As many pundits warned in advance, 2015 was one of the most unpredictable Tony Awards in recent memory. It was an unusually strong season, full of diverse, exciting plays and musicals brimful of stage veterans (Kristin Chenoweth, Chita Rivera, Michael Cerveris, Kelli O’Hara) and newcomers to the Great White Way (Alex Sharp, Steven Boyer, Sydney Lucas). Prognosticators seemed unusually divided in terms of who they hoped would win or believed should win. Would Fun Home beat An American in Paris? Which troubled teen – Boyer or Sharp – should get the gold? Lightning round: Kristin or Kelli? If, as Wilde once said, “When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself,” then a lot of according was going on.
Now the 69th annual Tony Awards – affably emceed by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming – is over. The speeches haven been spoken and the tears have dried. What upsets did we find most upsetting?
In the acting categories, the night started out with unexpected wins: Richard McCabe for supporting actor in a play (The Audience) and Christian Borle for supporting actor in a musical (Something Rotten). Mind you, both men are totally deserving, it’s just that most predicted Nathaniel Parker and Brad Oscar, respectively. Then Helen Mirren won for leading actress in a play for The Audience and Annaleigh Ashford for supporting actress in You Can’t Take It With You, and clairvoyant powers were restored. The same goes for Alex Sharp’s impressive turn in Curious Incident (even though I was rooting equally for Hand to God’s brilliant Steven Boyer).
An American in Paris did not sweep. Starting with director Sam Gold’s win for Fun Home, and continuing with Michael Cerveris for best actor (also for Fun Home), it became clear that voters loved the lesbian-coming-of-age musical. Director Christopher Wheeldon was honored for his choreographic acumen on An American, which also won scenic and lighting design, and orchestrations (all superb, by the way). But would it get Best Musical? Read on.
Acting races continued to startle us. Ruthie Ann Miles is terrific in The King and I, but most expected supporting actress in a musical to go precocious delight Sydney Lucas or Judy Kuhn of Fun Home. Just goes to show what a high-quality season it was. Easily the night’s most emotional race was best actress in a musical. It seemed like the entire theater world had divided into two camps: Kelli O’Hara (The King and I) or Kristin Chenoweth (On the Twentieth Century)? The six-time nominee who had yet to win or the one-time winner and coloratura spitfire? Whichever diva won, there was bound to be controversy and broken hearts. In the end, the night belonged to Kelli. I view it as a win of substance over flash.
The big wins were not terribly surprising. The King and I won best revival of a musical and Skylight best revival of a play. Best play, as many predicted, was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. No upsets there.Between the love for Skylight, The Audience and Curious Incident, it was a good night for the Brits. Then again, most Tonys are good nights for Brits.
Best musical was the biggest nail-biter. Because An American in Paris is a big-tent musical doing boffo box office and planning a major national tour, the conventional thinking was that Tony voters would go with a classy, popular winner. Instead, they awarded small, artsy, dark and quirky Fun Home, which has developed a passionate fan base among those who support serious, complex new musicals. And there’s an added bonus for the history books: Fun Home's Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron represent the first female composer-lyricist team to win for book and score. They plan to collaborate more, which is sweet music to our ears.
David Cote is theater editor and chief drama critic of Time Out New York.