The Best and Worst moments of the Tony Awards

The Tony Awards returned to Radio City’s Music Hall on Sunday for the first time since June 2019. And after this year-long journey, the gala was a welcome opportunity to celebrate all those people (from student trainees and auditors to theater directors and Covid safety officers) who made sure the show went on. again (and again). Ariana Debus, a former theater student who recently won an Academy Award, was the presenter of the three-hour broadcast segment of the ceremony on CBS. But Darren Criss and Julianne Hough, hosts of the first hour of the party on Channel + Paramount, delighted one of our writers with their adorable passion for making a show. As for the awards themselves: There were some pleasant surprises, but voters showed that they crave the familiar. Here are the highs and lows as seen by our writers. Nicole Herrington

The TV broadcast was professional, smooth, well run and nice. Part of the problem: the generally innocent choice of musical material. Other: The middle tone is very cautious and inoffensive. This may be why one of the few moments that penetrated flair and sour was the humble Billy Crystal’s sting from “Mr. Saturday Night”, the new musical inspired by his 1992 film. In fact, it was his “Yiddish scum” performance The looped syllables and meaningless consonants sung in Ella Fitzgerald’s improvisation style are forever part of his work, for good reason: It’s so funny you can’t help but fall for he-she. And when he took it out to the public, and threw it on the balcony, he showed how precise delivery and control of a room can make even the oldest and smartest materials impossibly compelling. Jesse Green

In the first half of the ceremony, I was sweating due to the fact that A Strange Loop, which was nominated for 11 awards, won nothing. I was expecting the Pulitzer Prize winner to do a complete sweep, but once the broadcast was predictable, it was clear that Tony voters were more inclined towards the expected choices of the winners’ circle. So when “A Strange Loop” won its first award tonight, for Best Musical Book, it was exciting to see Michael R. Jackson take to the stage to celebrate his “Big, Black and Gay American Show on Broadway.” Jackson’s thought-provoking and borderline-inducing text manages to be both playful and devastating, as well as being broad in every sense of the word. Maya Phillips

In the weeks leading up to the Tony Awards, there was a lot of buzz — on many social media platforms — about demands that the Tonys respect swings, benches, and backup classes. In a season often disrupted by the transmission of Covid-19, these performers have filled select players into show after show, sometimes within a few moments.

As the evening’s host Ariana Debus notes in her opening monologue: “Many people are putting on a show, not just the faces you know and love.”

No replacement was nominated, but the winners and presenters found ways to salute them. During the “Act One” special on Paramount+, MJ Award-winning director and choreographer Christopher Weldon exclaimed, “All the twists and turns that have kept us on stage this season. I bow to you.”

During the main program, “Take Me Out” winner Jesse Tyler Ferguson thanked his colleague. Patti Luponi, winner of “The Company,” praised not only students, but also Covid-19 compliance officials. And at the big production number, DeBose took another moment, while lifting it up in the air, to thank the ups and downs.

Perhaps the biggest honor came during the production of the musical “Six”. Jane Seymour played Mallory Medcke, the show’s dance captain, who was called up hours earlier after the actress who plays the role, Abby Mueller, tested positive for Covid-19. Maedke enters. Show continued. Alexis Solowsky

It’s fitting that Darren Criss will be one of the hosts at the 2022 Tony Awards: Before he starred on Broadway, he got his big break on Glee, a series that has been instrumental in connecting pop music to Broadway. He and Julianne Hough—the former Dancing With the Stars pros who never missed a step even when her costume took off before the appointed moment—had a radiant showbiz quality interspersed with edgy flair during the party hosted by the hour-long “Act One” segment of Tonys. And their opening number, written by Criss, for Paramount+ stream, was more enthusiastic than Ariana DeBose’s editorial in the CBS-hosted main section. Elizabeth Vincentelli

Imagining alternate worlds and entering them directly is what people do in theatre. But there was some dangerous cognitive dissonance on display in the collectively imagined world of the Tony Awards, a four-hour celebration of the post-lockdown season on Broadway that made it possible thanks to stringent Covid safety measures — and most obviously, meticulously required masks for audience members.

Alarmingly, the image the industry chose to present to the television cameras at Radio City Music Hall was a sea of ​​naked faces, as if Broadway inhabits a post-Covid world. In the vast orchestra section, where the candidates sat, there was rarely a mask anywhere.

A brass band from “The Music Man” walked the aisles; Ariana Debuss, host of this year’s Tonys, is the occasion in the audience members’ faces; and three winners from the revival of “The Company” – Patti Lupone; its director, Marianne Elliott; and their producer Chris Harper – they made a sarcastic reference to an audience member who rejects the mask on their show. Funny, sure, but they’re also now barefoot in a crowd.

For all the loving shoutouts that the Tonys and Tony winners have given students, hammocks and Covid safety teams for their ability to do without letting so many productions go on, it was hard not to wonder about Broadway’s choice of plain-looking TV look. Caution, knowing how scary it can become when positive test results start coming in. Laura Collins Haig

The Tony Awards aren’t exactly known for being a major fashion event, at least compared to other award shows that make up the initials of EGOT. But maybe it should be. On Sunday, we saw superstars in standout looks, and the biggest trend was high-gloss and sparkle, which go well with a big stage night.

