“A Strange Loop,” a searing story about a gay and black theater artist facing self-doubt and societal disapproval, won the Tony Award for Best New Musical on Sunday night, giving another huge accolade to a challenging contemporary production that had already won a Pulitzer Prize.
The soul-baring spectacle, nurtured by nonprofits and developed over many years, triumphed over two flashy pop musicals, “MJ,” a jukebox musical about artist Michael Jackson, and “Six”, an irreverent reconsideration of Henry VIII’s unhappy wives. .
“A Strange Loop” garnered near-universal praise from critics; On Sunday night, Michael R. Jackson, the writer who spent nearly two decades developing it, acknowledged how personal the project was by winning his first Tony Award, for Best Book of a Musical.
“I wrote it at a time when I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know I was going to move on. I felt invisible. I felt ignored. I felt misunderstood and just wanted to create a little life raft for myself as a black gay man.
The ceremony – the 75th Tony Awards – was a chance for Broadway to celebrate its comeback and perseverance, hoping that a dash of dazzle, a dollop of contemporary creativity and a pinch of nostalgia will help draw in viewers. towards a pandemic. a battered industry in full swing but still hungry for more customers.
The season that has just ended has been difficult: it started late (most theaters remained closed until September) and was repeatedly disrupted (cases of coronavirus erased its old philosophy of must-see show, causing cancellations and absences of artists). With tourism still down, it also lacked an audience.
“Our industry has been through so much,” Marianne Elliott, who won a Tony Award for achieving a genre-bending revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company,” said in her keynote speech. acceptance. “At times it seemed that live theater was in danger.”
But at the glittering ceremony at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall, a parade of performers celebrated all that went well: theaters reopened, long-running shows returned and an unusual array of plays and musicals has arrived to entertain, provoke and inspire audiences.
Best play Tony went to “The Lehman Trilogy,” a sprawling saga about the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers’ banking business. Using three shape-shifting actors, contained within a rotating glass box of a set, the play has traveled all the way from the Wall Street giant’s humble origins in 1844 to its ignominious collapse in 2008. The show, written by Stefano Massini and Ben Power, not only picked up the Tony for best play, but also for play director Sam Mendes; its set designer, Es Devlin; and the great British actor, Simon Russell Beale, who simply thanked the public for showing up, despite pandemic protocols and public health concerns.
“You trusted us,” he said. “You came with open arms. It was not easy at that time to come to the theater because of all these regulations. But you welcomed us.
“Take Me Out” emerged victorious in the category of Best Playing Revival, an especially strong area in which each contestant received critical acclaim. The drama, by Richard Greenberg, first aired on Broadway in 2003 and won Best Tony Play that year; this year’s revival, presented by the non-profit Second Stage Theater, was directed by Scott Ellis. It’s about what happens when a baseball player, portrayed in this production by Jesse Williams, comes out as gay; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, won his first Tony for his portrayal of the player’s investment adviser, who is also gay.
And “Company,” which was first staged in 1970 and examines the pros and cons of married life, won the Tony for musical revival. The award reflected not only affection for the revamped production, but also respect for Sondheim, its composer and lyricist, revered as one of the most important figures in American musical theater, who died in November. ‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was mentored by Sondheim, paid tribute to him, calling him a music giant and saying, “I stand here on behalf of generations of artists he has took the time to encourage.”
The Tonys, hosted by Ariana DeBose and airing on CBS, honored not only shows, performers, writers and designers, but also the stunt doubles who saved so many performances this season. DeBose, who this year won an Oscar as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,” paid tribute to the season’s unusual diversity, saying, “I feel like the he phrase Great White Way is becoming more of a nickname than a practical guide.
She noted the season’s extraordinarily high volume of work by black writers, as producers and theater owners scrambled to meet demands for more representation and opportunities for black performers after nationwide unrest. to racism over the summer of 2020. This year’s class of Tony nominees featured a large number of black nominees, reflecting the fact that the work of black writers has led to more jobs for black artists.
The honored season — the first since the coronavirus pandemic forced theaters to close in March 2020 — included 56 productions, 34 of which were eligible for the Tony Awards as they opened between February 20, 2020 and May 4, 2022. (The others were returning productions, many of which are long-running hits.)
The challenges of Covid have been costly: 6.7 million people attended a Broadway show during the 2021-22 season, compared to 14.8 million during the 2018-19 season, which was the last full season before the pandemic; total revenue was $845 million, down from $1.8 billion.
The Tonys allowed Broadway to try to inspire viewers to become visitors to Times Square. But a challenge for the Tonys: viewership for all TV awards shows is steadily declining. Tonys’ viewership peaked recently in 2016, at 8.7 million viewers, when “Hamilton” was a contestant; in 2019 there were 5.4 million viewers, and last year, when the Tonys held a ceremony in September to coincide with the reopening of cinemas, only 2.6 million tuned in.
This year’s winners included Broadway veterans including Patti LuPone, who won her third Tony Award for her fierce turn as the alcoholic married friend of the chronically single “Company” protagonist; and Phylicia Rashad, winning her second Tony for playing a factory worker on “Skeleton Crew.” Other Tony Award-winning performers include Joaquina Kalukango, who won for her lead role as a 19th-century New York tavern owner in “Paradise Square”; Matt Doyle, who played a groom with a goofy case of wedding-day jitters on “Company,” and Deirdre O’Connell, who won for her standout lip-synced performance as a kidnapping victim in the play. “Dana H.”
“I would like this small prize to be a token for everyone who wonders, “Should I try to do something that could work on Broadway or that could win me a Tony Award, or should I do the weird art that haunts me, that scares me, that I don’t know how to do, that I don’t know if anyone in the whole world will understand? said O’Connell. “Please let me, standing here, be a little sign for you from the universe to do some weird art.”
“Six” and “MJ,” although stranded in the six-man race for Best New Musical, scored big wins.
“Six” won the Tony Award for best score in the opening minutes of the ceremony. Its music and lyrics were written by two young British artists, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who had the idea while students at Cambridge University, and were discovered by a commercial producer at the following a first broadcast at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. . The musical’s costume designer, Gabriella Slade, also won a Tony for her Tudor-style and contemporary clubwear outfits.
‘MJ’ also snagged key awards, including lead performance by 22-year-old Myles Frost in his first professional stage role, and audience-pleasing choreography from Christopher Wheeldon, who also directed the comedy. musical.
This first hour of the show, viewable only on the Paramount+ streaming channel, was hosted by Darren Criss and Julianne Hough, both of whom currently star in Broadway plays — he in a revival of “American Buffalo” and her in a new prank called “POTUS”. They started the evening with a Broadway tribute, written by Criss, to the virtues and challenges of theater (the song included a plea not to slap, in an Oscar dig).
A moving highlight of the first hour was a lifetime achievement award given to Angela Lansbury, a beloved star of stage, film and television who was also a five-time Tony Awards host, more than any other person. Lansbury, who is 96, was unable to attend in person, or even accept via video; instead, actor Len Cariou, who starred with Lansbury in the original production of “Sweeney Todd,” for which they both won Tony Awards, paid tribute to him and presented a video of highlights from his career. Next, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus performed the title track to “Mame,” which was the show in which she won the first of her five competitive Tony Awards.
The Tony Awards, named after actress Antoinette Perry, are presented by the Broadway League, a trade association that represents theater owners and producers, and the American Theater Wing, a theater advocacy organization. The awards have been awarded since 1947; there was no ceremony in 2020, and last year the ceremony was held in September, honoring shows from the truncated and timed pre-pandemic season to trumpet the reopening of theaters.