Tonys Analysis: A Celebration of Homegrown Shows and Talent

THR's awards columnist Scott Feinberg weighs in after the big ceremony at Radio City Music Hall that brought an end to the 2018-19 Broadway season.
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The team behind 'Hadestown' celebrates its best musical Tony win.

The 73rd Tony Awards, which took place on Sunday night, were a celebration of New York theater community troupers. Hollywood, which has increasingly encroached on the Great White Way in recent years, was absent from the proceedings at Radio City Music Hall, save for Bryan Cranston, who, in recognition of his electric performance in Network, won his second best actor in a play Tony in six years, and Elaine May, who, at 87, after 52 years away from Broadway, won her first Tony, best actress in a play, for The Waverly Gallery.

Instead, the honorees included the likes of Andre De Shields, a 73-year-old who has beaten the boards since the '70s, and won his first Tony (on his third nom), best featured actor in a musical, for Hadestown; Celia Keenan-Bolger, a 41-year-old character actress who won her first Tony (on her fourth nom), best featured actress in a musical, for her portrayal of 8-year-old Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird; The Cher Show's Stephanie J. Block, who made her Broadway debut 16 years ago playing Liza Minnelli and won her first Tony (on her third nom), best actress in a musical, for playing Cher; and Santino Fontana, whose dual portrayal of an actor and an actress who can both sing beautifully in Tootsie brought him his first Tony (on his second nom), best actor in a musical.

Fittingly, the most honored show, by far, was Hadestown, which won eight Tonys, including best musical — the next highest finisher won only four — after working its way up to Broadway the old-fashioned way, from off-Broadway, just like the four shows that won the best musical Tony immediately before it, Fun Home, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and The Band's Visit. Its haul, on top of that prize and De Shield's, included best director of a musical (Rachel Chavkin, her category's sole female nominee), best original score, best orchestrations and three design awards — lighting, scenic and sound.

The best revival of a play winner, The Boys in the Band, is also one with deep — if divisive — roots in the community, thanks to its depiction of bickering gay male friends. And even best revival of a musical-winning production of Oklahoma!, that most classic of Golden Age Broadway musicals, felt like a celebration of pure theater — something that could have been mounted in a downtown warehouse — in that it was scaled down and performed in the round.

None of this is likely to spike the Tonys' ratings, at a time when the show could use all the help it can get — Les Moonves, for all his many faults, was the great champion of the Tonys within CBS, and now he is gone. But it certainly seemed to please the people who perform eight times a week and who work with and around them, who were on their feet throughout much of the ceremony. (It didn't hurt that there were several other feel-good winners, like Oklahoma!'s Ali Stroker snagging best featured actress in a musical, and in so doing becoming the first wheelchair-using performer ever to win an acting Tony, and the legendary fashion-world figure Bob Mackie, at the age of 80, winning his first Tony, best costume design of a musical, for The Cher Show.)

Meanwhile, in a year in which Broadway plays surged back to life, one rose above the rest: Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, an O'Neill-esque production written by the playwright for his wife, the star Laura Donnelly, on the basis of her own family's history, which came over from England, along with its full company (subsequently replaced by local talent), and took the town by storm. In addition to snagging best play, its helmer Sam Mendes won best director of a play, while Rob Howell won both best costume design of a play and best scenic design of a play.

Best musical nominees Tootsie and Ain't Too Proud won best book and best choreography, respectively, and two best play nominees split the remaining three play awards: Ink, another British import, claimed best featured actor in a play for Bertie Carvel, whose portrayal of Rupert Murdoch previously earned him an Olivier Award, and best lighting design of a play; and Choir Boy, which was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who also wrote the play from which the film Moonlight was adapted, won best sound design of a play.

The best play nominee What the Constitution Means to Me, which audibly had a lot of support at the ceremony, came up totally empty, as did fellow best play nominee Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus; best musical nominees Beetlejuice and The Prom (the backers of which mounted a very aggressive campaign); best revival of a play nominees All My Sons, Burn This and Torch Song; and best revival of a musical nominee Kiss Me, Kate.

The Tonys bring an end to the sixth consecutive season in which Broadway set a new record for total grosses between all its shows. Meanwhile, a new season has already begun, with Frankie & Johnny at the Broadhurst Theatre. To quote The Cher Show: The beat goes on.