Even before Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, who proved to be both musically and comically gifted hosts of the 72nd Tony Awards, took the stage, there was magic in the air on June 10. After all, the wonderful world of wizardry created by British author J.K. Rowling had just taken Broadway by storm with the premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2 a few weeks ago! Intriguingly, however, the six wins by this theatrical feat of prestidigitation (including Best Play, Best Director, Sound Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design and Set Design) proved to be among the least surprising parts of what was a mostly wonderful evening.
Indeed, the dramatic categories went mostly as expected. The revival of Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America deservedly won Best Revival of Play, along with acting honors for stars Andrew Garfield (who delivered a lovely and surprisingly stirring speech about LGBTQ rights) and Nathan Lane, whose turn as Roy Cohn may be the finest of his career. To no one’s amazement, 82-year-old legend Glenda Jackson took home her first-ever medallion for her amazing portrayal of “A” in the revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, while the great Laurie Metcalf took home her second consecutive Tony, this time for her shattering work as “B” in the same play. (Both women gave praise – admittedly of different sorts – to the show’s director, Joe Mantello).
What did turn out to be quite surprising was a sweep in the musical categories of The Band’s Visit, which won an astounding 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, along with statuettes for director David Cromer, composer-lyricist David Yazbek, book writer Itamar Moses (beating frontrunner Tina Fey of Mean Girls), lead actors Tony Shalhoub (a previous three-time nominee for his work in plays) and Katrina Lenk (who enchanted the crowd with the gorgeous “Omar Sharif") and featured Actor winner Ari’el Stachel (who spoke tearfully of how he tried to hide his Middle Eastern heritage in the years after 9/11).
Indeed, the show’s many victories left little wealth to spread around. Of this year’s original musicals, only SpongeBob SquarePants took home even a single prize: Best Scenic Design for David Zinn. And the season’s three musical revivals were each rewarded sparingly. The delicious reinvention of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ Once on This Island took home the top prize (to the shock of many). Lincoln Center’s stately My Fair Lady received only one prize as well, for Catherine Zuber’s gorgeous costumes. And the new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel went away with a pair of wins, for Joshua Peck’s spirited choreography (showcased well on air by the balletic “Blow High, Blow Low”) and for Lindsay Mendez’s ebullient turn as Carrie Pipperidge. (One of many performers to share their personal stories, Mendez recalled how she was advised as a young actress to change her last name to Matthews or she would never work in theater.)
Ironically, two musicals that weren’t even originally expected to perform on the Tony Awards scored major points: A brief yet rousing performance of “Last Dance” from Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, introduced by the late singer’s three grown daughters, was remarkably effective (and will likely keep the show in the million-dollar-a-week club for months to come), while a lovely rendition of “For Forever” by the current cast of Dear Evan Hansen – smartly used as part of the show’s “In Memoriam” segment – was a potent reminder of the singular songwriting talents of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
For a change, this year’s Special Award winners got at least some of their due on-air. Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber, each of whom received a Lifetime Achievement Award, were co-presenters in the directing categories (and were saluted beforehand by Groban and Bareilles). John Leguizamo basically gave his acceptance speech while presenting an award. And the one-and-only Billy Joel (a former Tony winner himself) presented the Special Tony Award to his longtime pal, fellow singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen.
Meanwhile, viewers had to wait until around 10:40 to actually hear Springsteen perform, but the Boss’ mostly spoken turn (followed by a brief section of his 1985 tune “My Hometown”) was a bit of a letdown – especially since it immediately followed a bleeped introduction by the great Robert DeNiro that brought the Radio City Music Hall crowd to its feet. (Let’s just say he said something less-than-gentlemanly about the current occupant of the White House.)
But it was the one moment nobody was waiting for – because it had been kept under wraps – that really defined this year’s ceremony: a beautiful performance of “Seasons of Love” by the drama club of the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (the site of a horrendous shooting earlier this year). Even Lord Voldemort, wherever he may be, was probably shedding a tear or two.