Jennifer Holliday reliving her 1982 Tony Award-winning performance of “And I’m Not Telling You” from Dreamgirls is one of many reasons to remind audiences who’ve missed Broadway the last year and a half of why they fell in love with it to begin with. It moved Cyndi Lauper so much, those at home caught a glimpse of her wiping away a tear. It was one of many exuberant musical numbers and reunions performed at the 74th Tony Awards, celebrated Sunday night at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Original cast members of Hairspray reunited for “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” Allie Stroker sang “What I Did for Love from A Chorus Line, and Jennifer Nettles, soon headed into Waitress as Jenna, performed the title song from “Anyone Can Whistle.” And that was just the performances on the first two hours of the award show on Paramount+ hosted by Audra McDonald.
Leslie Odom Jr. picked up hosting duties during the second half on CBS and sang a duet from Waitress with his wife, Nicolette Robinson who previously starred in the show. Wicked’s original leading ladies Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel stood on stage together once again to remind us how Broadway has changed us all “for good.” Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal took us back to Jonathan Larson’s Rent without aging a day. Everyone’s hearts stopped for McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell during their turn from Ragtime.
“I’ve been sitting next to my parents all night long and that has been the most incredible moment for me,” said Adrienne Warren to Broadway Direct shortly after winning Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Tina Turner in TINA. “It has been so meaningful to be in a Broadway theatre but even more so to be with family.”
The sentiment was also felt by Mary-Louise Parker. “I think everyone is just happy to be in a theater. A lot of the actors are looking in the wings and thinking of what that is like standing here again,” she told Broadway Direct after winning for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Sound Inside. The award comes 20 years after winning for Proof in 2001. “Every time someone says something poignant or personal you can hear people respond [under their] masks. There is this collective commonality that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in a crowd that big before. It’s why some of us love the theater so much and feel like that is our home and our family. You really feel that tonight in a way that’s indescribable.”
At 90, Lois Smith not only won her first Tony Award in The Inheritance but became the oldest person to win one. Matthew Lopez became the first Latino to take home the award for best Play with The Inheritance. Diablo Cody became the first person to win an Oscar for best screenplay (Juno) and for Jagged Little Pill’s book of a musical.
Moulin Rouge!’s Danny Burstein won Best Featured Actor in a Musical, in one of the most highly anticipated awards of the night. The past year and a half has been extremely painful for him after nearly dying from COVID-19 and losing his wife, Broadway’s Rebecca Luker, to ALS. After seven Tony Award nominations over his luminous 18 Broadway show career, he finally won. On stage, Burstein thanked everyone in the theater for being there for him after she passed away and for sending bagels. “The award itself feels a little surreal,” he said humbly once he was off-stage. His co-star, Aaron Tveit, took home the trophy for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He was the only one nominated and choked up during his acceptance speech.
Creating change on stage and off through a more inclusive industry was a big theme of the night. David Alan Greer took home Best Featured Actor in a Play for A Soldier’s Play. “I am happy for the industry. There is a path forward,” Greer said in the virtual press room. Kenny Leon gave a moving speech after winning for his direction of A Soldier’s Play. “This reset has given us an opportunity to start anew,” he said in the press room. “Were it not for this reset, I don’t think we’d be talking about making changes on Broadway and making changes in our world about race and acceptance of all people. We can do better.” Britton Smith, president of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, presented a powerful outlook. “My biggest worry is that when we come back to the machine, when Broadway comes back, that opening will close and push out empathy and push out challenge, but this award is evidence that moving forward requires calling out.”
Perhaps one of the best moments of the night was when presenter Chita Rivera stood on the very stage where West Side Story opened 64 years ago to the day back in 1957. And when Audra McDonald pulled a Ron Burgundy by accidentally reading her name off the teleprompter.
Proving after this long intermission, live theater is back where it belongs: on stage.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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