“A Strange Loop” won best musical and “The Lehman Trilogy” was named best play. Myles Frost of “MJ” won best actor in a musical, and Joaquina Kalukango of “Paradise Square” was best actress.
“A Strange Loop,” a scalding story about a gay, Black theater artist confronting self-doubt and societal disapproval, won the Tony Award for best new musical Sunday night, giving another huge accolade to a challenging contemporary production that had already won a Pulitzer Prize.
The soul-baring show, nurtured by nonprofits and developed over many years, triumphed over two flashy pop musicals, “MJ,” a jukebox musical about the entertainer Michael Jackson, and “Six,” an irreverent reconsideration of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives, in a six-way race.
“A Strange Loop” garnered widespread praise from critics; on Sunday night, Michael R. Jackson, the writer who spent nearly two decades working on it, acknowledged how personal the project was as he collected his first Tony Award, for best book of a musical.
“I wrote it at a time when I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” he said. “I didn’t know how I was going to move forward. I felt unseen. I felt unheard. I felt misunderstood, and I just wanted to create a little bit of a life raft for myself as a Black gay man.”
The ceremony — the 75th Tony Awards presentation — provided an opportunity for Broadway to celebrate its return and its perseverance, hoping that a dash of razzle-dazzle, a dollop of contemporary creativity and a sprinkling of nostalgia will help lure theatergoers back to a pandemic-scarred industry now in full swing but still craving more customers.
The season that just ended was a tough one: It started late (most theaters remained closed until September), and was repeatedly disrupted (coronavirus cases obliterated its old show-must-go-on ethos, prompting cancellations and performer absences). With tourism still down, it was also short on audience.
“Our industry has been through so much,” Marianne Elliott, who won a Tony Award for directing a gender-reversed revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy “Company,” said in her acceptance speech. “It felt at times that live theater was endangered.”
But in the glittering ceremony at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, a parade of performers celebrated all that went well: Theaters reopened, long-running shows returned, and an unusually diverse array of plays and musicals arrived to entertain, provoke and inspire theatergoers.
The best play Tony went to “The Lehman Trilogy,” a sweeping saga about the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers banking business. Using three shape-shifting actors, contained within a spinning glass box of a set, the play journeyed all the way from the Wall Street giant’s humble origins in 1844 to its ignominious collapse in 2008. The show, written by Stefano Massini and Ben Power, picked up not only the Tony for best play, but also for the play’s director, Sam Mendes; its set designer, Es Devlin; and the great British actor, Simon Russell Beale, who thanked audiences for showing up, despite pandemic protocols and public health concerns.
“You trusted us,” he said. “You came with open arms. It wasn’t easy at that point to come to the theater because of all those regulations. But you welcomed us.”
“Take Me Out” emerged victorious in the best play revival category, a particularly strong field that included productions of “American Buffalo,” “How I Learned to Drive,” “Trouble in Mind” and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”
Written by Richard Greenberg, “Take Me Out” first ran on Broadway in 2003 and won the best play Tony that year; this year’s revival, presented by the nonprofit Second Stage Theater, was directed by Scott Ellis. It is about what happens when a baseball player, portrayed in this production by Jesse Williams, comes out as gay; Jesse Tyler Ferguson picked up his first Tony for his portrayal of the player’s investment adviser, who is also gay.
“Company,” a musical first staged in 1970 that wittily and sometimes bitterly examines married life, won the Tony for musical revival, besting a much-praised revival of “Caroline, or Change,” as well as a starry revival of “The Music Man” that, thanks to the appeal of leading man Hugh Jackman, has been the top-selling show on Broadway since it opened.
The award for “Company” reflected not only admiration for the reimagined production but also respect for Sondheim, its composer and lyricist, who is revered as one of the most important figures in American musical theater, and who died in November. The “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was mentored by Sondheim, introduced a tribute to him, saying, “I stand here on behalf of generations of artists he took the time to encourage.”