Just look at Joaquina Kalukango, who won a Tony for lead actress in a musical while wearing a gold gown dripping in gems, tied with an electric lemon green bow—a dress designed, she said in her acceptance speech, by her sister.

Then there was Ariana Debus’ black embroidered head-to-toe dress. Kara Young Metallic Two-Piece Dress; Utkarsh Ambudkar suit covered in pearl buttons; Vanessa Hudgens Gold Abstract Planet Hoop Earrings; and Billy Porter’s space-age jacquard silver tuxedo. There were women who wore crystals and beads like armor. There were men who channeled Michael Jackson (with fringed shoulders) and Elvis (with a turtleneck and low-cut shirt)—they brought in just enough sparkle, sparkle, and intricate embroidery to preoccupy several Broadway fashion designers. Jessica Testa

I have many complaints about “MJ,” Michael Jackson’s musical score, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I find the Tonys’ performance—the star, Myles Frost, and some of the companies performing “Smooth Criminal”—a bit lackluster. Music is inherently hollow; Michael Jackson’s opacity and life of trauma and controversy make it difficult to find material that is compelling and coherent enough to tell a story on stage. So the name of the game is nostalgia, and the show is moonwalking with a buzz of fans who are thrilled to see and hear some of the most iconic shows in Jackson’s career. But it’s all an impression, even with the choreography restricted to the tried and true with few nuances and differences. The bulk and formality of the Tonys stage drained what little “MJ” charisma could have—although by the evening’s end, the show was still a huge winner, with Frost winning Best Leading Actor at a Music Award. Maya Phillips

Deirdre O’Connell won for “Dana H.” — which the presenters referred to earlier in the evening as “Donna H.” and “Diana H.” – It came as a wonderful surprise. O’Connell, 70, is an actress with sheer passion and precision who has made her career both off and off Broadway, enriching the work of two generations of playwrights, in works that are both traditional and very exotic. (She currently stars in Will Arbery’s “Corsicana” in Playwrights Horizons.)

In “Dana H,” her lips synchronized with a harrowing voice recorded by the mother of playwright Lucas Hanath. And in her acceptance speech, which came in the middle of a party in which traditional fare was typically rewarded, O’Connell dedicated a Tony to every artist who was concerned that the art they were making would prove esoteric to Broadway. She insists that her presence should inspire haunting art, spooky art, and art that no one else can fathom.

She said, “Please let me stand here, being your little sign of the universe for making strange art.” So go ahead, writers and directors from Tonys Future: Make Strange Art. Alexis Solowsky

At typical Tony Awards shows, playwrights like animal trainers and babysitters feature prominently. (It’s a constant embarrassment that they rarely speak up even if their work wins.) This year’s show may not have earned them the glory they deserve — they are, after all, at the heart of the entire project — but it gave them a longer-than-usual clip that was smart and insightful as well. Each of the five nominees for Best Play answered some simple questions about themselves and their work; Their answers were edited together like a diverse mix. What word would Tracy Letts, author of The Minutes, use to describe it? “Hilarious,” he said, with a self-serving blink. What’s Lynn Nottage’s favorite font from “Clyde”? “A little salt makes food good. Too much makes it inedible.” And how would Ben Bauer, author of “The Lyman Trilogy,” describe a play about his life? “As long as the ‘Lehman Trilogy’ but with a happier ending.” Jesse Green

The worst part of the evening wasn’t a single moment but the fact that almost every time the most famous person or show won. It felt as though voters were craving something familiar for the first full post-Covid Broadway season — even when that familiarity was covered in a concept that seemed (but isn’t really) as sharp as Sondheim’s upside-down show (“The Company”) or the revamped fun of the Spice Girls (“six”). ).

There were two major exceptions to this trend: Off-Broadway veteran Deirdre O’Connell won Best Actress in “Dana H.” Michael R. Jackson won “A Strange Loop” for Best Motion Picture Music. Elizabeth Vincentelli

“Paradise Square” is not the best music. This makes Joaquina Kalukango’s touching performance, like the show’s strong heroine Nelly O’Brien, all the more impressive. In Tonys’ otherwise somber broadcast, the snippet from “Paradise Square” brought some much-needed liveliness to the stage. Starting with a song and a dancer from the band who offered to choreograph the tacky musical, the clip then turned into a solo show for Kalukango, who kicked off the big number of her character “Let It Burn.”

Thanks to close-up camera shots (something we don’t often see in the theater world), we got to see the details of Kalukango’s performance; Her face seems to open to a brave roar, and by the end of the song her whole face darkens with tears. Not surprisingly, she later won Best Actress in a Musical. Watching her perform is like watching a Roman candle explode on a starless night – that kind of power, that kind of beauty. Maya Phillips

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