‘Hadestown’ picks up eight prizes.
“Hadestown,” a new musical based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, snagged eight prizes as the Tony Awards broadcast neared its conclusion Sunday night, a strong embrace for the folk- and jazz-inflected show.
The musical offers a contemporary take on mythology, alluding to climate change and industrialization while intertwining two love stories: the doomed romance of Orpheus and Eurydice and the fraught marriage between the gods Hades and Persephone.
The show’s inventive director, Rachel Chavkin, who previously brought “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” to Broadway, picked up the Tony for directing the musical. She was the only woman nominated as a director of any show this year, a fact that she noted ruefully during her acceptance speech. And she is only the fourth woman ever to win a Tony as director of a musical.
“I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season,” she said, before calling for greater gender and racial diversity among theater artists and critics.
“This is not a pipeline issue,” she added. “It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be.”
“Hadestown,” which is the artiest and most adventurous of the best musical nominees, was conceived and written by Anaïs Mitchell, a singer-songwriter with no ties to Broadway (besides a childhood affection for “Les Misérables”), who won a Tony for her score. She began the musical as a DIY community theater project in 2006, touring small Vermont venues in a silver school bus packed with props.
Among the lessons Ms. Mitchell said she learned from working on the show for so long: “Nobody does it alone.”
André De Shields, a theater veteran who in 1975 broke out as the title character in “The Wiz,” won his first Tony as Hermes, a Greek god who serves as both narrator and travel guide in “Hadestown.”
“The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing,” the 73-year-old Mr. De Shields advised as he accepted his award for best featured actor in a musical.
In the pre-broadcast ceremony, the musical picked up awards for scenic design by Rachel Hauck; orchestrations by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose; lighting design by Bradley King; and sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz.
Ali Stroker becomes first wheelchair user to win a Tony.
One of the night’s emotional highlights belonged to Ali Stroker, who became the first wheelchair user to win a Tony. Ms. Stroker, 31, lost the use of her legs in a car accident at age two; now she is featured as Ado Annie, the lusty young woman who “cain’t say no” in a revival of “Oklahoma!”
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” Ms. Stroker said. “You are.”
Among the night’s other winners: The 87-year-old comedian, writer and director Elaine May earned her first Tony, as leading actress in a play, for movingly portraying a woman losing her memory in a revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.” Ms. May, who burst onto the scene in the 1950s performing comedy with Mike Nichols, won for her first Broadway role in more than 50 years.
Celia Keenan-Bolger was named best featured actress in a play for portraying Scout, the daughter of Atticus Finch. in Aaron Sorkin’s new stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Ms. Keenan-Bolger is 41, and playing Scout both as a young woman and as a child; in her acceptance speech, she praised the novelist Harper Lee “for making the greatest literary heroine of all time.”
James Corden proves an amiable host.
Hosting the Radio City Music Hall show was James Corden, a lifelong theater lover who won a Tony in 2012 (for “One Man, Two Guvnors”) and who hosted the ceremony in 2016. He proved, once again, an amiable, apolitical and self-deprecating host.
As the telecast began, Mr. Corden exhorted viewers — who, ironically, were mostly watching on television — to think about getting off their couches and going to see a show. He cracked joke after joke about the challenges facing Broadway — high ticket prices, low artist salaries (at least when compared to television) — but celebrated the joys, and the spectacle, of “actual people in an actual space.”
At one point he showed his father taking a phone call in the audience and describing his whereabouts as “some theater thing James is doing.” Later he joined last year’s hosts, Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, for a spoof version of “Michael in the Bathroom” — a popular song from the cult Broadway musical “Be More Chill” — the trio joking in a Radio City rest room about their insecurity over the broadcast’s ratings.
And then, saying theater would be more popular if its stars feuded with one another as they do in pop music, he pretended to try to get stage stars to air their grievances with one another, but they mostly just expressed their mutual fandom.
There were few overt expressions of partisan politics, but social issues were very much on display. The performance by the cast of “The Prom” featured two women kissing; the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney referred to the importance of “black and queer bodies” in describing his play, “Choir Boy,”; the playwright Taylor Mac (“Gary”) and the presenter Billy Porter wore gowns rather than tuxedos.
And Tina Fey, presenting an award for best featured actress in a play, mused aloud that “I don’t know why an acting category should be separated by gender,” before joking that they should be separated instead by human and puppet (Broadway does have a big puppet this season in “King Kong.”)
In the race for best musical, look for tragedy over comedy.
Broadway has for years been flooded with shows based on movies and song catalogs — big-brand shows that hope fondness for their titles will help them sell tickets.
But Tony voters have in recent years chosen to reward creativity over commerce, and seriousness over comedy, in the race for best new musical.
If “Hadestown” wins, it will be the sixth year in a row that the prize went to a show developed at a nonprofit theater (or, in this case, three nonprofits in three countries — New York Theater Workshop; Citadel Theater in Edmonton, Canada; and the National Theater in London).
The show, is shaping up to be a hit, despite a lack of name recognition and a very crowded theatrical marketplace. Since opening in April it has been selling well, and word-of-mouth appears strong.