The Tonys, hosted by Ariana DeBose and broadcast on CBS, honored not only shows, performers, writers and designers, but also the understudies who saved so many performances this season. And DeBose, who this year won an Academy Award as Anita in the Steven Spielberg remake of “West Side Story,” paid tribute to the season’s extraordinary diversity, saying, “I feel like the phrase Great White Way is becoming more of a nickname as opposed to a how-to guide.”
She noted the season’s high volume of work by Black writers, which came about as producers and theater owners scrambled to respond to demands for more representation and opportunity for Black artists after the national unrest over racism during the summer of 2020. This year’s class of Tony nominees featured a large number of Black artists, reflecting the fact that work by Black writers led to more jobs for Black performers, designers, directors, and more.
The season being honored — the first since the coronavirus pandemic forced theaters to close in March of 2020 — featured 56 productions, including 34 eligible for Tony Awards because they opened between Feb. 20, 2020 and May 4, 2022. (The others were returning productions, many of them long-running hits.)
The Covid challenges were costly: 6.7 million people attended a Broadway show during the 2021-22 season, down from 14.8 million during the 2018-19 season, which was the last full season before the pandemic; total grosses were $845 million, down from $1.8 billion.
The Tonys served as a chance for Broadway to try to entice television viewers to become Times Square visitors. But one challenge: Viewership for all televised awards shows has been steadily falling. The Tonys audience had a recent peak in 2016, at 8.7 million viewers, when “Hamilton” was a contender; in 2019, there were 5.4 million viewers, and last year, when the Tonys held a ceremony in September to coincide with the reopening of theaters, just 2.6 million tuned in.
This year’s winners featured some Broadway veterans, including Patti LuPone, picking up her third Tony Award for her ferocious turn as an alcohol-addled married friend of the chronically single protagonist in “Company”; and Phylicia Rashad, winning her second Tony for playing a factory worker in “Skeleton Crew.” Among the other performers who collected Tony Awards: Joaquina Kalukango, for her starring role as a 19th-century New York City tavern owner in “Paradise Square”; Matt Doyle, who played a groom with a zany case of wedding day jitters in “Company,” and Deirdre O’Connell, who won for her remarkable lip-synced performance as a kidnapping victim in the play “Dana H.”
“I would love for this little prize to be a token for every person who is wondering, ‘Should I be trying to make something that could work on Broadway or that could win me a Tony Award, or should I be making the weird art that is haunting me, that frightens me, that I don’t know how to make, that I don’t know if anyone in the whole world will understand?’” O’Connell said. “Please let me, standing here, be a little sign to you from the universe to make the weird art.”
“A Strange Loop” tells the story of a Broadway usher, named Usher, who is trying to write a musical about a Broadway usher trying to write a musical; his thoughts, many of them self-critical, are portrayed by six performers, who each appear in multiple guises. The musical began its life Off Broadway, with a 2019 production at Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73 Productions. After winning the Pulitzer, it had another pre-Broadway production at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington, D.C., as Jackson continued polishing the show in preparation for this year’s commercial production on Broadway.
“Six” picked up the Tony Award for best score during the first minutes of the ceremony. Its music and lyrics were written by two young British artists, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who came up with the idea while undergraduates at Cambridge University, and who were discovered by a commercial producer following a buzz-building first run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The musical’s costume designer, Gabriella Slade, also won a Tony for her Tudor-style-meets-contemporary-clubwear outfits.
“MJ” also landed key prizes, including for the lead performance by Myles Frost, a 22-year-old in his first professional stage role, and for the crowd-pleasing choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, who also directed the musical.
The other contenders, “Girl From the North Country,” featuring the songs of Bob Dylan; “Mr. Saturday Night,” starring Billy Crystal as a washed-up comedian; and “Paradise Square,” about race relations in Civil War-era New York, appeared to be less of a factor in the competition.
