“A Strange Loop” was named best musical at the 75th Tony Awards on Sunday, while “The Lehman Trilogy” captured the prize for best play. “Company” won best musical revival and “Take Me Out” nabbed the award for best revival of a play.
“Company,” which flipped the gender of the protagonist of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical to tell a more female-focused story, earned five prizes. Its victory was bittersweet, coming roughly seven months after its creator died at the age of 91.
“The Lehman Trilogy,” an epic drama charting the history of one of the financial institutions that helped spark the 2008 recession, also won five Tony Awards, including prizes for Sam Mendes’ direction and for the lead performance of Simon Russell Beale.
The ceremony, which unfolded with characteristic razzle dazzle, caps one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the theater business. After being closed for nearly two years due to COVID, Broadway began slowly reopening at the end of last summer, but its recovery has unfolded in fits and starts.
“What a season it’s been,” Ariana Debose, the host of the Tonys, said in her opening monologue. “For many of you it’s been a roller coaster – starts, stops, dramatic twists and turns.”
Omicron devastated the industry during the height of holiday season and nearly every production has had to cancel performances or had key cast members miss shows due to outbreaks of the virus (“Six,” one of the best musical nominees, had to rely on an understudy to pull off its performance on the Tony Awards broadcast). In a sign of the changed times, winners and presenters gave shoutouts to COVID safety coordinators. All this uncertainty has come with a financial cost. Ticket sales for the 2021 to 2022 season topped out at $845 million, a 54% plunge from the $1.8 billion that Broadway theaters recorded in 2018 to 2019, the last full season prior to the pandemic shutdown of 2020.
Marianne Elliott, honored for directing “Company,” acknowledged the existential challenges facing Broadway while accepting her award. “Our industry has been through so much,” said Elliott. “It felt at times that live theater was endangered.” She went on to dedicate her prize to all of those “…fighting for the survival of this beautiful, transportive and essential art form.”
Despite the obstacles, some 34 shows premiered on Broadway this season, 29 of which received at least one Tony nomination. The shows ranged from lavish musicals to more avant-garde offerings.
Deirdre O’Connell picked up best actress in a play for her work as a Florida hospice chaplain who is held hostage in the wildly experimental drama, “Dana H.” It was a show in which O’Connell mouthed her lines to a recording of Dana Higginbotham, the real-life kidnapping victim she played on stage.
Myles Frost won leading actor in a musical for channeling pop star Michael Jackson in “MJ,” while the best leading actress in a musical prize went to “Paradise Square’s” Joaquina Kalukango, whose performance of the show’s anthem “Let it Burn” was an emotional highlight of the ceremony. “Paradise Square” examines the conflict between Irish Americans and Black Americans during the Civil War, a piece of history that Kalukango acknowledged in her speech.
Supporting actor in a play went to Jesse Tyler Ferguson for his performance as an accountant turned baseball fanatic in “Take Me Out,” while Phylicia Rashad earned best supporting actress in a play for her turn as a struggling factory worker in “Skeleton Crew.” In 2004, Rashad became the first Black actress to win the Tony Award for best actress in a play for “A Raisin in the Sun.” This was her second prize in three nominations.
Patti LuPone won her third Tony, this one for supporting actress in a musical, for her performance as a hard-drinking lady who lunches in “Company.” She previously was recognized for 1981’s “Evita” and the 2008 revival of “Gypsy.” LuPone’s co-star Matt Doyle picked up a best supporting actor statue for his show-stopping work in “Company,” the capstone of which was his interpretation of the tongue-twisting number, “Getting Married Today.”
For “A Strange Loop,” the awards love could turbo-charge ticket sales. The show, which was embraced by critics, is the meta tale of a Black gay man writing a musical about a Black gay man writing a musical. It already captured a Pulitzer Prize in 2020 after it played Off-Broadway. However, “The Lehman Trilogy” won’t be able to capitalize on its victory. The show ended its limited run in January. And being in the winner’s circle doesn’t always represent the difference between failure and success. One of the season’s biggest hits, “The Music Man,” which boasts some serious star wattage in Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, was shut out completely despite earning six nominations.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Broadway, which has historically been dominated by white creators, faced pressure to elevate more diverse voices. And that was reflected in many of the shows that made its way to the stage, as a record number of productions from Black playwrights premiered during the season.
“A Strange Loop” creator Michael R. Jackson used his acceptance speech for winning best book of a musical to acknowledge the importance of the kind of representation achieved this season.
“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 to try to just get through the day,” he said, explaining the reasons he channeled his life into his art.
New York City was pummeled by the pandemic, bearing the brunt of the early days of the virus. So it was fitting that many of the shows honored on Sunday night unfolded in and around the five boroughs. “Company” tells the deeply personal story of a Manhattanite conflicted about her need for love and relationship, while “Take Me Out” looks at various members of the city’s vibrant gay community. “The Lehman Trilogy,” which co-writer Ben Powers described in his acceptance speech as “a hymn” to New York, memorializes the strivers who have provided the Big Apple with its distinctive thrum for decades. At the same time, “A Strange Loop,” a look at an artist struggling to break through, is a reminder of the dreamers whose hopes and aspirations have ushered the city through an era of plague into an uncertain future.
Angela Lansbury, the winner of five statues for shows such as “Sweeney Todd” and “Mame,” received the Tony for lifetime achievement. The evening also included a tribute to Sondheim, with Bernadette Peters singing “Children Will Listen,” one of his best-loved songs from “Into the Woods.”
