Tony Awards Analysis: Voters Spread the Love on a Night Likely to Boost Broadway’s Box Offices
The Hollywood Reporter’s awards columnist reacts to Sunday’s celebration of Broadway’s first season since the pandemic shutdown.
The 2022 Tony Awards, held at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night, recognized the work of Broadway’s first season since the pandemic shutdown. The ceremony offered everything one could hope for: a magnificent host in Ariana DeBose, the 31-year-old triple-threat product of the Great White Way (which the Afro-Latina joked is “becoming more of a nickname as opposed to a how-to guide”) who won an Oscar less than three months ago; numerous showstopping performances, especially from Paradise Square’s Joaquina Kalukango and MJ’s Myles Frost; and a wide assortment of winners. Those winners included breakthroughs like Kalukango, hot on the heels of her nominated turn in Slave Play, and Frost, for his Broadway debut as Michael Jackson, as well as previously-honored veterans like Company’s Patti LuPone (fitting on a night of Stephen Sondheim celebration) and Skeleton Crew’s Phylicia Rashad. And the trailblazing Pulitzer winner A Strange Loop triumphed in the one category which consistently moves the needle at the box office, best musical (though some are disappointed that only two of its field-leading 11 nominations resulted in wins).
As has increasingly been the case in recent years — see Fun Home, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Band’s Visit and Hadestown — the best musical winner came from Off Broadway with considerable support from the New York theater community (and, in this case, also from Jennifer Hudson, whose producing win secured her EGOT status). And, as was the case with several of those prior winners, it vanquished formidable competition that will be more marketable on the road, in this case the box-office smashes MJ and Six, suggesting that commercially-minded road producers may no longer carry as much sway in Tonys voting as they once did.
I found it notable that major winners emanated from across the whole season — The Lehman Trilogy, which closed back in January, won best play; Company, which opened in December, claimed best musical revival (the 1971 original won best musical); and Take Me Out, which ran from April through yesterday, was named best play revival (the 2003 original won best play). Those three productions clearly had deep support across the board, with Lehman and Company tying for the most wins of all shows with five each, including in categories in which it was competing against itself: Lehman’s Simon Russell Beale topped two costars to win best actor in a play (as did Take Me Out’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson in the best featured actor in a play category), and LuPone topped one costar to win best featured actress in a musical.
But voters picked their spots to recognize standouts from other shows, too — 11 shows walked away with at least one Tony — including both leading actress winners, neither exactly household names: Kalukango for Paradise Square, which will likely get a badly-needed box office boost as a result of her “Let It Burn” performance and emotional win (both of which received standing ovations), and Deirdre O’Connell for the experimental play Dana H., which closed in November.
Meanwhile, coincidentally or not, many people who are household names — or are at least very well known for their screen acting — did not do particularly well, with the exception of Ferguson and Rashad. Going home emptyhanded were American Buffalo’s Sam Rockwell (his show was certainly not helped by David Mamet’s rightward turn), How I Learned to Drive’s Mary-Louise Parker, The Music Man’s Hugh Jackman, Macbeth’s Ruth Negga, Take Me Out’s Jesse Williams, Mr. Saturday Night’s Billy Crystal and Clyde’s Uzo Aduba.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.