The 69th Annual Tony Awards took place last Sunday, so with almost a week to reflect on how the ceremony landed, it’s time to share my list of the ten best moments at this year’s ceremony. Many of these observations are based on my Facebook updates and Tweets from when I watched the presentation, which didn’t measure up to a couple of others in recent memory, largely due to choices made around the hosting of the show and some choices made about what to include in the televised show and what to leave out. Nonetheless, the Tony Awards still had its highlights – and these were those that spoke most strongly to me.
10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time Wins Best Play
It was great to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time winning Best Play, in a year that was pretty good to British nominees. It is so difficult to do justice to the Best Play nominees through extracts at the ceremony though. Certainly “The Grand View of the Year in Plays” feature at this year’s Tony Awards didn’t work; neither did the isolated moments that preceded the actual award presentation itself. I personally love the longer clips from years gone by, some of which were showcased in Broadway’s Lost Treasures. And once again, the weird phenomenon that there is actually no distinction, when it comes to plays at the Tony Awards, between the writing and the production of the Best Play, raises its head. (The playwright involved here is Simon Stephens.) Any solutions for the Tony Awards?
9. Alex Sharp wins Best Actor in a Play for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
Everyone loves a good acceptance speech. This was quite a night for the recently graduated Alex Sharp. Pure gratitude. (The runner up in the acceptance speech category is Kelli O’Hara, who won for The King and I after years of not winning. A career award, perhaps, but I am glad she won a Tony at last.)
8. The Greys Introducing Fun Home
When Joel Grey opened up about his sexuality earlier in the year, many people asked, “What’s the point?” I didn’t. I think it is always a moment to celebrate, especially since we still live in a world where there is so much uncertainty around gender identity and where people struggle to come to terms with themselves, let alone with how others might treat them. So it was great to see Joel Grey and his daughter, Jennifer, introduce the performance of Fun Homem a show which must have a special resonance in their life. And besides that connection, this was just an introduction that felt genuine and polished and not as though it was trying too hard. (Here’s some red carpet footage of the pair; their introduction in full doesn’t seem to be up on YouTube.)
7. Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori win Best Score for Fun Home
A groundbreaking win, with this award enabling two women to win all of the writing awards for musical theatre at the Tony Awards. Kron had just won the award for Best Book, which is why her speech is short and sweet here. It’s a pity these moments were excluded from the televised broadcast.
6. Judith Light
This might seem arbitrary to some, but I am a big Judith Light fan. Every Tony Awards night, I wait for her to appear. And when she does, I am never disappointed. This year we saw some flawless presenting work from this generous and talented woman. (The runner up for the “Hostess with the Mostes'” award is the fabulous Debra Messing.)
5. “Love and Love Alone” from The Visit
“Love and Love Alone” sounds like a classic John Kander and Fred Ebb number: a simple vamp underscoring an intelligent observation about life – with a twist. It was great to see Chita Rivera on stage performing this number with Michelle Veintimilla, with the older and younger versions of Claire dancing opposite each other. There was something about this that was reminiscent of Follies. The segue into the second song felt arbitrary and although the number clearly has the Kander and Ebb stamp on it, I felt that it played weirdly out of context and that the performance would have been stronger showcasing “Love and Love Alone” on its own. The full sequence of that song has a great emotional arc, although its ending isn’t fully satisfying with something unrealised in that moment. Watching this, it also struck how rare it is to see dance as storytelling in a major commercial musical these days. Have people lost faith in the kind of musical theatre dance that characterises, communicates narrative and deepens the storytelling?
4. The Performance from An American in Paris
Sorry, Singin’ in the Rain, but An American In Paris is my favourite 1950s MGM movie musical. The dance in this extract from the new stage adaptation of the film was superb, with incredible fluidity and control. Following the extract from the ballet, “S’Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm” reminded everyone what a great song it is. Does “I Got Rhythm” ever disappoint, no matter what Gershwin catalogue show it ends up in? And the design is so stylish! It was great to see the show pick up Tony Awards for Best Orchestrations (Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky and Bill Elliot), Best Choreography (Christopher Wheeldon), Best Lighting Design (Natasha Katz) and Best Scenic Design (Bob Crowley and 59 Productions). (There is a part of me that wished that Brandon Uranowitz or Max von Essen picked up the Best Featured Actor prize. I’ve got nothing against Christian Borle, but Something Rotten seems to be a deeply awful show and I kind of resent it winning anything at all.)
3. The Performance from On the Town
The performance from On the Town kicked off with Tony Yazbeck singing a winning “Lucky to Be Me” in his glorious voice. Starting off in the house, he flirted with Josh Groban, gave flowers to Anna Wintour and danced with Chita Rivera and Rita Wilson as he made his way to the stage. One of the first things that I thought was how amazing the score of On the Town is. When Yazbeck arrived on stage, he was joined by his co-stars and the ensemble for “New York, New York” on the gigantic stage at Radio City Music Hall. I loved this. This show is a true classic. I was sad the show walked away empty handed and would have loved to see the show win Best Revival of a Musical.
2. Tommy Tune’s Grace
Tommy Tune is all grace. I loved his introduction to the award for Best Directing in a Musical, in which he remained dignified following the Tony Awards basically offering him the worst tribute medley ever after as a compensation for not allowing him to receive his Lifetime Achievement Awards. All television audience were able to see of that moment was a short clip of Tune receiving his award, which launched into three snippets of songs from shows in which he was instrumental in bringing to Broadway: “We’ll Take a Glass Together” (from Grand Hotel), “Our Favorite Son” (from The Will Rogers Follies) and “My One and Only” (from My One and Only). One minute of performance from start to finish. That was no tribute; it was a travesty. A disappointing moment from the Tony Awards saved by an icon’s magnanimity. The clip I’ve chosen to represent this moment is the acceptance speech we all should have seen on the televised show.
1. “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home
The performance of the night, and the best moment of this year’s Tony Awards, was “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home. As the clip was introduced, I thought that the clip might kill me. It slayed me. I was a teary mess by the end of it. Sydney Lucas is phenomenal. This is magnificent stuff. If you haven’t yet discovered this absolute gem of a musical (which took home the Best Musical prize too), do it.
So that’s my list for today. What were your favourite moments at this year’s Tony Awards? I’d love hear about them via the comment box below.