History was made several times on Sunday night during the 73rd Tony Awards: Hadestown won best musical (as well as 7 other awards), making it the first musical created and directed by women to win the honor. Ali Stroker was the first actor who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony, for her performance as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!
But as many artists made it clear throughout the night, Broadway still has a long way to go. As host James Corden noted in his opening number, theatre may be more immediate than television, but TV “pays us so much more money than the theatre.”
Later, in one of the most-quoted acceptance speeches of the night, director Rachel Chavkin accepted an award for directing Hadestown and memorably called out the theatre industry for its lack of diversity in all fields. “I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season,” she said, noting, “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. This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be.”
Chavkin’s sense of activism wasn’t confined to the theatre field: She wore a Planned Parenthood pin and an ACLU ribbon on her dress, joining many attendees sporting pins denoting support for various advocacy organizations.
For her part, Stroker dedicated her award to “every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, limitation, or a challenge who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are.” In the press room backstage, Stroker said that while the theatre house is accessible to artists with disability, most backstages—including Radio City’s—are not. She suggested that “theatre owners and producers look into making the backstage accessible so performers with disabilities can get around.”
Oklahoma!, which won best musical revival award over the more traditionally staged Kiss Me, Kate, included victims of gun violence in its staging of a medley of songs from the show. “We had kids from Parkland, March for Our Lives, Everytown, mom groups against violence, actual victims—really inspiring people,” said producer Eva Price backstage.
Designers also called for a widening of the pool. In his acceptance speech for best lighting design of a musical (which, like all of the design categories, was not televised during the live broadcast), Bradley King of Hadestown laid down some statistics: “There were 147 design slots on Broadway last year; 40 of them went to women, 14 of them went of people of color, just 6 went to women of color. We need to make Broadway less white, less cis, and less male.”
On the red carpet, composer Eddie Perfect, who wrote the music for the Tony-nominated Beetlejuice and King Kong, expressed the need for more female writers. “It’s about the whole ecology of composing changing to let people in at the door at the very beginning with workshopping and developing,” he said. “You just have to hand the keys to people. Not just the bloody men!”
Another theme that emerged over the night: staying in the game. “I’ve never won a nomination for acting before,” said Elaine May, who at 87 received her first Tony win for lead actress in a play for The Waverly Gallery. In his acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award (not broadcast), playwright Terrence McNally encouraged staying the course, saying, “The world needs artists more than ever to provide us with kindness, beauty, truth.”
Accepting a Tony for featured actor in the musical Hadestown, 73-year-old André De Shields (like May, a first-time Tony winner), laid down “three cardinal rules” of “sustainability and longevity. One: surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two: slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three: the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”
While some were disappointed that the The Ferryman, a traditionally crafted drama about an Irish family, beat out the more experimental and politically pointed What the Constitution Means to Me (as well as Gary and Choir Boy), overall what last night’s Tonys did well was to give Broadway artists a platform to, like Orpheus emerging from the underworld, lead Broadway to the light of a more equitable future—and, as with Orpheus, there’s always danger in looking back.
Hadestown is only the second musical composed and written by a woman to win a Tony (and the first, Fun Home, was just four years ago). In her acceptance speech for best score, songwriter Anaïs Mitchell gave her own list of rules for how to make “good change in this world. No. 1: Nobody does it alone. No. 2: It takes a long time. And No. 3: It is worth it.”
The winners list is below.
Best Revival of a Play
The Boys in the Band
Best Revival of a Musical
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Best Book of a Musical
Tootsie, Robert Horn
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Bryan Cranston, Network
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Santino Fontana, Tootsie
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Bertie Carvel, Ink
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
André De Shields, Hadestown
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Ali Stroker, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Rob Howell, The Ferryman
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Rachel Hauck, Hadestown
Best Costume Design of a Play
Rob Howell, The Ferryman
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Bob Mackie, The Cher Show
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Ink
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Bradley King, Hadestown
Best Sound Design of a Play
Fitz Patton, Choir Boy
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown
Best Direction of a Play
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Best Direction of a Musical
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown
Special Tony Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Special Tony Awards
Sonny Tilders and Creature Technology Company
Jason Michael Webb
Regional Theatre Tony Award
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, Calif.
Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre
Broadway Inspirational Voices – Michael McElroy, Founder
FDNY Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9
Joseph Blakely Forbes
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