It has been 10 years since the 2008 Tony Awards, but we thought it would be fun to take a theatrical time machine back to the exciting awards ceremony that was celebrated a decade ago. The nominees for that season were announced on May 13, 2008, by Tony winners David Hyde Pierce and Sara Ramirez. The nominees for Best Play were Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Connor McPherson’s The Seafarer, and Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps. In the Best Musical category, nominees were Cry-Baby, In the Heights, Passing Strange, and Xanadu. It was a season packed with variety, emerging voices, and plenty of theatrical magic.
Let’s jump ahead to June 15, 2008, at Radio City Musical Hall, where Whoopi Goldberg hosted the live awards ceremony. The Best Musical nominees were presented in the following order:
Cry-Baby, based on the popular John Waters film of the same name, featured the song “A Little Upset,” led by the musical’s star James Snyder. With a score by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum, and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Cry-Baby received a total of four Tony nominations, but went home empty-handed.
Passing Strange introduced an exciting new voice to the Broadway scene in the person of Stew, who would take home the show’s sole Tony win for Best Book of a Musical. Daniel Breaker and De’Adre Aziza performed “Keys (Marianna)/Keys (It’s Alright).” Stew and Heidi Rodewald provided the Tony-nominated score.
In the Heights was arguably the evening’s most exciting nominee, putting Lin-Manuel Miranda front and center with his Tony-winning score and giving us a glimpse of what was yet to come — Hamilton was but a glimmer in his eye. In the Heights took home a total of four Tony Awards, including Best Choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler), Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman), and, of course, Best Musical. Miranda led the cast in a performance of the title number and “96,000.”
The Best Musical nominee that was the first to open during the 2007–2008 Tony season, Xanadu, was the last of the Best Musical nominees to perform. Equal parts reinvention, spoof, and satire of the critically lambasted 1980 film, the musical was nominated for four Tony Awards, but did not win a single one. That didn’t stop the cast — led by Kerry Butler, Cheyanne Jackson, Tony Roberts, Jackie Hoffman, and Mary Testa — from delivering a showstopping rendition of “Don’t Walk Away.”
The 2008 Tony Awards also allotted performance time for three musicals that had nominations in other categories but weren’t honored with nominations for Best Musical. Sierra Boggess charmed audiences with her soaring “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid; Faith Prince reminded us what a fine singer-actress she is with her startling interpretation of “Vision” from A Catered Affair; and Megan Mullaly and Shuler Hensley delivered libidinous comedic gold with “Deep Love” from Young Frankenstein.
The Best Revival of a Musical category was a competitive race indeed, with Gypsy, South Pacific, Grease, and Sunday in the Park With George squaring off against each other. From Gypsy, we were treated to Ms. Patti LuPone as Mama Rose singing the show’s Act 1 finale “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” as Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti looked on. All three performers took home trophies that night: best actress, best featured actor, and best featured actress, respectively.
South Pacific, the biggest winner of the evening (seven awards in all out of 11 nominations), was the next nominated revival to dazzle the audience. Danny Burstein and a chorus of sex-starved sailors pined their way through “There’s Nothing Like a Dame.” Paul Szot crooned a stirring “Some Enchanted Evening,” and Kelli O’Hara winsomely sang from “A Wonderful Guy.” Szot took home the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, and the show won Best Revival. Bartlett Sher, who helmed this season’s revival of My Fair Lady, won a Tony for Best Director of a Musical for his work on South Pacific.
The eagerly anticipated revival (or, rather, revisal) of Grease opened on Broadway in the 2007– 2008 season. The production interpolated many of the popular songs that had been written exclusively for the film. Nominated for one Tony Award in the Best Revival category, the cast of Grease (including Laura Osnes and Max Crumm, the winners of television’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want reality competition) performed an enthusiastic version of the title song and “We Go Together.”
Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, both nominated in the lead categories (actor and actress in a musical), delivered a haunting performance of “Move On” from the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Sunday in the Park With George. The critically acclaimed revival was nominated for nine Tony Awards, but not a single win was to be had.
For the Best Play category, the eventual winner was August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, which also picked up acting awards for Deanna Dunagan (Best Lead Actress in a Play) and Rondi Reed (Best Featured Actress in a Play). Anna D. Shapiro also won the honor of Best Director of a Play. The production of Marc Camoletti’s French farce Boeing-Boeing won the Best Revival of a Play Tony, and its star Mark Rylance picked up a Tony for Best Lead Actor in a Play. Jim Norton won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his work in The Seafarer.
The evening also boasted special performances from the casts of Broadway’s The Lion King, celebrating their 10th anniversary on Broadway with “The Circle of Life.” The cast of Rent performed “La Vie Bohème,” and then Anthony Rapp (Mark in the original production) welcomed most of the original cast, who joined him to sing “Seasons of Love.”
In all, the 2008 Tony Awards was an exciting night full of surprises. There were many winners who have set the expectations for great things to come and have delivered on their promises. As we tick off the days to June 10 and this year’s Tony ceremony, it is always exciting and inspiring to look back and see the legacy our latest nominees are now part of.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals and maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.