Best Revival of a Play “American Buffalo” “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” “How I Learned to Drive”WINNER: “Take Me Out” “Trouble in Mind”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a PlayWINNER: Simon Russell Beale, “The Lehman Trilogy” Adam Godley, “The Lehman Trilogy” Adrian Lester, “The Lehman Trilogy” David Morse, “How I Learned to Drive” Sam Rockwell, “American Buffalo” Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Lackawanna Blues” David Threlfall, “Hangmen”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play Gabby Beans, “The Skin of Our Teeth” LaChanze, “Trouble in Mind” Ruth Negga, “Macbeth”WINNER: Deirdre O’Connell, “Dana H.” Mary-Louise Parker, “How I Learned to Drive”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical Billy Crystal, “Mr. Saturday Night”WINNER: Myles Frost, “MJ” Hugh Jackman, “The Music Man” Rob McClure, “Mrs. Doubtfire” Jaquel Spivey, “A Strange Loop”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical Sharon D Clarke, “Caroline, or Change” Carmen Cusack, “Flying Over Sunset” Sutton Foster, “The Music Man”WINNER: Joaquina Kalukango, “Paradise Square” Mare Winningham, “Girl From The North Country”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play Alfie Allen, “Hangmen” Chuck Cooper, “Trouble in Mind”WINNER: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, “Take Me Out” Ron Cephas Jones, “Clyde’s” Michael Oberholtzer, “Take Me Out” Jesse Williams, “Take Me Out”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play Uzo Aduba, “Clyde’s” Rachel Dratch, “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive” Kenita R. Miller, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”WINNER: Phylicia Rashad, “Skeleton Crew” Julie White, “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive” Kara Young, “Clyde’s”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a MusicalWINNER: Matt Doyle, “Company” Sidney DuPont, “Paradise Square” Jared Grimes, “Funny Girl” John-Andrew Morrison, “A Strange Loop” A.J. Shively, “Paradise Square”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical Jeannette Bayardelle, “Girl From The North Country” Shoshana Bean, “Mr. Saturday Night” Jayne Houdyshell, “The Music Man” L Morgan Lee, “A Strange Loop”WINNER: Patti LuPone, “Company” Jennifer Simard, “Company”
Best Direction of a Play Lileana Blain-Cruz, “The Skin of Our Teeth” Camille A. Brown, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”WINNER: Sam Mendes, “The Lehman Trilogy” Neil Pepe, “American Buffalo” Les Waters, “Dana H.”
Best Direction of a Musical Stephen Brackett, “A Strange Loop”WINNER: Marianne Elliott, “Company” Conor McPherson, “Girl From The North Country” Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage, “Six: The Musical” Christopher Wheeldon, “MJ”
Best Scenic Design of a Play Beowulf Boritt, “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive” Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong, “Skeleton Crew”WINNER: Es Devlin, “The Lehman Trilogy” Anna Fleischle, “Hangmen” Scott Pask, “American Buffalo” Adam Rigg, “The Skin of Our Teeth”
Best Scenic Design of a Musical Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions, “Flying Over Sunset”WINNER: Bunny Christie, “Company” Arnulfo Maldonado, “A Strange Loop” Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini, “MJ” Allen Moyer, “Paradise Square”
Best Book of a Musical “Girl From The North Country” Conor McPherson “MJ” Lynn Nottage “Mr. Saturday Night” Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel “Paradise Square” Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas & Larry KirwanWINNER: “A Strange Loop”Michael R. Jackson
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) “Flying Over Sunset” Music: Tom Kitt Lyrics: Michael Korie “Mr. Saturday Night” Music: Jason Robert Brown Lyrics: Amanda Green “Paradise Square” Music: Jason Howland Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Masi AsareWINNER: “Six: The Musical”Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss “A Strange Loop” Music & Lyrics: Michael R. Jackson
Best Costume Design of a PlayWINNER: Montana Levi Blanco, “The Skin of Our Teeth” Sarafina Bush, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” Emilio Sosa, “Trouble in Mind” Jane Greenwood, “Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite” Jennifer Moeller, “Clyde’s”
Best Lighting Design of a PlayWINNER: Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy Jane Cox, “Macbeth” Yi Zhao, “The Skin of Our Teeth” Joshua Carr, “Hangmen” Jiyoun Chang, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”
Best Lighting Design of a Musical Neil Austin, “Company” Tim Deiling, “Six: The Musical” Donald Holder, “Paradise Square”WINNER:Natasha Katz, “MJ” Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset Jen Schriever, “A Strange Loop”
Best Sound Design of a Play Justin Ellington, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”WINNER: Mikhail Fiksel, “Dana H.” Palmer Hefferan, “The Skin of Our Teeth” Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, “The Lehman Trilogy” Mikaal Sulaiman, “Macbeth”
Best Sound Design of a Musical Simon Baker, “Girl From The North Country” Paul Gatehouse, “Six: The Musical” Ian Dickinson for Autograph, “Company” Drew Levy, “A Strange Loop”WINNER: Gareth Owen, “MJ”
Best Choreography Camille A. Brown, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” Warren Carlyle, “The Music Man” Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, “Six: The Musical” Bill T. Jones, “Paradise Square”WINNER: Christopher Wheeldon, “MJ”
Best Orchestrations David Cullen, “Company” Tom Curran, “Six: The Musical”WINNER: Simon Hale, “Girl From The North Country” Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, “MJ” Charlie Rosen, “A Strange Loop”