The Tony Awards ceremony Sunday gave several long-awaited awards to members of the theater community, while delivering a few surprises in the major categories.
Notably, the award for Best Play went to Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance.” Lopez’s play was up against Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play,” which was predicted by many to win the main award and was the most nominated play in Broadway’s history, but did not take home any trophies. That did not stop “Slave Play” from announcing its return shortly after the ceremony.
“The Inheritance” also took home Tony Awards for best direction of a play for Stephen Daldry, and the leading actor and featured actress awards, for Andrew Burnap and Lois Smith, respectively. “Moulin Rouge!” won Best Musical and “A Soldier’s Play” won Best Revival of a Play.
Seven-time nominee Danny Burstein won his first Tony Award for his performance in “Moulin Rouge!” Adrienne Warren, a long-rumored favorite in her category, took home a Tony for her portrayal of Tina Turner. And Aaron Tveit, the sole nominee in the category of Best Leading Actor in a Musical, was finally handed his award.
The ceremony took place in the Winter Garden Theatre, more than a year after the awards show was originally scheduled and after 18 months of theatre closures. The comeback of Broadway was celebrated by hosts Audra McDonald and Leslie Odom Jr. and performances by Broadway legends, including original “Dreamgirls” cast member Jennifer Holliday.
McDonald and winners including Warren, Tveit and Sonya Tayeh, the choreographer for “Moulin Rouge!” pushed back on the reopening narrative by underlining the need for greater diversity in the industry.
“The second we start working through this business through a lens of humanity, the more the art will be transformative, will change lives, will change this world,” Warren said on stage. “Because the world has been screaming for us to change.”
The topic has been emphasized at ceremonies past, but has now taken on greater urgency after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent creation of groups to promote greater equity within the Broadway community.
Kenny Leon, director of “A Soldier’s Play,” began his speech by saying the names of Taylor and Floyd and underlining the need to tell a wider variety of stories on stage, rather than those that center a white experience. While accepting a special Tony Award for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, one of the longstanding groups advocating for change, president Britton Smith called for future Tony ceremonies filled with a diverse slate of nominees.
“That’s when we’ll earn the phrase Black Lives Matter,” Smith said.
Some members of the theater community saw the shut out of “Slave Play,” written by a Black playwright and featuring a majority Black cast, from the Tony Awards as a sign that Tony voters were not yet ready to diversify the industry. Lopez was the first Latino writer to win the Tony Award for best play.
Lauren Patten won her first Tony Award for her role in “Jagged Little Pill.” While celebrating the win, Patten acknowledged the controversy surrounding her character and the production’s treatement of nonbinary and gender fluid characters and cast members.
“I want to thank my trans and non-binary friends and colleagues who have engaged with me in difficult conversations and have joined me in dialogue about my character Jo,” Patten said while accepting the award and saying she is looking forward to action to come.
Diablo Cody, who won a Tony Award for writing the book of “Jagged Little Pill,” said the musical’s book continues to evolve.
The Tony Awards took place in a two-part broadcast airing on Paramount+ and CBS respectively. The earlier broadcast, hosted by McDonald, featured the majority of awards categories, while the later broadcast featured performances by the nominated musicals, as well as duets by Broadway stars including Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp and McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Audience members in the Winter Garden Theatre were masked and had to provide proof of vaccination to attend. Per the announced COVID-19 protocols, only two Tony Award winners at a time were allowed to stand together on stage.