(Brent Lang’s article appeared in Variety 9/26; Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy.)
‘Slave Play’ Shut Out Despite Record Number of Nominations.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a stage adaptation of the poplar movie, dominated an unorthodox and highly emotional 74th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, winning ten prizes, including the statue for best musical (full winner’s list here). Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance,” a sprawling epic about the AIDS crisis, won four statues and was honored as best play, while Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play,” a murder mystery that unspools during segregation, was named the best revival of a play.
In a stunning upset, Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play,” a provocative look at racism, gender and sexuality that was embraced by critics and received 12 nominations, a record for a non-musical, was entirely shut out. Among the other major awards-winners, “A Christmas Carol” earned five prizes, all of them in technical categories.
The four-hour event unspooled on both broadcast television and the Paramount Plus streaming platform. It served as both a commemoration of the best of Broadway and a salute to the return of live theater after 18 months of COVID-19 shutdowns. In fact, many of the shows that were nominated closed more than a year ago. “Slave Play,” for instance, played its final performance on January 19, 2020 at a time when much of the world was just waking up to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus.
The second part of the evening, the one that unspooled on CBS, was billed as “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” and featured performances from the likes of “Freestyle Love Supreme,” “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “Jagged Little Pill.” Leslie Odom, Jr. hosted the concert portion of the night while Audra McDonald emceed the earlier ceremony, a marathon affair in which more than 20 statues were handed out, along with performances by the likes of Jennifer Holliday, belting “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls” and Matthew Morrison and Marissa Jaret Winokur singing “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from “Hairspray.”
“You can’t stop the beat of Broadway, the heart of New York City,” McDonald said in her introductory remarks. “I’ve always thought of the Tonys as Broadway’s prom, but tonight it feels like a homecoming.”
The idea that “Broadway’s Back!” might be more wishful than factual. Certain shows have reopened, such as “Hamilton” and “The Lion King,” and other major productions such as “Six” and “The Lehman Trilogy” will welcome audiences in the coming weeks, but the tourism industry, which provides the bulk of ticket sales, is still sluggish. Many producers and insiders believe the recovery will be a gradual one, particularly if Delta and other variants continue to delay the U.S.’s economic rebound. Throughout the evening there were nods to the new pandemic reality, with audience members remaining masked throughout the broadcast.
One winner was virtually assured of victory before the final votes were tallied. “Moulin Rouge’s” Aaron Tveit was the only nominee in the best leading actor in a musical category and managed to triumph over the complete lack of other nominees. There were plenty of surprises and upsets, however. Mary Louise Parker nabbed best leading actress in a play for “The Sound Inside,” besting the heavily favored Joaquina Kalukango (“Slave Play”) and Laura Linney (“My Name Is Lucy Barton”). “The Inheritance’s” Stephen Daldry also nabbed a best director prize, his third, over fierce competition from the likes of Kenny Leon (“A Soldier’s Play”) and Robert O’Hara (“Slave Play”). While Andrew Burnap, who starred as a callous playwright in “The Inheritance,” beat out such major stars as Jake Gyllenhaal (“Sea Wall/A Life”), Tom Hiddleston (“Betrayal”) and Blair Underwood (“A Soldier’s Play”) to win best leading actor in a play. As expected, Adrienne Warren nabbed the best leading actress in a musical prize for her chameleonic performance in the title role of “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.”
“Moulin Rouge!” earned honors for its director Alex Timbers, as well as for its scenic design, costume, lighting, sound design, and orchestrations. “Jagged Little Pill,” which is inspired by Alanis Morissette’s mega-selling album of the same name, earned two prizes, for Diablo Cody’s book and for Lauren Patten’s supporting performance. The show has been embroiled in a controversy in recent days after two former cast members accused the show’s producers of inflicting harm “to the trans and non-binary community” and alleged that stage management and key creatives were not receptive to concerns about their healthcare.
Patten appeared to acknowledge the furor in her speech. “I believe that the future for the change we need to see on Broadway comes from these kinds of conversations that are full of honesty and empathy and respect for our shared humanity,” she said. “And I am so excited to see the action that comes from them, and to see where that leads our future as theater artists.”