Tonys: A Night When Broadway Spread Its Love Around (Analysis)

THR's awards columnist dissects Sunday night's results, which may be even better news for Broadway overall than last year's high-profile celebration of 'Hamilton.'
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On Sunday night, a year after "the Hamiltonys" at which Lin-Manuel Miranda's theatrical phenomenon claimed a near-record 11 awards, decidedly fewer people were paying attention to Broadway and its biggest night, the Tony Awards — but considerably more quality shows got a moment in the spotlight, with 12 of them taking home at least one prize.

Love-sharing wasn't exactly unexpected going into the ceremony at Radio City Music Hall — just not quite as much as ended up happening. Three of the four shows nominated for best musical (Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812), two of the best play contenders (Oslo, Indecent and A Doll's House, Part 2) and three nominees for best revival of a play (Present Laughter, The Little Foxes and Jitney) can now advertise themselves "Tony winners." Ditto the one behemoth in the best revival of a musical category (Hello, Dolly!) and two other shows that weren't even nominated for their overall productions (Bandstand and The Play That Goes Wrong).

Make no mistake about it, folks: This is great for Broadway — the advertising underslings hanging from theater marquees will reflect Sunday night's developments on Monday — maybe even greater than having one show that becomes a cultural phenomenon but that is virtually impossible for the average American to get in to see.

Insiders had widely anticipated that Evan Hansen or Come From Away would win best musical (the Tony believed to make the biggest difference at the box office), and Evan Hansen took the prize. Forecasts also said Oslo would hold off a late surge by A Doll's House, Part 2 in the best play race, and it did; and that Jitney and Dolly!, which had swept the precursor awards in their respective categories, would be winners again — and they were.

Similarly, Evan Hansen's 23-year-old breakout star Ben Platt and Dolly's 71-year-old returning hero Bette Midler were clear frontrunners in the actor and actress in a musical races, respectively, as were Present Laughter's Kevin Kline and Doll's House 2's Laurie Metcalf in the corresponding play categories. The same goes for best featured actor in a musical winner Gavin Creel (Dolly) and featured actress in a play winner Cynthia Nixon (The Little Foxes), as well as Evan Hansen for best book of a musical, original score and orchestrations; The Little Foxes for best costume design of a play (Jane Greenwood's first competitive win on her 21st nom, 52 years after her first) and Dolly for best costume design of a musical.

Some other categories were too close to confidently call: best director of a play (ultimately won by Indecent's Rachel Taichman, the sole woman up for the award, over the likes of Oslo's Bartlett Sher and Jitney's Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the directors of the shows that went on to win best play and best revival of a play. Likewise best lighting design and scenic design of a musical (both won, so deservedly, by The Great Comet, which is as much about its immersive experience as its plot or music); and best lighting design in a play (Indecent).

Indeed, there were few results that one might call true "upsets": Evan Hansen's Rachel Bay Jones edged Falsettos' Stephanie J. Block and Come From Away's Jenn Colella for the title of best featured actress in a musical (an early show of Evan Hansen's strength). Come From Away's Christopher Ashley upended Evan Hansen's Michael Greif — who somehow remains winless even with Rent, Grey Gardens and Next to Normal also on his résumé — in the best director of a musical category. That left Evan Hansen supporters momentarily nervous because only three other times this century had the winner of this prize not also gone on to win best musical or revival of a musical. And the victory of Oslo's Michael Aronov over The Price's Danny DeVito (who had won Drama Desk and Outer Critics' Circle awards for his impressive Broadway debut) for best featured actor in a play was a genuine surprise.

Elsewhere, it was somewhat unexpected to see The Play That Goes Wrong win best scenic design in a play and Bandstand win best choreography, not because that recognition was undeserved (those clearly were the strong points of those shows), but because the productions were not well represented elsewhere. (Granted, nominations are determined by a committee that represents only a fraction of the full voting body that picks the winners, but the committee usually offers a good barometer for how the overall community feels about shows.)

Thus ends a Broadway season in which box office grosses were up, but admissions were slightly down (people have to pay more to see shows); in which diversity was less front-and-center in the results (none of this year's eight acting winners were people of color, whereas half of last year's were), but was celebrated in many shows (such as Jitney, Miss Saigon and three that employed color-blind casting, Doll's House 2, The Great Comet and Amelie); and in which the unlikeliest of ideas — musicals derived from 70 pages of War and Peace or inspired by events surrounding 9/11; plays about the Oslo Accords and what happened after the door slammed at the close of Ibsen's A Doll's House — captivated a community and were recognized in front of the world.