Tony Awards 2019: ‘Hadestown,’ ‘The Ferryman,’ ‘The Boys in the Band’ Win, and Bryan Cranston Takes a Stand Against Prejudice
Broadway’s 2018–19 season was one of its most profitable in spite of the high ticket prices and rush hour commute James Corden complained about in the opening number to the 73rd Tony Awards. Held at Radio City Music Hall, the ceremony to celebrate the record season was stingy with the entertainment value as it veered from Neil Patrick Harris-era exhilaration to late-night television talk variety programming. There were more than twenty singers in history of the Motown band, The Temptations, but the medley from “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” didn’t evoke any of them. The broadcast was safe and formless until it was brought together by the actor who used to play a beloved meth maker.
“Demagoguery is the enemy of the people,” Bryan Cranston warned as he nabbed his second Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play Tony Award. He won it playing a straight, white man who was mad as hell and not taking it anymore. The man was a TV news anchor and the play was adapted from a groundbreaking, irreverent political film, “Network.” Theater has always been politically ahead of movies and television due to its immediacy and street level inspiration. Films take a while to make and finance and edit. Networks answer to sponsors. But the main reason is the live aspect. Anything can happen live. James Corden referenced this in his opening song and dance number. This is the second time Cordon, who won a 2012 Tony for his role in “One Man, Two Guvnors” hosted the Tony Awards. He first hosted in 2016. The tonally subversive “Hamilton” was the big winner that year. It was also the year 49 people died and 53 others were wounded in a mass shooting inside the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Fla.
The original run of the Best Revival winner, Mart Crowley’s Irish Republican Army-era thriller “The Boys in the Band,” premiered before New York City’s gay community took to the streets to fight back against police harassment in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. The Best Play winner, Jez Butterworth’s Irish Republican Army-era thriller “The Ferryman,” began on London’s West End, the very area which was hit by a string of bombs on January 29, 1977, an attack that may have been set off by the IRA. The play also picked up a Best Director award for Sam Mendes.
Elaine May created the “age of irony” with Mike Nichols, and the “Primary Colors” screenplay she wrote for him was nominated for an Oscar. May won Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for her work in “The Waverly Gallery.” The play was the 87-year-old comedy legend’s first Broadway show in 52 years. This was her first Tony.
The subversive interpretation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” won Best Revival of a Musical. Ali Stroker, who played the girl-who-can’t-say-no Ado Annie, won the Best Featured Actress in a Musical award. Paralyzed since the age of two, Stoker was the first wheelchair-dependent actress to hit a Broadway stage in its history in 2015 when she originated the role of Anna in Deaf West’s 2015 revival of “Spring Awakening.”
“Hadestown” won Best Musical. André De Shields, who plays the Greek god Hermes, won Best Featured Actor in a Musical award. De Shields was in the original “The Wiz.” “Hadestown” is an adaption of the 2010 folk opera concept album by Anaïs Mitchell which started off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop. Rachel Chavkin, who developed it for the stage, won Best Direction of a Musical. Chavkin is currently the only woman directing a musical on Broadway. “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go. And we need to see that racial diversity and gender diversity reflected in our critical establishment, too,” she said in her speech. The play also won Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, as well as awards for Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Sound Design in the Musical categories.
Celia Keenan-Bolger, who plays Scout in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s study of southern racial inequality “To Kill a Mockingbird,” won Best Featured Actress in a Play. Bertie Carvel, who plays the tycoon of tabloid TV Rupert Murdoch in the play “Ink,” won Best Featured Actor in a Play. Murdoch’s Fox News spun prejudicial fear into a much whiter White House agenda, and live theater responded by pushing back with a diverse troupe of risk takers. The Tonys recognized the effort. The broadcast only caught it by surprise.
“The 73rd Tony Awards” celebration didn’t have Robert De Niro around for a “fuck Donald Trump” moment. That was left to Jeff Daniels, whose performance as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” lost to Cranston. Daniels didn’t mouth his epithet to a divisive demagogue, but to a more universal enemy: whoever stood between him and his Tony. The works in contention for the past season continued Broadway’s historically progressive push but network TV scrubbed it with soft soap and left Corden alone in a bathroom with a bunch of writers squeezing the Charmin.
The 73rd Tony Awards was held at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY and broadcast live Sunday, June 9 on CBS, “America’s most-watched network,” according to Corden.