“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.
And, with “A Strange Loop” winning the top musical award, actress Jennifer Hudson became only the 17th person to achieve an EGOT — winning an Emmy, a Grammy, and Oscar, and a Tony in competitive categories. Hudson didn’t perform, but instead was a producer.
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,” host Ariana Debose 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).
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 their way to the stage, as a record number of productions from Black playwrights that had their premiere 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.”
source: NBC News