Reflections on the 2018 Tony Awards

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From the opening number by hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles to the big winners of the 2017-18 Broadway season, the 72nd Annual Tony Awards presentation, held at Radio City Music Hall and televised on CBS, was filled with humanity, heart, and acceptance. Beginning with “This One’s for You” – their original musical tribute to the losers (including themselves), who comprise 90% of the nominees – the hosts set a gentle tone of appreciation for the theater, its artists, and audiences. The winners followed suit, with their gracious, sensitive, and socially-conscious acceptance speeches. It all added up to one pleasant and satisfying evening of well-deserved recognition for Broadway’s best-attended and highest-grossing season in recorded history.

Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban. Photo by Theo Wargo.
Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban. Photo by Theo Wargo.

As we predicted back in February, leading the count was The Band’s Visit with a total of ten awards: Best Musical, Best Book (Itamar Moses), Best Score (David Yazbek), Best Orchestrations (Jamshied Sharifi), Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Tony Shalhoub), Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Katrina Lenk), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Ari’el Stachel), Best Direction of a Musical (David Cromer), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Tyler Micoleau), and Best Sound Design of a Musical (Kai Harada). Focusing on the experiences we all share rather than the politics that divide us, the heartwarming show, based on the 2007 film, tells the story of an Egyptian police band that inadvertently arrives in the wrong small town in the Israeli desert for a scheduled concert, but is taken in by the residents there for a night of boundary-breaking communication and connection before the next bus out on the following day.

Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in a promotional image for Angels in America.
Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in a promotional image for Angels in America.

Also receiving major awards, and evincing the Tony voters’ appreciation and respect for diversity, were Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s sweeping two-part eight-hour epic about AIDS, politics, and gay life in America in the 1980s, which took home the honors for Best Revival of a Play, Best Leading Actor in a Play (Andrew Garfield, who dedicated his award to the LGBTQ community), and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Nathan Lane); and Once on This Island, a mythic tale (with an immersive in-the-round set design, recreated on the Radio City stage) that honors the authentic heritage of a Caribbean island culture and decries the bigotry its people endured, which was named Best Revival of a Musical.

Among the most moving segments of this year’s ceremony was the presentation of The Excellence in Theatre Education Award to Melody Herzfeld, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who protected her students from the Valentine’s Day mass shooting there and encouraged them to express their feelings through theater. The heartfelt rendition of “Seasons of Love” from Rent by the members of her Drama Club left few dry eyes in the audience and offered a vision of hope in America’s younger generation.

Other big winners of the night included the magical Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which captured six awards for Best Play (by Jack Thorne) and Best Direction of a Play (John Tiffany), along with Best Scenic Design (Christine Jones), Costume Design (Katrina Lindsay), Lighting Design (Neil Austin), and Sound Design of a Play (Gareth Fry). Like the current Broadway revival of Angels in America, the highly-lauded production is a two-part spectacular that originated on the London stage, which again bespeaks both shows’ ability to capture an audience’s attention for an extended running time, and the openness of the Tony Awards to celebrate inclusiveness, with the largely British-based casts and artistic teams.

Multiple awards were also presented to the critically-acclaimed revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, rightfully honoring the extraordinary performances of Glenda Jackson for Best Actress in a Play and Laurie Metcalf (last year’s Best Actress for her leading role in A Doll’s House, Part 2) for Best Featured Actress in a Play. The revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Broadway classic Carousel likewise garnered two Tonys, for Best Choreography (Justin Peck) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Lindsay Mendez, who once again commended Broadway’s welcoming of “diversity and individuality”).

Although the new musicals Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants led the field going into this year’s ceremony with twelve nominations each, the colorful stage adaptations of Tina Fey’s hilarious 2004 teen-revenge cult film and Nickelodeon’s animated TV series did not fare well with the Tonys. The former went home empty-handed and the latter received just one award, for Best Set Design of a Musical (David Zinn). This comes as something of a surprise, after both shows took multiple honors from the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

And while Bruce Springsteen was given a Special Tony Award in recognition of the blockbuster sales and new audiences his autobiographical one-man poetry slam/concert Springsteen on Broadway is bringing to the Great White Way, the season’s other rock concerts and jukebox musicals were snubbed, in favor of the more plot-based and actor-driven shows. In the ceremony’s one controversial moment, Robert De Niro, there to introduce his friend Springsteen’s performance, was bleeped by CBS for his fist-pumping twice-uttered political rallying cry “F*#k Trump,” which quickly prompted Chad Lupinacci (Huntington Town Supervisor and former Alternate Delegate at the Republican National Convention) to demand an apology from the actor, to write a letter of complaint to the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League (co-presenters of the event), and to send De Niro a bar of soap to “wash out his mouth after his use of foul language.” The impassioned episode and the angry response it engendered provided a marked contrast to the otherwise congenial evening’s positive messages of celebration and inclusivity.

For a full list of winners, see Nicole Hertvik’s “2018 Tony Awards Roundup” here.