‘Fun Home’’s Triumphant Tonys Night: How Broadway Rewarded The Alternative
The five Tonys scooped by the musical about lesbian desire and suicide, as well as the success of Curious Incident, show the hunger for something challenging in the mainstream.
Time will tell if Fun Home’s joyous rout of the Tony Awards will encourage other non-traditional singing and dancing shows to emerge on Broadway.
Sunday night saw the critically and audience-adored adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel about her budding lesbian sexuality and closeted gay father’s mysterious suicide sweep the musical section of the prestigious theatrical awards.
Fun Home took home five awards: Best Musical, Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Michael Cerveris), Best Book of a Musical (for Lisa Kron), Best Direction of a Musical (Sam Gold), and Best Original Score, Music, and Lyrics (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron)—the first time an all-female team has won the award, and a historic moment CBS saw fit not to broadcast.
Cerveris linked Fun Home’s themes around sexuality and acceptance to the case of equal marriage, currently before the Supreme Court, saying he hoped the latter “would recognize that, too.”
If its actresses lost out in the lead actress and featured actress categories, they did so to worthy winners who also happened to give the wittiest speeches of the evening.
Musical lead actress winner Kelli O’Hara (The King and I) spoke to her parents directly, saying that this—the sixth time they have sat next to her as a nominee—would not end with them “having to pretend it’s OK” not to win. She then did “the worm,” and danced offstage.
Musical featured actress winner Ruthie Ann Miles (also The King and I; a Korean-American, the only non-white winner of the evening) read her speech from her phone (“Please recycle,” she said, wielding it), and was hilarious.
The British transfer (it was a big Tonys night for the Brits) of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won Best Play, and Best Actor for its young star Alex Sharp.
Sharp’s win was all the more extraordinary because the actor graduated from Juilliard only last year. Playing Christopher, a 15-year-old teenager with Asperger’s determined to solve the mystery of the death of a dog, is not only Sharp’s first role on Broadway, but his first professional role.
A charmingly amazed Sharp said he hoped his win would show any young person feeling different that they too could achieve anything.
His is an astonishingly physical performance, as Sharp leaps body-hammeringly around a set that transforms from suburban garden to London Underground station. Deservedly, Curious Incident also won awards for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design of a Play.
Marianne Elliott, in accepting the Best Direction of a Play award for Curious Incident, said the team hadn’t set out “to make a dime” from the production.
Another British transfer, David Hare’s much-acclaimed Skylight, about the relationship between an older man played by Bill Nighy and a younger woman played by Carey Mulligan, won the Best Play Revival—and, amazingly, Hare’s first Tony.
To add to the Oscar she won for playing her on the big screen, Helen Mirren can now add a Tony, her first, for playing the queen in another West End-to-Broadway transplant, The Audience.
Mirren, dedicating the award to her husband, the director Taylor Hackford (“Baby, this is for you”), said the British presence on Broadway made it seem as if the Atlantic was a “little creek you can just hop across.”
The play dramatizes the weekly conversation the British monarch has with what has been a succession of prime ministers.
Richard McCabe, who won the Best Featured Actor in a Play award for his role as ’60s British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, noted he was very shocked to win, as American audiences would have probably not even heard of the character he plays.
“Oh, my giddy aunt,” McCabe said, accepting the award, another British expression to add to the merry intercontinental confusion.
Best Costume Design for a Play went to Christopher Oram’s ruffs and doublets in Wolf Hall: Parts 1 and 2; while Catherine Zuber’s lush, richly colored costumes for The King and I won the production the corresponding award in the musical category.
The much-rated An American in Paris scooped Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Orchestrations, and Best Choreography, while Annaleigh Ashford was Best Featured Actress in a Musical for You Can’t Take It With You, and Christian Borle Best Featured Actor in a Play for Something Rotten!
The CBS broadcast, hosted sparkily by Alan Cumming and Kristen Chenoweth, was controversy-free, and while it felt overlong—how could it not, at three hours?—it did at least feature some wonderful numbers, prime among them 11-year-old Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home.
If you were after full-throttle camp, then there was always the ropes, pirates, and high seas of Finding Neverland.
Bizarrely, in a year when its two big winners—Fun Home and Curious Incident—powerfully celebrate difference, the producers opted to end the show with “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” from Jersey Boys, precisely the kind of gaudy, stompy, traditional musical shunned by Tonys voters this year.
Special awards went to John Cameron Mitchell, for Hedwig and the Angry Inch (whose lead role is currently being performed by Darren Criss); a Lifetime Achievement award to Tommy Tune; the Cleveland Play House (for Regional Theatre); Stephen Schwartz won the Isabelle Stevenson award; and Arnold Abramson, Adrian Bryan-Brown, and Gene O’Donovan the Excellence award.