On Sunday night, the Tony Awards returned to Radio City Music Hall, where relaxed mask mandates made it easier than ever (OK, easier than last year’s ceremony) to spot the stars mixing and mingling during Broadway’s biggest night.
For some, it was an opportunity to reunite with old friends; for others, it was a rare chance to meet luminaries they’ve only admired from afar. Before the broadcast began, “Spring Awakening” co-stars Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff walked through the front door holding hands and remained attached at the hip the entire night. When the show ended, Adrianne Warren (“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”) chatted with Andrew Garfield and needed his help to find the exit. “I’m following you out,” she told Garfield, to which he replied, “You should.” And during a commercial break, RuPaul didn’t miss an opportunity to approach the legendary Chita Rivera. No word on if she’s a fan of “Drag Race.”
Unlike the Oscars, the four-hour telecast moved quickly. Ariana DeBose, who hosted the ceremony’s main act, deftly kept the audience awake and engaged with caffeinated musical numbers. But even a triple threat like DeBose needed a bit of encouragement. During one commercial break, she gave herself a pep talk: “It’s going well!”
Here’s what you didn’t see on TV at the 75th annual Tony Awards, where a “Strange Loop” swept best musical and the tears were plentiful during a tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim.
The show must go on, but movie stars are L=late
The ceremony’s first hour was televised (on Paramount+), but this portion of the Tonys — hosted by Darren Criss and Julianne Hough — where awards were handed out in categories such as choreography, costume and score, didn’t draw a packed house. In fact, when the pre-game Tonys started at 7 p.m. E.T., many bold-faced names were still commuting to Radio City. “Do we have time?” Garfield wanted to know as he strolled through the lobby during the early awards. The strict ushers kept the late stragglers from taking their seats while someone was on stage, which led to a small movie-star mosh pit at the top of the Radio City stairs. At one point, Jessica Chastain, Sam Rockwell and Sarah Paulson all huddled together as they waited for clearance to take their seats.
Speaking of seats…some stayed empty
Radio City can fit more than 6,000 spectators. But for whatever reason — either the venue was slightly too big, or people decided to cancel (or tested positive for COVID-19) at the last minute — there were hundreds of empty seats in the orchestra and mezzanine levels. And if you were hungry, there was no food in the lobby. The Radio City concession stand only sold $6 bottles of water (which had been poured into plastic cups). And if you decided to splurge for some hydration, you had to chug it. Those sitting in the orchestra were told they couldn’t even take the water inside.
“Take Me Out” wins most enthusiastic section
One company was especially jazzed to be at the Tonys. The actors in “Take Me Out” — including Eduardo Ramos, Carl Lundstedt, Hiram Delgado and Julian Cihi — fist bumped each other as they realized just how close to the stage their seats were. They could have probably won an honorary Tony for best team spirit. When Jesse Tyler Ferguson took home the prize for featured actor in a play, they hollered like he’d hit a home run in the World Series. And they were even more ecstatic as they got to storm the stage when “Take Me Out” won best revival of a play.
Hugh Jackman makes the crowd swoon
Last year, the Tonys offered pre-taped performances from the nominated musicals — and the room took a nap. With lax COVID mandates and a presumably bigger budget, live musical numbers were back, beginning with Jackman and his “Music Man” co-star Sutton Foster’s hand-clapping rendition of “76 Trombones.” It was the kind of lively number that reminds everyone why Jackman is synonymous with “The Greatest Showman,” and why we all love Broadway.
“Paradise Square” star Joaquina Kalukango brings down the house
Jackman and Foster brought the charm, Billy Crystal brought the laughs, the ladies of “Six” brought the energy, but Kalukango, who performed the show’s 11 o’clock number “Let it Burn,” earned the loudest standing ovation — by far — of the night. There was nary a dry eye in the house as Kalukango, who later won the Tony for leading actress in a musical, closed her number with a pitch-perfect high note. The cheers did not stop once she stepped away from the mic. The cheers continued as the “Paradise Square” cast returned to their seats. And that is how you sell tickets to a musical.
The Lea and Jonathan show
In one of the more memorable moments of the night, the “Spring Awakening” original cast members, who were recently the subjects of the HBO documentary “Those You’ve Known,” graced the Tonys stage to perform “Touch Me.” Michele and Groff seemed to be side-by-side throughout the night. Not only did they arrive together, they also left the after-party at the Plaza Hotel together around 1 a.m. When a fan camped outside asked Michele for a selfie, the former “Glee” star turned the other way.
The band played off the night’s big winner
Props to Tony producers for being lenient with the countdown clock. It’s Broadway’s biggest night — let the winners finish their speeches! Patti LuPone (“Company”) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Take Me Out”) paid little attention to notices to wrap it up. But, for some reason, the mic inexplicably cut when Michael R. Jackson tried to say a few words as “A Strange Loop” won best musical.
At the afterparty at the Plaza, Jackson revealed to Variety what he was planning to say on stage: he’s “grateful that Broadway was starting to accept left-of-center stories and taking risks and not operating from a place of fear.”
His “big, Black and queer-ass American Broadway” show — a musical that’s decades in the making — was scheduled to open on the Great White Way in 2020 before COVID. But passion for “A Strange Loop,” a funny and poignant story about a Black gay man who is writing a musical about a Black gay man who is writing a musical, only intensified in the time in between. Some of the loudest applause was bestowed to Jaquel Spivey, who was nominated for leading actor in a musical, and Jackson’s first win, for book of a musical.
“I feel really happy. It’s been a long journey for me,” the 42-year-old said in between selfie requests.
So how does one celebrate a groundbreaking Tony win?
“I’m probably not going to sleep,” Jackson said. “I have to get my parents to the airport. Other than that, I’ll probably do a lot of partying.”
In Tonys past, the Carlyle late-night bash is the place to cap off the night. Instead this year, there were a smattering of scarcely attended afterparties. Jesse Williams (a nominee for “Take Me Out”), Zach Braff, Lena Waithe, Cynthia Erivo and cast members from “A Strange Loop” made their way to the Plaza, where they noshed on carved turkey, a variety of sliders, bite-sized Cuban sandwiches and cannolis. But as people trickled out of the famed hotel, there wasn’t a clear consensus for later stops. By 1:30 a.m., Tavern on the Green, where “M.J. The Musical” posted up, was quiet and by 2 a.m., only Tony-winner Marianne Elliott, was still standing at the “Company” fete at Haswell Green’s. Patti LuPone, may play a hard-drinking lady who lunches in the celebrated revival, but the Tony winner must have opted to get a good night sleep instead. We’ll drink to that!