. Block is a Broadway favorite, famously getting kicked out of a musical she was headlining in favor of a better-known actress, only to see that show become Wicked. She then spent the following years scrounging around as an Original Cast replacement whenever, say, Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel, or Ashley Brown end up leaving the cast. Seeing her win for her portrayal of Cher, and giving one of the best speeches of the night, was a can’t-miss moment. Tootsie also won two Tonys (as well as an award for Worst Performance, but we’ll get to that), for Best Book and Leading Actor for Santino Fontana. Fontana is a favorite around these parts for his work in The Importance of Being Earnest, Cinderella, and especially Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, so seeing him finally win a Tony (that he dedicated to his yet-to-be-born daughter) was a thrilling moment. I’ll just pretend it was for his television work and not for Tootsie. And in easily the most talked-about show of the night, the restructured Oklahoma! also took home two Tonys. The first was for Best Revival of a Musical. The second, however, was perhaps the most deserving award of the night. That would be for Ali Stroker, who brought the house down as Ado Annie in the iconic musical, and became the first wheelchair-bound Tony winner in history. It’s one of the most exciting performances I’ve seen on this stage in all my years watching the Tonys, and I’m glad she won. The Temptations musical Ain’t Too Proud ended up winning its sole Tony for Best Choreography.
Now, all this is well and good, but what about the show itself? Well, let’s start with the hosting. James Corden is, to be quite honest, not the most exciting host in the world. However, what he is great at is putting together a well-packaged little show that everyone will like that knows exactly how to move things along in a decently fun way. It’s like if you combined Kimmel’s jokes, Fallon’s bits, and Neil Patrick Harris’ energy, just at the cost of anything risky, like a personality. His opening number is the perfect example – a little long, and nothing we haven’t seen before, but funny and entertaining, and pleasantly incorporating all of the nominees throughout (including the actual actors!). I also enjoyed that Corden not only knew how to move things along (the show only ran 12 minutes over, perhaps an awards show record), but brought back one of my favorite traditions in allowing the five nominated playwrights to pitch their shows to the crowds! It’s a nice moment that gives the written, non-musical shows a chance to be seen – and gives for some hilariously enjoyable moments like Jez Butterworth choosing to forego his time (“You can just Google the plot”) in order to talk about how great his wife, the lead actress in the show who inspired the story, was in the play even though she lost the Tony. More moments like this! As for the bits, they were fairly hit-and-miss. A Be More Chill homage featuring Corden and last year’s hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles (two great hosts in their own right) was probably funny, I guess, but it was such a niche performance for an allegedly cult show that I’m not sure how well it actually landed with people. Meanwhile, Corden’s “Broadway People Are Too Nice” bit was mostly just chuckle-worthy, but didn’t really pay off until Audra McDonald threatened to fight Laura Linney, which is something I now desperately want to see. And Corden and his team even created some expert presenting blocks, including Marisa Tomei with Michael Shannon, Sutton Foster with Andrew Rannells, and Shirley Jones presenting Oklahoma! – and of course I can’t forget David Byrne presenting Best Score, which HAHAHAHAHA I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! But despite Corden’s best efforts, the show could only do so much in the face of one of the laziest, sloppiest technical snafus of a production team I’ve ever seen – and I witnessed the Moonlight/La La Land kerfuffle live! At every turn, the production team dropped the ball. There were full minutes of dead air, microphones weren’t turned on, even when the mikes were on there were creepy phantom voices talking over them, the teleprompters were missing words, and so on. Glenn Weiss is a talented live television director, but if he’s going to direct the Oscars and the Tonys again going forward, he should do himself a favor and fire his entire team from tonight. Of course, even with a fully functioning team, there was only so much they could do in the face of a seemingly disinterested audience. My God, these people did not want to clap for anything. They seemed confused throughout, and whenever encouraged, they hesitated and half-clapped the entire way through. The Prom was absolutely right about these people – no wonder it won zero Tonys.
