When effervescent actress Ali Stroker came onstage to accept her historic trophy as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony, it wasn’t just the feel-good moment of the night. It may have been one of the most joyous Tony moments in years.
The crowd jumped to its feet in unison as Stroker, who won best featured actress in a musical for a sexy, saucy performance as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! arrived onstage.
“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,” she said. “You are.”
The buoyant moment was emblematic of a feel-good evening at the Tonys that featured crowd-pleasing performances, a Broadway-loving host in the form of James Corden and a theme of inclusivity. The big winner: Hadestown, the soulful musical by Anais Mitchell based on an ancient Greek myth, which triumphed over much more traditionally commercial fare.
The victory of Hadestown was also notable for the number of women it brought to the podium; it was not only written by a woman but also directed by one, and producer Mara Isaacs accepted the award. Director Rachel Chavkin won her own Tony, as did Mitchell for best score. In all, Hadestown won eight Tonys.
But despite a great night for a show that began its long, improbable journey to Broadway as a community theatre project in rural Vermont, Chavkin echoed a note of frustration about the persistent lack of diversity on creative teams.
WATCH BELOW: Nominees for 2019 Tony Awards announced
“I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season,” she said. “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of colour who are ready to go. … 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.”
The acting awards brought a slew of satisfying victories for beloved veterans. Comic legend Elaine May, 87, won her first Tony for playing an Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother in Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, charming the crowd with a witty acceptance speech.
And Broadway favourites Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block took the top musical acting prizes. Fontana won his first Tony as the cross-dressing lead in Tootsie, an adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman comedy about a struggling actor who impersonates a woman to get cast in a show.
The actor paid tribute to his late grandmother, a “fiery, red-headed woman” who, he revealed, was an inspiration for his performance: “Every day I get to bring her into the room, and it has been the best experience of my life.”
Block earned her own first Tony for playing a real-life legend — Cher. In an ebullient speech, she told her young daughter: “Mommy won a trophy but like I always tell you, it’s not about winning; it’s about showing up, doing your best, loving all people and finding joy along the way.”
Yet another veteran winning his first Tony — at 73 — was Andre De Shields, best featured actor in a musical for his silky smooth narrator in Hadestown. He thanked his hometown of Baltimore and offered “three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity.”
“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming,” he said. “Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”
Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, a sweeping Irish family drama, was crowned best play. Butterworth asked the crowd to give his partner, actress Laura Donnelly, a round of applause for giving birth to their two children while appearing in the drama. Her own family tragedy inspired him to write the play.
And in one of the most poignant moments of the night, Sergio Trujillo won the choreography prize for Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations, thanking his Colombian family.
He said in his speech that he arrived in New York over three decades ago without legal permission.
“I stand here as proof that the American dream is alive,” he said.
Speaking later at the Plaza Hotel after-party, Trujillo was so moved that he was reduced to tears.
“I have to be able to use my success as a way to inspire and effect change,” he said. “This is what happens,” he said, pointing to the Tony in his hands, “when we get the love and support that we so richly deserve.”
Bryan Cranston won his second Tony for best actor in a play as newscaster Howard Beale in the inventive stage adaptation of the 1976 film Network.
“Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” he joked, riffing on the evening’s theme of inclusivity. He dedicated his award to real-life journalists: “The media is not the enemy of the people,” he said, in what amounted to the evening’s most obvious jab at the Trump administration.
Corden, in his second stint as host, scored audience points with his obvious affection for Broadway. Among his amusing bits was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to raise ratings by trying to provoke a Nicki Minaj-Cardi B-style beef between Broadway figures.
But his most successful bit may have been one the television audience never saw. During commercial breaks, Corden implored celebrities to sing karaoke.
The huge hit was Billy Porter. After first protesting that he “wasn’t here to work tonight,” Porter, a former Tony winner for Kinky Boots, belted his way through Everything’s Coming Up Roses from Gypsy, earning the crowd’s adoration.
Best featured actress in a play went to Celia Keenan-Bolger for her role as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for Ink, about Rupert Murdoch.
Legendary designer Bob Mackie won best costume design for a musical for The Cher Show, getting laughs for saying “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old.”
