Worthy Of Jazz Hands: A Review Of The 2019 Tony Awards
Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor
On the night of June 9, New York City’s brightest stars gathered inside of Radio City Music Hall to celebrate a historic year for Broadway. The aforementioned street of plays and musicals saw the best-attended and-highest grossing season its ever had, giving theater enthusiasts like me something to smile about.
I’ve watched the Tony’s – the award show for Broadway professionals – for years, always curious about what rising musical will become the next “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen.” Typically, I’d type most show titles into Wikipedia to get a brief synopsis of whatever play or musical was being featured. I would skip through all of the award presentations and acceptance speeches (except for Sutton Foster – love her). This time, however, was different.
James Corden hosted, bringing his“Late Late Show” energy to a slightly different arena. Between his glitzy, elaborate opening number to his comedic song in the bathroom with Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, and his natural singing chops, he proved to audiences that he was fully qualified for the job.
I only skipped through commercials this time so that I could really understand the shows I was unfamiliar with (which were most of them). Needless to say, I’m glad I made that decision. The messages behind the award-winning plays and musicals alongside the winner’s personal statements took a necessary stab at the need for equality, inclusivity and justice. Here are a few that stood out….
Best featured actress in a play: Celia Keenan-Bolger, “To Kill A Mockingbird”
Keenan-Bolger plays Scout, everyone’s favorite ornery protagonist from the literary classic. In her acceptance speech, the actress discussed how her family was often targeted simply because they believed in integration. This adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel continues to resonate with audiences due to the racism and acts of violence that are still ever-so prevalent today.
Best direction of a musical: Rachel Chavkin,“Hadestown”
This musical stole the night, receiving eight awards out of 14 nominations. Some other awards it received included best new musical, best original score and best performance by an actor in a featured role (André De Shields). While she relished in the moment, Chavkin (who was the only woman who directed a musical on Broadway this season) used her speech to advocate for more diversity in the industry, saying, “This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be. So let’s do it.”
Best revival of a musical: “Oklahoma!”
“‘Oklahoma!’ reminds us that when we try to define who we are as a community, by creating an outsider, it can end in tragedy,” said producer Eva Price after the musical beat out its other competitor, “Kiss Me, Kate.”Actress Ali Stroker won best featured actress in a musical for “Oklahoma!.”She became the first performer who uses a wheelchair to be nominated for and win a Tony. As you might guess, her speech was incredibly moving. Stroker said, “Thank you, thank you so much. This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, a limitation, a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are.”
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play: Bryan Cranston, “Network”
This well-known actor, both onstage and onscreen, was recognized for his current role playing a broadcaster on Broadway. He used his speech to stand up for the media. Cranston proclaimed, “I would like to dedicate this to all the real journalists around the world both in the … print media and also broadcast media who actually are in the line of fire with their pursuit of the truth,” he said. “The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.” And collectively, the Flyer News journalists rejoiced.
Some other notable winners were best actor in a musical Santino Fontana from “Tootsie” and best actress in a musical Stephanie J. Block from “The Cher Show.”Overall, I was impressed but not surprised by the Tony Awards’ ability to use the art of the past year to speak on relevant issues. Broadway has used its platform for centuries, giving a voice to the voiceless and hope to those who are desperately searching. The 2019 Tony Awards provided opportunities for allaudiences, and that is indeed worthy of jazz hands.
Image courtesy of Flickr