That first hour of the awards ceremony, viewable only on the streaming channel Paramount+, was hosted by Darren Criss and Julianne Hough, both of whom are currently starring in Broadway plays — he in a revival of “American Buffalo,” and she in a new farce called “POTUS.” They began the evening with a Broadway-is-back tribute, written by Criss, extolling the virtues and challenges of theater (the song included a plea for no slapping, in a dig at the Oscars).
A lifetime achievement award was given to Angela Lansbury, a beloved star of stage, film and television who was also a five-time host of the Tony Awards, more than any other person. Lansbury, who is 96, was not able to attend in person, or even to accept by video; instead the actor Len Cariou, who starred with Lansbury in the original production of “Sweeney Todd,” for which they both won Tony Awards, paid tribute to her and introduced a video of career highlights. Then the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus performed the title song from “Mame,” which was the show in which she won the first of her five competitive Tony Awards.
The Tony Awards, named for actress Antoinette Perry, are presented by the Broadway League, a trade association that represents theater owners and producers, and the American Theater Wing, a theater advocacy organization. The awards have been presented since 1947; there was no ceremony in 2020, and last year’s September ceremony honored shows from the truncated prepandemic season.
The Tony Awards aren’t exactly known for being a major fashion event, at least compared to the other awards shows that make up the initials of EGOT. But maybe it should be. Tonight we saw major stars in major looks, with the biggest trend being found in high shine and sparkle, befitting of theater’s big night.
Just look at Joaquina Kalukango, who won the Tony for lead actress in a musical while wearing a golden gown dripping in gems, tied with an electric lime green bow — a dress that was designed, as she said in her acceptance speech, by her sister.
Then there was Ariana DeBose’s head-to-toe black sequined gown; Kara Young’s metallic two-piece ball gown; Utkarsh Ambudkar’s suit covered in pearly buttons; Vanessa Hudgens’ big, gold abstract planetary earrings; and Billy Porter’s space-age jacquard silver tuxedo. There were women who wore their crystals and beading like armor. There were men who channeled Michael Jackson (with fringed epaulets) and Elvis (in a high-collared, low-cut shirt) — bringing enough glitz, glamour and intricate embroidery to occupy several Broadway costume designers.
The Tony Awards remembered theaters artists, producers, directors and other members of the industry who have died in recent months. During the tribute, Billy Porter sang “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady,” rejiggered as “On the Street Where You Lived.”
This was a big awards season for Ariana DeBose — who became known on the red carpet for her big, bright, colorful looks — and I was curious whether she’d bring that boldness to the Tonys hosting gig. The answer: Not really. At first it seemed like she was going to stick to a theme: Her opening number included a few variations on the same all-white look, after which she guided the audience through several bits in a strapless white gown with pink streaks around the skirt. But she swerved toward the end of the ceremony, changing into black and violet dresses, both with blazer necklines and cut-outs around the midriff. It was all very serviceable!
With a win for “A Strange Loop” in the best new musical category, Jennifer Hudson, one of the show’s co-producers, joins a select group of people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
The singer and actress was added as a producer of the Michael R. Jackson show as it transitioned to Broadway. Other celebrities listed as producers include RuPaul Charles, Don Cheadle, Mindy Kaling, Billy Porter and Alan Cumming.
“This brilliant, funny masterpiece exposes the heart and soul of a young artist struggling with his desires, identity and instincts he both loves and hates,” Hudson said on the awards show Sunday while introducing a performance of the musical.
Hudson won an Oscar in 2007 for her role in “Dreamgirls” and two Grammys — one for best R&B album and another for the cast album of “The Color Purple.” An interactive animated short that she was an executive producer on, “Baba Yaga,” won a Daytime Emmy Award.
Hudson, who shot to fame in 2004 as a contestant on “American Idol” and starred in the 2015 Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” is the latest addition to a short list of EGOTs that includes Rita Moreno, John Legend, Audrey Hepburn and Whoopi Goldberg.
