There were two big winners—and no major surprises—at the 2019 Tony Awards. Hadestown (for musicals) and The Ferryman (for plays) won handsomely, including the two centerpiece Best Musical and Best Play awards.
If these two totems show an edginess—one a musical about the underworld; the other a 3 1/4-hour epic about a Northern Irish family during the Troubles—other awards conformed to colorful, Broadway type, such as Santino Fontana’s win for best actor in a musical for Tootsie.
The 2019 Tony Awards did not begin promisingly, with an awkward opening number piloted by host James Corden that set up theater’s great enemy as television, and the sheer amount of it keeping viewers bovine on sofas. If only they realized how much better theater was, Corden sang.
Well, y’know, you can do both. Plus, as a later lyric in the song acknowledged, the price of Broadway tickets might be considered more prohibitive to potential theater-goers than the presence of Fleabag.
The three-hour Tony Awards was, as usual, an unapologetically positive celebration of theater, even as it poked fun at its own relentless surface optimism. The best skit of the evening saw Corden try to stir nominees and famous names into having arguments with each other, with all parties eventually trading inane niceties instead—except (brilliantly played by both) for Audra McDonald and Laura Linney.
The most notably political speech of the evening (and it wasn’t that bonkers) was Bryan Cranston’s as winner for lead actor in Network (a case of amazing central performance rising above a scrambled play), who began his acceptance speech by saying, “Finally, a straight old white guy gets a break!”
This was not a room, you might think, that would be sympathetic to a mocking take on white privilege, but the crowd laughed. However, he followed that with the evening’s most emphatic attack on Donald Trump, without mentioning the president by name. Praising journalists the world over, he said, “The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”
Hadestown won eight Tony Awards, which meant that the much buzzed-about LGBT school musical The Prom missed out. Hadestown won the musical awards for scenic design, lighting design, sound design, orchestrations, and score (Anaïs Mitchell). André De Shields won for featured actor in a musical, and when Rachel Chavkin accepted the award for direction, she spoke about the gender and race shortcomings of the Broadway establishment. It was “a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be,” she said.
Chavkin was, she said, the only female director on Broadway this season, and that should change. Indeed, Hadestown has an entirely female principal creative team. Time will tell if the fact of its sweeping victory on Tonys night helps lead to greater equity.
Ali Stroker made history by becoming the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony for featured actress in a musical for her uproarious portrayal of Ado Annie in Daniel Fish’s radical remaining of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Stroker dedicated her award to other disabled, limited, or challenged young people “waiting to see themselves in this arena.”
Celia Keenan-Bolger, who last week told The Daily Beast how much she wanted to win the award, won the equivalent category for a play for her role as Scout Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was left out of Best Play contention. Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for Rupert Murdoch drama Ink.
Sam Mendes won best direction of a play for The Ferryman.
The much-praised 87-year-old veteran Elaine May won best actress in a play for The Waverly Gallery, in which she played a woman losing grip of her mind. She was led to the Tonys stage by producer Scott Rudin and gave a short, witty speech, paying tribute to co-star Lucas Hedges, whose character’s description of her character’s death led her to think, “I’m going to win that guy’s Tony.”
Stephanie J. Block won best leading actress in a musical for The Cher Show, and in a passionate speech (in which she half-impersonated Cher), joked that if her husband, Sebastian, ever left her, she would go with him.
Bob Mackie won best costumes in a musical for his astonishing Cher Show designs, which have a number, deservedly, devoted to them. For plays, Rob Howell’s costumes for The Ferryman were victorious.
Best choreography went to Sergio Trujillo for Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. Trujillo delivered a powerful speech aimed at Dreamers. He had once been an undocumented immigrant too, he said.
Tootsie won the best book of the musical Tony (deservedly) for Robert Horn, who in accepting his award noted—in perhaps the evening’s most on-point observation—that “What doesn’t kill you will try again tomorrow.”