NEW YORK – Certainly many in the audience thought of it, but Company director Marianne Elliott put it most bluntly at Sunday’s Tony Awards: In the devastating two years since the pandemic broke out, she’s “felt at times that live theater has been a threat was”.
As in, the industry might never recover.
Sunday night’s lavish ceremony was designed to answer that unthinkable possibility with an emphatic “no” – to make clear that despite the ongoing difficulties, Broadway is, and will remain, back with vigor and creativity. It just needs more people to fill the seats.
But if the ceremony was meant to recapture the glamor of Broadway seasons past and celebrate the Tonys’ 75th anniversary with a dash of nostalgia, it was also a celebration of the groundbreaking work of a highly diverse group of artists. The Marquee Award for Best New Musical went to Michael R. Jackson’s highly innovative 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Strange Loop,” about a black gay man who writes a show about a black gay man. “A Strange Loop” beat crowd favorites like “Six: The Musical,” a pop reimagining of Henry VIII’s six wives, and “MJ,” about the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
The evening was hosted by a supremely confident and versatile (and recent Oscar winner) Ariana DeBose, who opened up by declaring that Broadway had regained its groove. But a quick look around the room at Radio City Music Hall showed that challenges remain. While the nominees and guests in the orchestra were maskless (having submitted COVID-19 tests), those on the balconies were all masked — including a panel of COVID-19 safety managers who were being honored — as was for the Broadway audience -Theatre is still required. The somewhat irritating juxtaposition showed that this is far from a “normal” Broadway season.
Some key moments:
SECOND STUDIES GET SOME LOVE
With Broadway line-ups sometimes decimated by virus cases, hard-working underwriters and swingers have been recognized as saviors throughout the season, heralded by stars like Hugh Jackman, who has hailed them as “superheroes.” Host DeBose noted that she was an understudy herself early in her career, and some winners also paid tribute: “I salute you,” said “MJ” director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Later on in the show, after a number of “Six,” DeBose made a point of mentioning that Mallory Maedke, the show’s dance captain and stand-in, “was put in that number 12 hours ago,” causing cheers from the crowd.
THE ‘GREAT WHITE ROAD?’ – JUST A NICKNAME
Addressing the issue of diversity and representation, DeBose welcomed the fact that Broadway is “increasingly reflective of the community that worships it.” She noted that the season was filled with Black creative voices both on and offstage, and that two Broadway theaters were renamed after great Black performers James Earl Jones and Lena Horne. And she joked that she saw the phrase “The Great White Way,” as Broadway has long been known, as a nickname — “as opposed to a guide.”
Jackson, who cut a stunning figure in his pink coat over a tuxedo, explained how it took him 18 years to complete “A Strange Loop,” which he wrote while feeling “unseen, unheard, misunderstood.” He added, “I just wanted to create a little life raft for me as a black gay man to get through the day.” And he noted that while representation is crucial, doing the best job possible is also crucial. “I’m all about representation, but let’s make sure we stay on our path,” he said. “Never settle for less than the best you can do.” His cast seemed just as overjoyed as he was himself. When they finished their Tony act, they jumped up and down with joy.
NO TONYS BUT THEY HAVE TROMBONES
The revival of “The Music Man” is one of Broadway’s current biggest hits, regularly grossing more than $3 million a week, thanks in no small part to the beloved and charismatic leads Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. Despite six nominations, it failed to win Tonys on Sunday. But the crowd seemed to love it when Jackman started singing the famous “Seventy-Six Trombones” number with smiling young cast members marching through the audience, and then Foster arrived to make a storm with her co-star – two of the best triple threats of any Broadway season.
AWARD FOR MOST THANKS? DUH, MOM AND DAD
Everyone thanks mom and dad at award shows — well, almost everyone — but some are more specific than others. Lead Actor in a Play winner for Take Me Out, Jesse Tyler Ferguson thanked pensioners for letting him find his dreams in the Big Apple. “Mom, Dad, thank you for letting me move to New York when I was 17. I told you it would be fine!” said the “Modern Family” star. Gareth Owen, who won sound design for “MJ,” thanked his parents “for not pushing me too hard to get a real job.”
… AND SISTER
Joaquina Kalukango also thanked “the best parents in the world” when she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her outstanding performance in Paradise Square, a show about Irish immigrants and black Americans in Civil War New York. But she also thanked her sister, who designed her lustrous dress with a lime green train. Kalukango won the rare double standing ovation – first for her searing performance of the musical Let It Burn and then for her speech.
AND MOM AGAIN!
It was a big moment for Myles Frost when he won Best Actor in a Musical for his Broadway debut role as Michael Jackson in MJ. He decided to put his mother in the spotlight for her teach-by-show approach. “I wouldn’t be here without you,” said Frost, 22, whose dancing stands out on the show. “You showed me what a strong black woman is and what it means to raise a strong black man.” Frost became the youngest solo winner in the category, beating A Strange Loop’s Jaquel Spivey, 23, outright not to mention Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman and Rob McClure.
ACTUALLY A LOT OF “COMPANY”.
It was a night to mourn revered composer Stephen Sondheim, who died in November aged 91, and his influence was nowhere more evident than in his Company’s five wins for the gendered revival. Elliot, the director who turned the commitment-phobic male role into a female, made Tony history by becoming the only woman to win three Tonys for directing. She dedicated her award to everyone fighting to keep theaters open. Beloved Patti LuPone won Best Actress and thanked the COVID-19 Safety Officers in her acceptance speech, among others, and Matt Doyle won Best Actor.
YOU HAVE LISTENED
A moving tribute to Sondheim was introduced by an emotional Lin-Manuel Miranda, who described the late composer’s generosity in writing letters to countless admirers, particularly young writers, who hoped to learn from him as Miranda once did. The floor then went to Bernadette Peters, one of Sondheim’s most renowned interpreters, who sang the moving “Children Will Listen” from his fairy tale mash-up Into the Woods. “Be careful what you say,” the song says. “Children will listen.”
At Radio City and beyond, they were listening, and not just the kids.
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https://www.local10.com/entertainment/2022/06/13/tony-moments-a-night-for-broadway-to-reclaim-its-groove/ A night for Broadway to reclaim its groove