Ariana DeBose reprises the opening number with the names of some of the night’s winners written into the mashed-up lyrics. But the excitement came from the two most unexpected victors: O’Connell for best actress in a play and, after nearly being shut out, “A Strange Loop” with the big prize, best musical. I can sleep well on that.
“A Strange Loop,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning meta-musical about an aspiring theater artist battling doubt and disappointment, prevailed Sunday night when it won the Tony Award for best new musical.
The show, which opened in April, triumphed over several better-known and better-funded productions, including “MJ,” a Michael Jackson jukebox musical, and “Six,” a revisionist history about the wives of Henry VIII, as well as “Girl From the North Country,” “Mr. Saturday Night” and “Paradise Square.”
The musical won widespread praise from critics for its raw look at how biases about sexuality, body size, and race hobble the show’s protagonist, who is gay and Black and surrounded by skeptics, some dwelling inside his head. Writing in The New York Times, the critic Maya Phillips called it “searing and softhearted, uproarious and disquieting.”
“A Strange Loop” was written by Michael R. Jackson, who has been working on the project for nearly two decades, and directed by Stephen Brackett. Jackson also won a Tony for best book of a musical.
The show had an initial Off Broadway production in 2019, via Playwrights Horizons and Page 73 Productions; it won the Pulitzer in 2020, and in 2021 it was began a short run at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington.
“A Strange Loop” needed to win. It was 100% the best nominee in the category. I was more focused on what I would throw if “A Strange Loop” hadn’t won.
So at the end, the voters made the more challenging choice and awarded the best musical prize to “A Strange Loop.” I wouldn’t have cried if “Six” had won but this is a wonderful moment.
Myles Frost, a 22-year-old actor who made his Broadway debut in December, won his first Tony Award on Sunday for his depiction of a driven Michael Jackson in the biographical musical “MJ.”
“Mom, I love you so, so much,” he said during his speech on Sunday. “Without you there would be no me, I would not — you taught me and showed me what a strong Black woman is and what it means to raise a strong Black man and I just pray that I made you proud.”
Frost, who had never been in a professional stage production and had seen only one Broadway show before landing the role, has won critical acclaim for his performance despite the show, which features many of Jackson’s best known pop songs and many of his iconic dance moves, being pilloried for largely avoiding the subject of sexual abuse allegations lodged against the singer (the Michael Jackson estate is a producer). It picked up 10 Tony nominations, including for best new musical.
“People come here every day with different opinions and different feelings about Michael,” Frost told The New York Times in a recent interview. “It’s not my job to persuade or convince them of anything, but what I do want them to do is have a better understanding of the things that he had to go through — whether it’s financial or emotional — to put this tour together, because nobody can deny, and this is the bottom line, the impact that he has had on culture and on music.”
“Frost offers not just a willowy simulacrum of the star,” he wrote, “but an eerie mimicry of his mannerisms. The breathy voice; the head-down, eyes-up gaze; the interjectory squeals and yelps: Frost has them down cold.”
Frost beat out fellow Broadway newcomer Jaquel Spivey, 23, who delivers a soul-baring performance as the self-doubting protagonist in Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “A Strange Loop,” as well as Billy Crystal (“Mr. Saturday Night”), Hugh Jackman (“The Music Man”) and Rob McClure (“Mrs. Doubtfire”).
But I agree with Elisabeth. It’s a total success onstage, but the camera erases some of what’s so exciting about it, perhaps because we’re used to such things on camera.
I’ve watched so many videos from “Six” on YouTube and I always find them a little lacking. But seeing the show live was a game-changer: it totally works! Even though it’s hard to hear those songs the same way after watching “Girls5eva.”
I love how we’re getting such an emotional, earnest acceptance speech from Joaquina Kalukango. I do wish Sharon D Clarke could’ve gotten a Tony too though. Both women have stunning voices.
