BWW Review: The Best and Worst of the 2018 Tonys Broadcast!
Last night, the 72nd annual Tony Awards rewarded some of the biggest (and smallest) shows on Broadway. Missed the broadcast or want to relive the highlights? I've got you covered: I watched the entire show, notepad in hand; below are some of the biggest moments of the night.
The last time the Tonys were hosted by a duo, it was 2015 and the hosts were theatre royalty Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming. Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles took a more low-key approach: although both are former Tony nominees in their own right, their tone was playful and self-deprecating, poking fun at their pop-star backgrounds. Their interstitial bits throughout the broadcast showed off their serious musical talents with theatre-themed parody songs (my personal favorite being "Eight Times A Week" to the tune of Sia's "Chandelier).
Groban and Bareilles are true theatre troopers, taking whatever the broadcast required of them, whether it was gamely showing off childhood pictures or a deadpan costume swap late in the show that put Bareilles in Groban's Great Comet costume (complete with belly and beard) and Groban in Bareilles's Waitress uniform (complete with apron and ponytail). Heartfelt and unassuming, the duo brought a sense of un-self-conscious joy to the proceedings.
It's what we really all watch for, right? The performances from this season's nominated shows - plus two additional numbers - covered a wide range.
MEAN GIRLS was first out of the gate with "Where Do You Belong" into "Meet The Plastics." The cast, especially nominee Grey Henson, gave it their all, but the score is, frankly, not one of the show's strongest suits, and the performance was surprisingly low-energy. Tina Fey's quippy introduction was, unfortunately, the best part by far.
MY FAIR LADY also performed a medley, using the first half ("The Rain In Spain" into "I Could Have Danced All Night") to show off its nominated leads, Harry Hadden-Paton and Lauren Ambrose, then closing with Norbert Leo Butz (also a nominee) leading a rousing chorus of "Get Me To The Church On Time." There was really no option for this show other than a medley, and the songs were well-chosen to show off the production's simultaneous elegance and raucous energy.
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: THE MUSICAL chose to do a number not featuring the titular character, instead using Ethan Slater's Spongebob as an introduction into the Gavin Lee - led number "I'm Not A Loser." A flashy, old-fashioned showstopper, the number was probably the most fun to be had in the entire evening - how can you hate a four-shoed tap number?
Perhaps the most puzzling song choice belonged to CAROUSEL. With a score full of Rodgers and Hammerstein's iconic songs, the production instead chose "Blow High, Blow Low," a mostly-danced number for the ensemble men. While it showed off Justin Peck's Tony-winning choreography, it didn't show off the production to its best strengths.
Unsurprisingly, FROZEN stuck to a pair of songs from the animated film: "For The First Time In Forever" into "Let It Go." While Caissie Levy's vocals were magical indeed, the rest of the number was pleasant but lacking in energy. Let's be honest: the joy that fans got from seeing their favorite songs performed live on stage outweighs any other comments.
Though not nominated for Best Musical, SUMMER performed "Last Dance." Its divas (Ariana DeBose, LaChanze, and Storm Lever) poured out as much glitz and energy as anyone could ask for, but the performance as a whole felt uninspired and lackluster.
For the annual "In Memoriam" tribute, the current cast of DEAR EVAN HANSEN performed "For Forever." Gentle, almost lullaby-like, it was the perfect underscoring for the evening's most somber segment.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND entered the evening as the ultimate underdog and walked away with one of the night's big prizes as well as one of it's most charming performances. Michael Arden's innovative staging and the story's fairytale vibe are among the elements that most endear it to its fans, and its medley of "One Small Girl" and "Mama Will Provide" captured the show's unique personality.
In 2015, FUN HOME stole the show with Sydney Lucas's poignant solo "Ring of Keys." Last night, another small-scale show that chose to feature its heroine's solo did it again. THE BAND'S VISIT shone its spotlight on leading lady Katrina Lenk and her mesmerizing performance of the show's signature song, "Omar Sharif." Its subtlety and raw emotion sent a thrill up my spine.
Bruce Springsteen was given a late-broadcast slot for a polarizing performance that included a poem-like monologue and a bit of music. It was more than a little puzzling and ran on too long, but hey, he's Bruce Springsteen.
The most heartfelt performance of the night, of course, has to go to a group that was nominated for nothing at all: a group of teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas performed the RENT anthem "Season of Love" with so much honesty and emotion that they earned the most deserved standing ovation of the night. It's a reminder of how much theatre - and the Tonys - mean to young people like them. Additionally, their drama teacher Melody Herzfeld, who sheltered 65 students during the Parkland shooting and subsequently worked to use music and drama to help the survivors - received the Tony for excellence in theatre education and her own well-deserved standing ovation.
The Band's Visit and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were the big winners of the evening, with the former taking home a whopping ten trophies and the latter garnering six. The Band's Visit was the site of a few upset victories, with Itamar Moses winning Best Book over Tina Fey's book for Mean Girls and Ari'el Stachel snagging the featured actor in a musical prize for his suave, nuanced performance as trumpet player Haled (the happiest win of the night for this reviewer). Harry Potter, meanwhile, dominated the technical categories and won Best Play and Best Director of a Play, but was shut out of its acting nominations.
The other major winner was the revival of Angels in America, which picked up three awards, for revival of a play, leading man Andrew Garfield, and featured actor Nathan Lane. In perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, Once On This Island triumphed over heavyweights My Fair Lady and Carousel to take home the prize for revival of a musical.
Andrew Garfield, the first winner of the night, dedicated his poised, eloquent speech to the LGBT community and to the "sanctity of the human spirit." "We are all made perfectly and we all belong," he firmly stated.
Being true to one's self, especially when one's self is part of a diverse community, was a running theme in several of the speeches. Featured actress in a musical winner Lindsay Mendez, almost in tears, concluded her speech celebrating diversity and individuality with, "Be your true self and the world will take note."
Tony Shalhoub used his acceptance speech to tell a story about his father's immigration from Lebanon nearly a century ago and the legacy of immigrants yesterday and today. You could hear a pin drop in Radio City as he told his quiet, authentic story.
Ari'el Stachel, meanwhile, had one of the most emotional acceptance speeches of the evening, with a story about how he hid his Middle Eastern identity growing up in a post-9/11 world and the utter joy of now performing his own heritage eight times a week on Broadway. "Your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose." What a beautiful sentiment that is indeed.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chita Rivera received the Lifetime Achievement awards this year. The duo presented an award midway through the show and both were also honored by a "greatest hits" medley performed by Groban and Bareilles. It was a cute, if slightly underwhelming, tribute to two legends of our time.
There's always a focus on "the dreamers" at the Tonys, because that's the nature of the theatre community. This year in particular, though, felt geared right at that ideal. Whether because of the many speeches about embracing that what make you different might make you great, or the earnest energy of Groban and Bareilles, or the lyrics of the closing number ("To all Tony dreamers at home, keep on with the show"), it gave a heartfelt veneer to the conclusion of a season that's been critiqued for not being up to par creatively. The wins prove, to me, that there's room on Broadway for huge, commercial brands as much as there is for small, delicate underdogs - and what a hopeful sign for the future of theatre that is.
Photo Credit: John P. Filo/CBS