Ok, ok, the awards and the host are all well and good, but what about the performances? That’s the reason we watch the Tonys, after all! Well, from where I’m sitting, there were two perfect performances, four good performances, two fine performance, and Tootsie. The clear winners of the night are Oklahoma! and Choir Boy, with the former highlighting Stroker’s performance and the theatre-in-the-round edginess of the big “Oklahoma” number, while Choir Boy performed a haunting, spiritual sequence of black Spirituals, as well as snippets of phone conversations from the boys singing these songs. Both were haunting, mournful, and memorable performances, and stand amongst the best the Tonys have ever shown. As for the Good Performances, the show started off strong with a smart piece of four-quadrant entertainment with an Ain’t Too Proud Temptations medley. Similarly, the three Chers ended the show on a strong note with “Believe” to commemorate The Cher Show. Hadestown kind of knew that they were going to win, and didn’t need to pull out any of their heavy-hitters, yet their performance of “Wait For Me” was still haunting, and featured a soul-shattering De Shields and Reeve Carney, as well as FLYING LANTERNS! And Beetlejuice managed to spook up some interest from the crowd, thanks to the smartly constructed sequence of events that included Catherine O’Hara introducing the performance, “The Banana Boat Song” as performed by Leslie Kritzer and seventeen-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso, and finally a spirited (no pun intended) performance by Alex Brightman as Beetlejuice, accompanied by the famous shrunken head and giant snake. It was a good performance that captured why the show is a hit. I also want to make it clear that I did not hate the performances by Kiss Me, Kate and The Prom. It’s just…they were kind of what you expected. Nothing super interesting about them. Kate featured a great performance by J. Quinton Johnson, but the choreography and musical arrangements are exactly what you’d expect, despite Kelli O’Hara’s insistence they were also “edgy” (they didn’t feel anywhere near as spirited as last year’s My Fair Lady or Carousel, for example). And The Prom felt like…exactly what you’d expect a musical called The Prom to be like, albeit with some clever, fun lyrics and clearly good performances. But overall, I liked every Tony performance…except for one. And it’s the one I wanted to like the most. I love Tootsie as a movie. And I love Santino Fontana as an actor. So this show should be made for me, right? Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Thanks to boring choreography, bad music, and lyrics that seem to miss the satire and thematic material of the original altogether, Tootsie was a mess of a performance, and not even Fontana’s clearly great work as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels could save it. I’ll post the Oklahoma! performance below as a tribute to the best work of the night.
Well, that wraps up the 73rd Tony Awards! That’s a solid 15/26 for me, predictions wise. I’ll see you all next year when Moulin Rouge wins everything. In the meantime, you can see the full list of winners below, and if you need me, I’ll be ordering tickets to New York to see Hadestown and Oklahoma! And maybe The Ferryman, if I get around to it.
Best Play: The Ferryman
Best Musical: Hadestown
Best Revival of a Play: The Boys In The Band
Best Revival of a Musical: Oklahoma!
Best Actor In a Play: Bryan Cranston – Network
Best Actress In a Play: Elaine May – The Waverly Gallery
Best Actor in a Musical: Santino Fontana – Tootsie
Best Actress in a Musical: Stephanie J. Block – The Cher Show
Best Featured Actor in a Play: Bertie Carvel – Ink
Best Featured Actress in a Play: Celia Keenan-Bolger – To Kill A Mockingbird
Best Featured Actor in a Musical: André De Shields – Hadestown
Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Ali Stroker – Oklahoma!
Best Director of a Play: Sam Mendes – The Ferryman
Best Director of a Musical: Rachel Chavkin – Hadestown
Best Music and Lyrics: Hadestown
Best Book of a Musical: Tootsie
Best Scenic Design of a Play: The Ferryman
Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Hadestown
Best Costume Design of a Play: The Ferryman
Best Costume Design of a Musical: The Cher Show
Best Sound Design of a Play: Choir Boy
Best Sound Design of a Musical: Hadestown
Best Lighting Design of a Play: Ink
Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Hadestown
Best Choreography: Ain’t Too Proud
Best Orchestrations: Hadestown