The show is Kalukango’s first top billing in a Broadway musical, and the award is her first Tony. Her star turn came in “Slave Play,” which earned her a Tony nomination in last year’s awards show.
Kalukango’s character in “Paradise Square,” Nelly O’Brien, runs a bar in the Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan, where her tight-knit community of Black Americans and Irish immigrants unravels in the days leading up to the 1863 Draft Riots. O’Brien’s bar is the central set in the large-ensemble show, serving as the backdrop for intricate dance numbers and emotional ballads.
One show-stopping moment for Kalukango is in the song “Let It Burn,” during which she unleashes her powerful voice with few distractions onstage. At Sunday’s show, Kalukango did just that, belting the ballad with tears streaming down her cheeks — and receiving a standing ovation.
Jesse Green, The New York Times’s chief theater critic, wrote in his review of the show that Kalukango plays Nelly O’Brien “with enough guts, stamina and vocal bravura to make you believe in a character glued together from the shavings of history.”
Kalukango, 33, also had featured roles as the rival to Sutton Foster’s character in “The Wild Party” and as Nettie, the sister to Cynthia Erivo’s Celie, in the 2015 Broadway revival of “The Color Purple.”
In an interview with The Times last month, Kalukango said the message of hope in “Paradise Square” was a useful one at a particularly fractured time in American history.
“There’s hope in community,” she said. “There’s hope in love. There’s hope for this country. And I think the more and more we see the things that are alike within us, the less we see the differences.”
I can’t believe Myles Frost nabbed the best actor in a musical prize. I was all in for Jaquel Spivey. Elisabeth, you were talking about empty performances—I found his performance completely absent of substance.
Deirdre O’Connell, who played a woman who was violently abducted by a white supremacist in Lucas Hnath’s one-woman drama “Dana H.,” won the Tony for best leading actress in a play.
In accepting the award, she said: “I would love for this little prize to be a token for every person who is wondering, ‘Should I be trying to make something that could work on Broadway or that could win me a Tony Award, or should I be making the weird art that is haunting me, that frightens me, that I don’t know how to make, that I don’t know if anyone in the whole world will understand?’”
O’Connell, 70, who lip-synced the entire 75-minute testimony of the protagonist, Dana Higginbotham — Hnath’s mother, who was abducted by an ex-convict and a member of the Aryan Brotherhood in 1997 — told The New York Times at a pre-Tonys event last month that she wasn’t initially sure whether the work of lip syncing would be pleasurable or painful.
“At first I was like ‘Why can’t we just do it as a monologue. Why can’t I just act?’” she said. “It became very clear why not. The piece is so much about surrendering to our capacity for empathy for another person.”
“Dana H.,” which ran Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theater in 2020 before opening on Broadway in October, was a favorite with critics. Jesse Green, chief theater critic for The New York Times, called the production “profoundly disturbing” and praised O’Connell for “brilliantly pulling off one of the strangest and most difficult challenges ever asked of an actor.”
“Call it Thriller Karaoke, a form in which the story is almost as dangerous as the mode of storytelling,” he wrote. “You worry that O’Connell will fall out of sync with the recording, which never stops once the play begins.”
Despite critical acclaim, ticket sales did not follow, and the production, which had been alternating performances with “Is This a Room,” the verbatim drama by Tina Satter, closed two months early in November after just 25 performances.
This is the first Tony win for O’Connell, a beloved veteran of Off Broadway stages who won an Obie Award for the role in the 2020 production at the Vineyard (she is currently onstage in Playwrights Horizon’s production of Will Arbery’s “Corsicana”).
I believe the remaining categories are best actor and actress in a musical, and best musical. I do hope the night’s pattern of awarding the most familiar/least challenging choices does not continue.
Billy Porter is not what you’d call a recessive performer but this song, “The Street Where You Live,” rejiggered as “The Street Where You Lived,” is a touching choice.