The dark retelling of Oklahoma! beat the crowd-pleasing, dance-heavy revival of Kiss Me, Kate for best musical revival. The Boys in the Band won best play revival.
The awards cap a strong season for Broadway, with a reported record $1.8 billion in sales, up 7.8 per cent from last season. Attendance was 14.8 million — up 7.1 per cent — and has risen steadily for decades.
See the full list of winners from the 2019 Tony Awards below.
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
The Ferryman **WINNER**
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
What the Constitution Means to Me
Best Revival of a Musical
Kiss Me, Kate
Best Revival of a Play
All My Sons
The Boys in the Band **WINNER**
The Waverly Gallery
Best Book of a Musical
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations – Dominique Morisseau
Beetlejuice – Scott Brown and Anthony King
Hadestown – Anaïs Mitchell
The Prom – Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin
Tootsie – Robert Horn **WINNER**
Best Original Score
Beetlejuice – music and lyrics: Eddie Perfect
Be More Chill – music and lyrics: Joe Iconis
Hadestown – music and lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell **WINNER**
The Prom – music by Matthew Sklar; lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Tootsie – music and lyrics: David Yazbek
To Kill a Mockingbird – music by Adam Guettel
Best Direction of a Play
Rupert Goold, Ink
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman **WINNER**
Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ivo van Hove, Network
George C. Wolfe, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Best Direction of a Musical
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown **WINNER**
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Oklahoma!
Des McAnuff, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Casey Nicholaw, The Prom
Best Leading Actor in a Play
Bryan Cranston, Network **WINNER**
Paddy Considine, The Ferryman
Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
Adam Driver, Burn This
Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy
Best Leading Actress in a Play
Annette Bening, All My Sons
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman
Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery **WINNER**
Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet
Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton
Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me
Best Leading Actor in a Musical
Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom
Derrick Baskin, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice
Damon Daunno, Oklahoma!
Santino Fontana, Tootsie **WINNER**
Best Leading Actress in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show **WINNER**
Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom
Beth Leavel, The Prom
Eva Noblezada, Hadestown
Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate
Best Featured Actor in a Play
Bertie Carvel, Ink **WINNER**
Robin de Jesús, The Boys in the Band
Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird
Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This
Benjamin Walker, All My Sons
Best Featured Actress in a Play
Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman
Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird **WINNER**
Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Ruth Wilson, King Lear
Best Featured Actor in a Musical
André De Shields, Hadestown **WINNER**
Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie
Patrick Page, Hadestown
Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Lilli Cooper, Tootsie
Amber Gray, Hadestown
Sarah Stiles, Tootsie
Ali Stroker, Oklahoma! **WINNER**
Mary Testa, Oklahoma!
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Miriam Buether, To Kill a Mockingbird
Bunny Christie, Ink
Rob Howell, The Ferryman **WINNER**
Santo Loquasto, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Jan Versweyveld, Network
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Robert Brill and Peter Nigrini, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Peter England, King Kong
Rachel Hauck, Hadestown **WINNER**
Laura Jellinek, Oklahoma!
David Korins, Beetlejuice
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Rob Howell, The Ferryman **WINNER**
Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet
Clint Ramos, Torch Song
Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ann Roth, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Best Costume Design of a Play
Michael Krass, Hadestown
William Ivey Long, Tootsie
William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice
Bob Mackie, The Cher Show **WINNER**
Paul Tazewell, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Ink **WINNER**
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Peter Mumford, The Ferryman
Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird
Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, Network
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams, The Cher Show
Howell Binkley, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Bradley King, Hadestown **WINNER**
Peter Mumford, King Kong
Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice
Best Sound Design in a Play
Adam Cork, Ink
Scott Lehrer, To Kill a Mockingbird
Fitz Patton, Choir Boy **WINNER**
Nick Powell, The Ferryman
Eric Sleichim, Network
Best Sound Design in a Musical
Peter Hylenski, King Kong
Peter Hylenski, Beetlejuice
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Drew Levy, Oklahoma!
Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown **WINNER**
Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy
Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate
Denis Jones, Tootsie
David Neumann, Hadestown
Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations **WINNER**
Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown **WINNER**
Simon Hale, Tootsie
Larry Hochman, Kiss Me, Kate
Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!
Harold Wheeler, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
© 2019 The Canadian Press