NEW YORK CITY: On Sunday evening, the 72nd annual Tony Awards celebrated the most-attended Broadway season in the history of the Great White Way. This year, co-hosts Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban extended the celebratory fun far beyond those lucky enough to be seated at Radio City Music Hall. Viewers from more than 140 countries tuned into the telecast of the ceremony—a total of 6.3 million, up 2 percent from last year—and shared their own theatre experiences and photos in costume with #TonyDreaming.
The fun extended across the street into the press room, where outlets were sequestered into a ballroom watching the action from two screens and listening to the ceremony via headsets. There we got to speak to some of the winners and ask questions.
Cheers erupted when Lindsay Mendez, a first-time Tony winner, was ushered into the press room. Mendez took home the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Carrie Pipperidge in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.
“I think it says that just because you’re a minority doesn’t mean that you only have to play roles that are set for a minority,” said Mendez. “I love getting to play this crazy girl in New England with an accent I never thought I’d have to hone. When I was growing up I only thought I’d be in West Side Story or Evita. I’ve been able to play so many roles where my ethnicity wasn’t defined. Just don’t put yourself in a box, open yourself up to different possibilities—someone is eventually going to say ‘yes’ to you.”
Winners get some extra time in the press room to extend their acceptance speeches, or to share their outtakes. “I was tempted to say it has taken me long enough, but I decided it was too rude,” said Glenda Jackson with a laugh about her acceptance speech. Jackson, who is 82, took home her first Tony Award for her role in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.
A little bit of the behind-the-scenes magic was shared too. Neil Austin, who won the Tony for Best Lighting Design of a Play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, shed some, er, light on his creative process.
“Lighting is, especially in a case like this where there is just a single unit set, it needs to provide the location, the mood, the atmosphere, the time of day, even the year in this production,” he said. “Are we in the present or are we in the past? All of those come into your process. Then on top of that you are trying to be the director of photography, the editor, the focus-puller, you’re the colorist…You’re pulling the focus of what the audience should be looking or, or in this case, what they shouldn’t be looking at, hiding things from them to keep the magic of the theatre alive.”
And while the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sang “Seasons of Love” in a very moving performance, Heather Hitchens, the president of the American Theatre Wing, shared some of the history of the Tony Awards and spoke about the forthcoming book celebrating the organization’s Centennial. (Full disclosure, I wrote the introduction to the chapter on the American Theatre Wing’s education programs.)
“A lot of the speeches you’ll hear tonight are about reflecting the power of theatre to heal, the power of theatre to move the needle, and this has been the history of the Tony Awards,” said Hitchens. “If you look at the height of the Red Scare, we gave the Tony to The Crucible. If you look a little later, when Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was deemed too controversial by the Pulitzer committee, Edward Albee won the Tony. Before Hollywood tackled Vietnam, the Broadway community tackled Vietnam and Sticks and Bones won the Tony. At the height of the AIDS crisis, Torch Song Trilogy won the Tony…we wanted to put this book together and make sure this history is known about the Wing.”
The politics also extended to the clothes the winners were wearing. David Zinn, who won Best Scenic Design of a Musical, wore a t-shirt under his suit jacket. When asked what his shirt said, he responded: “‘Love is at the root of our resistance,’ It is a Colin Kaepernick quote. I always like to bring a little bit of the world outside into our magical wonderland of the celebration tonight.”
The biggest challenge of being in the press room is toggling attention between the starry winners in the room and the telecast. But when David Yazbek, composer of The Band’s Visit came into the press room after winning Best Score, everyone watched as Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub took the stage to perform “Omar Sharif” on the telecast. The sound was projected through the room—instead of just through the headsets—and everyone looked on as Yazbek watched the screen, gleaming. “Look at those two, I mean, that is photogenic!” he said mimicking the choreography with his arms. “The first time I heard her sing ‘Omar Sharif’ it felt the like the perfect melding of a song and a singer.”
The social media mavens and the quick news-breakers in the room didn’t just share the highlights of the Tony Awards with the world, but also with the winners, who missed parts of the ceremony while they were making the rounds through the various winners’ rooms.
Tony Kushner was surprised to learn that Robert De Niro used his screen time to say “F*ck Trump,” not only once but twice while introducing Bruce Springsteen’s performance. De Niro’s remarks were bleeped out during the telecast, when he said, “First, I wanna say, ‘f**k Trump.’ It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump,’ it’s ‘f**k Trump.'”
“Yes!” Kushner said in reaction, surprised. As the audiences in the auditorium cheered and gave De Niro a standing ovation, producer Jordan Roth clapped and roused excitement when he took a photo of the reporters in the press room.
The questions in the press room weren’t just for the winners, either. Tony Shalhoub, who took home the prize for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, flipped the switch. “I have questions,” said Shalhoub. “1) How has this happened? 2) Why haven’t I done a musical before?”
The Band’s Visit, which won 10 of the 11 awards it received nominations for, was the top winner of the evening. Audiences will surely be traveling to Beit Hatikva, the musical’s setting—and I’m sure they will all be able to answer Shalhoub’s question of how it all happened.
Here is the complete list of winners:
The Band’s Visit
Best Leading Actress in a Musical
Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Best Leading Actor in a Musical
Tony Shalhoub, The Band’s Visit
Best Revival of a Musical
Once on This Island
Best Revival of a Play
Angels in America
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best Original Score
The Band’s Visit, Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek
Best Direction of a Play
John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best Direction of a Musical
David Cromer, The Band’s Visit
Best Sound Design in a Play
Gareth Fry, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best Sound Design in a Musical
Kai Harada, The Band’s Visit
Best Leading Actress in a Play
Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
Best Scenic Design for a Musical
David Zinn, SpongeBob SquarePants
Best Scenic Design for a Play
Christine Jones, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best Featured Actor in a Musical
Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit
Best Featured Actor in a Play
Nathan Lane, Angels in America
Best Book of a Musical
Itamar Moses, The Band’s Visit
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
Justin Peck, Carousel
Best Featured Actress in a Play
Laurie Metcalf, Three Tall Women
Jamshied Sharifi, The Band’s Visit
Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Play
Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Best Costume Design of a Play
Katrina Lindsay, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Catherine Zuber, My Fair Lady
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Tyler Micoleau, The Band’s Visit
Regional Theatre Tony Award
La MaMa E.T.C.
You just finished watching the #TonyAwards. But remember to support theatre in your local community. Great theatre is everywhere, not just on Broadway 🎭🎭
— American Theatre (@AmericanTheatre) June 11, 2018