Every time I see Billy Porter, who is singing during the In Memoriam segment, I just think his fashion is an architectural feat. The shimmering suit, the braided honeycomb of a hairstyle—he is like a moving artwork
O’Connell urges people to “make the weird art” — in contrast to the art that might more easily be rewarded commercially. And in doing so upon winning a Tony Award, she is also indicating that the two need not always be different.
I am also completely shocked by this “Dana H.” win, but that was a performance I will never forget. I responded to that show so viscerally that my whole body felt shaken when I left the theater. I wish we could see more like this on Broadway.
The critically acclaimed British actor Simon Russell Beale won the Tony for best leading actor in a play for his dynamic, shape-shifting performance in “The Lehman Trilogy.”
In “Lehman,” Beale, 61, played Henry Lehman, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria whose dry goods shop in Alabama morphed into a financial powerhouse before its downfall — but he did not stop there. Beale went on to play a parade of major and minor characters, including Henry Lehman’s nephew, Philip Lehman, from child to adult.
Beale’s fellow cast members, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester, also inhabited an extensive list of characters; they were nominated for the same award for their performances in the play, which runs three hours and 15 minutes and spans centuries of the Lehman line.
“Adam, Adrian, I feel a little sheepish,” Beale said. “I just want to say we all did exactly the same amount of work in this play. But I take this, accept it on your behalf. It’s your award, too. I just have the luck to take it home.”
This was Beale’s first Tony win. He was last nominated in 2004, for his Broadway debut in the Tom Stoppard play “Jumpers,” in which he played a cerebral philosopher meditating on the question of whether God exists.
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2019, Beale has had far more recognition in London, where his roles in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” “Candide” and “Volpone” earned him honors at the Olivier Awards.
In New York, he has appeared as some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, including Hamlet, Iago and Malvolio, and in the title role of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” (Ben Brantley, formerly the co-chief theater critic for The New York Times, wrote that Beale’s Hamlet was the finest he had seen, noting that Beale was regarded as “one of the greatest classical actors of his generation.”)
We all have our contrarian hills to die on, but, Elisabeth, I disagree so violently I’m afraid I’m going to give myself a stroke over here. Did you see how Joaquina was carrying those notes? And you could see every emotion on her face during those close-ups. She’s so fabulous.
Joaquina Kalukango, singing “Let It Burn” from “Paradise Square” finally breaks through the doldrums of this awards ceremony. I imagine we’ll be seeing her onstage again shortly, but not in a 19th-century gown.
This “Paradise Square” performance is my favorite of the night so far. We got a bit of the sprightly choreography that so defines the show, and now Joaquina Kalukango is just slaying — as she always does — in “Let It Burn.” I mean, look at that well-deserved standing ovation!
I would have been content for “The Lehman Trilogy” to be honored for its design and direction, as it has been, and its leading performance, as it likely will be soon. But I do not think the play itself was the best of the season.
“The Lehman Trilogy,” an ambitious and surprisingly theatrical saga about the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers financial empire, won the Tony Award for best new play.
The play, by Stefano Massini and Ben Power, arrived on Broadway already considered a must-see by theater lovers, and it retained its luster even during a season in which 11 other new plays also opened.
“The Lehman Trilogy” tracks the history of the company from its origins in the 19th-century, when the brothers immigrated to the United States, through its collapse amid the financial crisis of 2008. The Broadway cast featured Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester, all of whom played multiple parts over several generations, and all of whom were nominated for Tony Awards.
The Broadway run began previews on March 7, 2020, but paused a week later when all theaters were shut down with the arrival of the coronavirus; it resumed previews last September, opened in October, and ran until the start of January.
The production, which had run in Europe and Off Broadway at the Park Avenue Armory before arriving on Broadway, was directed by Sam Mendes and was staged within a rotating glass box designed by Es Devlin.
More than 15 years after they stormed Broadway as an angsty set of adolescents, the original cast of the musical “Spring Awakening” reunited Sunday night at the Tonys and offered a special rendition of one of the musical’s most enduring songs.
