There weren’t many surprises from this year’s Tony Awards ceremony, which handed “Dear Evan Hansen” its expected win for best new musical and saw major acting trophies go to Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) and Bette Midler (“Hello, Dolly!”), both the front-runners in their categories. But there were still lessons to be learned. Here are the takeaways:
Hosting is hard.
Broadway’s favorite Tony hosts — Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris, last year’s James Corden — make it look easy, but it ain’t. A good emcee has to be a triple threat who shows distinctive personality without being intrusive, anchoring the proceedings with just the right balance of easygoing affability, celebratory enthusiasm and biting wit. Once the 2017 show came down, most agreed that Kevin Spacey, even with all his stage chops, didn’t quite pull it off. It served as a reminder that a good awards host is a rare breed — and it played up the importance of finding the right one for next year.
Massive ad spending won’t win you a trophy — but it won’t lose you one either.
In the run-up to the ceremony, the shows that pushed most aggressively to win their awards (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” “Hello, Dolly!”) raised eyebrows, especially with their shock-and-awe ad spending. Scuttlebutt in the industry was that the onslaught might lead to a backlash, turning voters against some contenders. But even though a contingent of insiders much preferred the low-key strategy of “Come From Away” to the noisy tub-thumping of “Dear Evan Hansen,” the latter still won the award, and five more for good measure. Meanwhile, the same kind of in-your-face playbook for “Doll’s House, Part 2” didn’t pay off in a best play trophy for that show. (Silver lining: It helped give the formerly struggling production a major sales boost.)
Diversity is a work in progress.
Last year marked a banner season for Broadway diversity: “Hamilton” was one of a slew of productions that featured notably inclusive casts, and for the first time, all four acting awards in the musical categories were won by actors of color. The 2016-17 season proved somewhat less diverse. There were actors of color (Denee Benton, Eva Noblezada, Corey Hawkins and Condola Rashad, among others) in several categories, and one of the night’s special honors went to Baayork Lee for her pioneering efforts on behalf of Asian-American theater talent. But this year the winner’s circle was mostly white. “We can always do better,” noted Leslie Odom Jr., the “Hamilton” star who won a Tony last year and performed in this year’s ceremony.