The other contenders are “The Prom,” a musical comedy about a group of vain actors who insert themselves into a high school inclusion controversy; “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,” a jukebox musical about the Motown group; and two movie adaptations, “Tootsie” and “Beetlejuice.”
“Ain’t Too Proud” picked up an early award for its electrifying choreography, by Sergio Trujillo. And “Tootsie” won a prize for Robert Horn’s witty and sharply contemporary book.
Bob Mackie, who designed Cher’s attention-demanding looks for decades, won for best costume design of a musical for “The Cher Show” (in which he also figures as a character).
In a strong season for plays, “The Ferryman” stood out.
Theater-lovers have long fretted about the health of plays on Broadway, where the big money and big crowds flock to musicals. But this season saw an unusually ambitious assortment of dramas and comedies, heartening the doomsayers.
The biggest play of the season — as measured by cost to develop and weekly take at the box office — is “Mockingbird.” But it was not nominated for the best play Tony.
That left the contest between “The Ferryman,” a sprawling Irish drama by the English writer Jez Butterworth, and “What the Constitution Means to Me,” an autobiographical reflection on gender and the law written and performed by the American Heidi Schreck.
“The Ferryman” — with a huge cast of adults and children, plus a baby, a goose and a rabbit — looks likely to win, fueled by admiration for its sophisticated storytelling, which manages to be suspenseful and funny and romantic and eerie, all at once.
“The Ferryman” got off to a strong start at the ceremony, scoring two prizes before the broadcast began, both for Rob Howell, who did the costume and scenic design. Then Sam Mendes won the Tony Award as the play’s director.
The also-rans will be fine — both “Mockingbird” and “Constitution” are planning tours, and “Mockingbird” is settling in for an extended run on Broadway.
Some revivals are making the old especially new again.
The front-runner in a two-way race for best musical revival is a provocative production of “Oklahoma!” — a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that first opened in 1943 and has never before won a competitive Tony contest, although it was honored with a special prize in 1993 for its 50th anniversary.
The new production is dark and violent, doubling down on questions the show has always asked about America, and features video and contemporary dance in ways that are startling to those accustomed to more traditional versions of the musical.
The other contender in the race is a Roundabout Theater Company revival of “Kiss Me, Kate,” starring Kelli O’Hara. The original production of that musical, which features music and lyrics by Cole Porter, was the first show to win a best musical Tony Award, in 1949.
A starry 50th anniversary staging of “The Boys in the Band,” a pioneering gay drama by Mart Crowley, triumphed in the contest for best play revival. Mr. Crowley, tearing up as he accepted the award, paid tribute to “the original cast of nine brave men who did not listen to their agents when they were told that their careers would be finished if they did this play.” Several members of the original cast later died of AIDS-related illnesses.
King Kong and Spider-Man’s aunt are already winners.
Each year, noncompetitive Tony Awards are doled out, some of them noted on the televised broadcast, and others presented at earlier ceremonies or during commercial breaks.
The biggest winner this year, at least as measured by tonnage: King Kong. The massive animatronic marionette at the heart of a new stage musical, “King Kong,” was honored with a special Tony, given to his Australian creators, Sonny Tilders and Creature Technology Company.
This Kong is not ambulatory — he’s tethered by cables to the show’s set — so he wasn’t able to travel to Radio City Music Hall. But watch for him to make some kind of remote appearance on the broadcast.
The industry’s annual lifetime achievement awards went to Rosemary Harris — a veteran stage actress, now featured on Broadway in a revival of “My Fair Lady,” who played Aunt May in three Spider-Man films; to the playwright Terrence McNally, whose “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” is now running on Broadway; and to the musician Harold Wheeler, best known for his years as musical director of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Among the other honors:
Madeline Michel, the theater director at Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Va., received the Excellence in Theater Education Award. Ms. Michel’s program used drama to explore racial inequality after violence followed a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The actress Judith Light, a two-time Tony winner, won the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, which recognizes volunteerism, in honor of her work on H.I.V./AIDS issues and her support for gay rights.
Marin Mazzie, a beloved stage actress who died of ovarian cancer last year, received a posthumous special Tony Award in recognition of her advocacy for women’s health.
Jason Michael Webb, a composer and musical director, won a special Tony Award for his arrangements of the gospel songs and hymns sung in the play “Choir Boy.” The cast of that play, which closed in March, will reunite to perform at the award ceremony.
The annual Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater were given to the choir Broadway Inspirational Voices; to Peter Entin, retired vice president of theater operations for the Shubert Organization; to Joseph Blakely Forbes, the founder and president of Scenic Art Studios, Inc.; and to the Theater District’s firehouse, FDNY Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9.
The recipients are chosen by 831 Tony voters, many of whom work in the theater industry and have a financial connection to one or more nominated shows. To be eligible, the shows must have opened by April 25 in one of the 41 Broadway theaters located in and around midtown Manhattan.
Winners will get an eight-inch high statuette featuring a circular silver medallion with the masks of comedy and tragedy on one side and information about the winner on the other.
The awards ceremony takes place at a time when Broadway is booming. Attendance is at record levels — 14,768,254 seats filled during the season that just ended — and so is the total box office, which was just over $1.8 billion.