One of the show’s stars, Lea Michele, introduced the cast alongside Zach Braff who, not coincidently, introduced the show to Tony audiences in 2007 when it won the award for best musical. Led by Skylar Astin, the cast sang a soulful edition of “Touch Me.”
The 2006 Steven Sater musical, an adaptation of the Frank Wedekind play from the turn of the 20th century, is about German teenagers grappling with sexual desires, secret pain and parental pressure. It vaulted several of its stars — such as Michele, Jonathan Groff, John Gallagher Jr. — to wider fame, won eight Tony Awards, and played more than 850 performances.
The Tony performance on Sunday appeared to book end a reunion that has played out over the last several months. In November, the original cast reunited for one night at the Imperial Theater for a 15th anniversary concert benefiting the Entertainment Community Fund (previously The Actors Fund). The performance was recorded by HBO and released earlier this year as a film: ‘Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known.’
Roshunda Jones-Koumba, a drama teacher who built up the theater program at G.W. Carver Magnet High School, will receive the award for excellence in theater education on Sunday.
“Theater education is necessary at all schools because it helps develop the whole child,” she said in a recent interview. “Theater is a reflection of life. It is a study of human beings. People who take theater are more empathetic — and they come better people who can go make a positive change in this world.”
Jones-Koumba was announced as the award winner this month. The award, which was co-founded by the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 to recognize top K-12 drama teachers, comes with $10,000 for her high school’s theater program.
The award was acknowledged Sunday evening by the show’s host, Ariana DeBose, who took a moment during the telecast to pay tribute to one of her own mentors. The actor Telly Leung then came onstage and called out Jones-Koumba by name.
In an news release from The Tonys, students and community leaders praised Jones-Koumba for what they said was her tireless work with and support for her students — many of whom are students of color. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she is a director at the G.W. Carver Theater, where she has led the Panther Players Troupe #6753 to multiple regional and national awards.
Jones-Koumba said that when she first set out 17 years ago to strengthen the arts offerings at Carver, the theater program was small and in its infant stages. Over time, she said, she sought to create a safe space at school for the many students who do not enjoy one at home. And the program has grown from putting on small musicals (Jones-Koumba said she started off with a budget of about $2,000) to mounting large-scale community performances.
After a Covid year in which students staged “Dreamgirls” in masks, this year the school offered up Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” and the play “Bury the Dead.” Jones-Koumba said she was considering using the award funds for either “a big trip” or to make the school’s next musical “bigger or better than ever.” (Odds are, she said, it will be “The Wiz.”)
The gender-reversed revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” which was the final Broadway production the legendary composer and lyricist worked on before he died in November at 91, took home the Tony Award for best musical revival.
The show, which opened in December, won out over a starry revival of “The Music Man,” which has been a success at the box office, if not with critics, and “Caroline, or Change,” the fictional story of a divorced Black maid working for a Jewish family inspired by Tony Kushner’s Louisiana childhood.
Critical opinion was positive to mixed on the “Company” revival, which was directed by Marianne Elliott, who was nominated for a Tony for best direction of a musical. Writing in The New York Times, the chief theater critic, Jesse Green, praised Patti LuPone’s performance as the undermining, pickled Joanne as being among those that were “perfectly etched,” though, on the whole, he found the production confusing and sour.
“It’s amazing what a little LuPone can do to distract from such things,” he wrote. “Whether swinging her legs like a mischievous child or squatting on a toilet — yes, Elliott’s staging goes there — she brings her precision comedy and riveting charisma to every moment she’s onstage.”
The show, first produced in 1970, previously centered on a man considering his bachelorhood on his 35th birthday; this version swaps the male “Bobby” for the female “Bobbie” and puts a woman in the same scenario.
Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics for the original production, had strongly supported the revival before his death, which was one of the defining moments of the past Broadway season (he was honored tonight in a posthumous tribute).
