Last night’s Tony Awards were a grand affair and, I’d argue, not just one of the best awards shows of the year, but one that truly encapsulated the fun and splendor of the Broadway community. It’s part lovefest for Broadway, and part marketing ploy, but this year’s Tonys didn’t feel like a chance for New York producers to sell their biggest shows of the year (as well as a handful from previous seasons that are luckily still running) to potential patrons in the rest of the country. It was also filled with plenty of in-jokes and featured some surprisingly heartfelt speeches from Tony winners. As frequent host Neil Patrick Harris sang during his opening number years ago, Broadway isn’t just for gays anymore. Here’s a rundown of what elevated this year’s ceremony to a higher dramatic level as much as it proved that Broadway is more representative of the rest of the country than you’d think.
Neil Patrick Harris leads two brilliant musical numbers
The opening number, co-written by Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (who was also represented last night by Bring It On: The Musical), was hardly star-studded. Instead, host Neil Patrick Harris recruited a slew of chorus performers from a variety of nominated shows, including Pippin, Matilda, Kinky Boots, A Christmas Story, and Bring It On. Later in the evening, Harris brought on stage the Broadway stars who made the transfer to television this year — only to lament their shows’ cancellations. The New Normal (and Book of Mormon) star Andrew Rannells, Smash‘s Megan Hilty, and Tony winner Laura Benanti (who had the misfortune of being on both The Playboy Club and Go On) proved they were good sports about poking fun at themselves, as this Tonys ceremony celebrated throughout the night.
Mike Tyson’s Great White Way
Speaking of poking fun, there were a number of jokes dedicated to Mike Tyson, who was the star of a one-man show last year on Broadway. Sure, he’s regularly pulled out for laughs these days (we can probably thank The Hangover franchise for that), but perhaps using the convicted rapist as a hilarious pop culture icon is not the direction Broadway should be heading? Neil Patrick Harris’ joke about Tyson giving the girls from Matilda face tattoos was particularly uncomfy.
Photo credit: David Gordon
A largely diverse group of winners
While this year’s awards were fairly movie-star free, the awards did highlight a good deal of actors of color as well as female directors. Both Diane Paulus and Pam MacKinnon picked up directing awards for their work on Pippin and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, respectively. (MacKinnon was considered an upset, although I called it on Friday.) Four African-American actors picked up acting awards: Courtney B. Vance for his featured role in Lucky Guy, Patina Miller for her leading role in Pippin, Billy Porter for his leading role in Kinky Boots, and Cicely Tyson for her leading role in The Trip to Bountiful. It’s also worth noting the major performance from Motown: The Musical, which was not nominated for Best Musical but is the biggest box office hit on Broadway. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company proved it was no longer an outsider to Broadway as the company’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? also picked up Best Revival of a Play and Best Actor.
Matilda loses big to Kinky Boots
The biggest surprise is the disappointing number of awards to critical darling Matilda The Musical. I was quite surprised that the show didn’t pick up Best Musical or Best Leading Actor in a Musical (although I’m quite thrilled to see Kinky Boots and Billy Porter be honored), but it might be easily explained: Kinky Boots is the fun, feel-good show, while Matilda is dark and more challenging. (See also: the historically shallow Pippin won Best Revival.) Bertie Carvel’s much-lauded performance was perhaps too much of a featured role, which may have led some Tony voters to choose Porter over him. The show didn’t go home with nothing, however: it picked up awards for Best Featured Actor, Best Book of a Musical, Best Scenic Design, and Best Lighting Design.
Audra McDonald’s mic drop
After the Tony winner sang a riff of “Empire State of Mind” with Neil Patrick Harris during the show’s closing number, Audra McDonald shocked everyone by dropping the mic right on stage while Harris genteely placed his down. Broadway goes hard, yo.