So, did you watch the Tony’s Sunday night? There were some obvious winners, some complete surprises, a few incredibly sweet moments and Kristin Chenoweth dressed as E.T. What will they come up with next?
The most thrilling element of the night, of course, was the end of the nail-biting rivalry between Best Musical frontrunners Fun Home and An American in Paris. Contrary to the predictions of all the experts, the young, innovative show won out, with Fun Home taking home Best Musical, Best Director for Sam Gold and Best Actor in a Leading Role with Michael Cerveris, as well as Best Book and Best Score for Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. An American in Paris came out with a decent four Tony Awards: for Choreography (Christopher Wheeldon), Scenic Design (Bob Crowley and 59 Productions), Lighting Design (Natasha Katz) and Orchestrations (Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky and Bill Elliott).
But with all of the prestige awards going to Fun Home, we were left wondering if this was a triumph of the young. An American in Paris is the older-style, traditional musical with a simple love story, beautiful dance sequences and old school charm; or, in the words of the LA Times, “a breathtakingly staged exercise in baby boomer nostalgia.” With all the young folks and LGBT groups celebrating, no one was more upset than famed New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood, whose passive aggressive commentary on the New York Times live blog grew more and more better as Fun Home raked in the awards, leading up to only “Radio silence” as the big prize was announced.
The other big favorite in the musicals category was The King and I, which won four awards: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured role for Ruthie Ann Miles, Best Costume Design (Catherine Zuber) and…finally…Kelli O’Hara for Best Actress in a Featured Role. The actress was sweet, honest and delightfully graceful in her acceptance of her Tony after six nominations, leading us to wonder if she won less for her performance in this particular show and more because the Tony voters believed it was her time. But she stole our hearts anyway when she tap danced herself off stage (fearing the crew of tap dancers lurking in the wings to cut off any long-winded acceptance speeches), so we have no qualms about the award.
If one thing was clear, this was an evening with a clear and deliberate progressive agenda. There was “token diversity” show The King and I; Fun Home, which deals with buried LGBT identities and suicide; and our winner for Best Play, which highlights disorders on the autism spectrum: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Curious Incident took home five Tonys in all, including the other two prestige awards of Best Director (Marianne Elliott) and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Alex Sharp) as well as Best Scenic Design (Bunny Christie and Finn Ross) and Best Lighting Design (Paule Constable).
And in another moment of progressive victory, this was the year of the women when it comes to technical theater and the other “backstage” prizes. While the typical frustrations about how the Tony’s represent tech still abounded–in particular the loss of the Sound Design award and the presentation of the awards during commercial breaks so that TV audiences do not get to see the acceptance speeches–that doesn’t take away the fact that four of the six technical prizes, as well as Best Book of a Musical, Best Score and Best Director of a Play were all claimed by women. So congratulations to Bunny Christie, Catherine Zuber, Paule Constable, Natasha Katz, Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori and Marianne Elliott on an absolutely fantastic year.
Other awards included Best Revival of a Play going to Skylight, Richard McCabe taking home Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for The Audience, Annaleigh Ashford winning Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for You Can’t Take It With You, Christian Borle taking Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Something Rotten! and Wolf Hall’s sole win for Costume Design (Christopher Oram). The most inevitable award of them all, Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, was present to Her Royal Majesty Helen Mirren first, just to get it over with.
And while new Tony hosts Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth were cute and amusing, it was clear that they didn’t really want the job, handing off the opening number to an appropriately metatheatrical ode from Something Rotten! and the closing number to, of all people, Jersey Boys. Despite a few great moments (notably, their The King and I outfits), we were missing the loss of Neil Patrick Harris acutely–but with his new variety show premiering on NBC this fall, there is certainly far less time to wait.
We’ll let a very grumpy Charles Isherwood have the last word here: “I’ll see you in 2017, since next year’s award is already in the bag, with the equally ‘important’ Hamilton.”