“What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints,” he said in an interview with The Times a few days before he died, adding that “‘Company’ has a different flavor than it had before feminism really got a foothold.”
With the pandemic still very much a concern, theater fans returned to find Covid safety officers in neon yellow vests checking vaccine cards at the door, new signs at each theater reminding them to wear a mask and strict enforcement of the rules after they took their seats.
It wasn’t easy or smooth. For a time, some parents of small children had to scramble to get their kids tested shortly before a performance. Occasionally people without the proper proof of vaccination were pulled off line. Most audience members were courteous. But not all.
In the end, much of the task of reopening Broadway safety fell to workers on the front lines at Broadway theaters. Many were part of the theater community themselves, picking up shifts here and there when possible. And since most Broadway theaters stopped checking the vaccination status of their patrons last month, some have been let go.
On Sunday at the Tony Awards, the actors Skylar Astin and Marcia Gay Harden paid tribute to Covid safety workers after a year in which the show might not have gone on without them.
One of the biggest events of this past Broadway season was the death of Stephen Sondheim, who was widely hailed as among the greatest theater composers and lyricists ever to work in musical theater.
Sondheim won multiple Tony Awards during his life, including one for lifetime achievement. And tonight one of the many artists he mentored, Lin-Manuel Miranda, presented a posthumous tribute to him.
“Steve touched our lives in a multitude of ways through his immortal music and lyrics, through his teaching and advocacy for young writers and through letters,” Miranda said on Sunday. “Stephen wrote them to friends, to up-and-coming artists, to countless people he’d never met. He wrote so many letters that you’d wonder when he had time to pick up a Blackwing 602 pencil and write a song.”
Sondheim’s death last November prompted even more interest in his oft-produced work. The favorite to win this year’s Tony for best musical revival is “Company,” now running on Broadway, while a production of “Into the Woods,” starring Sara Bareilles, that ran last month at City Center will transfer to Broadway this summer. (Performances start later this month at the St. James Theater.) A new production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, is planned for an Off Broadway run next fall at New York Theater Workshop, with talk of a possible Broadway transfer to follow. And a new Broadway production of “Sweeney Todd” is being discussed.
Around the country, too, many theaters are paying tribute to Sondheim on their stages. Among them: The Pasadena Playhouse in California is planning a Sondheim-focused season, and this summer in the Berkshires, the Barrington Stage Company is presenting a new production of “A Little Night Music.” Directed by Julianne Boyd, who will retire at the end of the season as artistic director, it will include a cast of Broadway regulars.
Anthony Edwards, the actor who introduced a performance from “Girl From the North Country” on Sunday, is not a permanent cast member or member of the artistic team, but rather a symbol of the show’s endurance through pandemic challenges.
Last month, when the musical was coping with the absence of several performers because of coronavirus infections, Edwards — an actor known for his role in the medical drama “ER,” and who is married to one of the show’s leading actresses, Mare Winningham — filled in for a missing actor, sometimes with a script in hand.
“This show got into a situation where there were no more swings and understudies, and I was asked at the last minute if I would cover a role,” Edwards said on Sunday. “Terrifying — truly.”
The Depression-era musical, written and directed by the Irish playwright Conor McPherson and set to the songs of Bob Dylan, is accustomed to adapting to new circumstances.
The show opened on March 5, 2020, just a week before theaters shut down for the pandemic; restarted on Oct. 13, 2021; took a three-month hiatus when Omicron hit; and then started for a third time on April 29. The show never loaded out of the Belasco Theater — its set has been there for 27 months.
It is the only show that opened in spring 2020 to be nominated for Tony Awards in 2022. (“Six” was in previews in March 2020, and was just hours from opening before theaters were shut down.)
On Sunday, the cast performed Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Pressing On.” The show earned seven Tony nominations and, so far, has one an award for best orchestrations.
source: The New York Times