Anaïs Mitchell, a singer-songwriter who grew up on a Vermont sheep farm, had a very big night at the Tony Awards Sunday, as her long-in-the-making “Hadestown’’ won eight Tonys, including best musical, more than any other show.
“Nobody does this alone,’’ said Mitchell during her acceptance speech for best original score, in words she said applied not just to building a musical but also to achieving social change. “It takes a long time. And it is worth it.’’
Meanwhile, actress Ali Stroker made history, becoming the first wheelchair-using performer to win a Tony. Stroker’s funny and dynamic performance as flirty Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!’’ earned her the prize for best featured actress in a musical.
“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,’’ Stroker said. “You are.’’
The bountiful crop of Tony wins for “Hadestown,’’ a folk- and jazz-infused retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, followed a lengthy and circuitous journey for the show.
Initially presented more than a dozen years ago as a community theater piece in Barre, Vt., “Hadestown’’ was released as a concept album in 2010. Mitchell, who is named for the writer Anaïs Nin, kept developing the theatrical version of the show. “Hadestown’’ toured the West Coast, won acclaim during a 2016 off-Broadway run and a production last year at the National Theatre in London, and finally opened on Broadway just two months ago.
Accepting the Tony for best direction of a musical for “Hadestown,’’ Rachel Chavkin saluted Mitchell for “the beauty of your vision’’ and called for more female directors, more directors of color, and more diversity among critics. “There are so many women who are ready to go,’’ said Chavkin. “There are so many people of color who are ready to go.’’ Andre De Shields, 73, won the Tony for best featured actor in a musical for his elegant turn as Hermes, the narrator and guide, in “Hadestown.’’
Nearly 60 years after her Broadway debut, the legendary Elaine May, 87, won the Tony for best lead actress in a play for her performance as an elderly Manhattan art gallery operator descending into dementia in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.’’
Bryan Cranston won his second Tony for his erupting-volcano characterization of mad-prophet news anchor Howard Beale in Ivo van Hove’s multimedia “Network.’’ (Cranston’s first Tony was in 2014 for his portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson in “All the Way,’’ a performance he honed while playing LBJ the previous year at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater.) After cracking a couple of awkward jokes Sunday night, including “Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!,’’ Cranston turned serious, dedicating his Tony to “all the real journalists around the world,’’ and adding, in an apparent jab at President Trump, “The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.’’
Guaranteeing another round of fierce arguments about one of the most polarizing shows of the Broadway season, director Daniel Fish’s rivetingly dark and edgy production of “Oklahoma!’’ took home the Tony for best revival of a musical. The award for best revival of a play went to “The Boys in the Band,’’ Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 play about gay life.
The winner for best play was “The Ferryman,’’ British playwright Jez Butterworth’s sprawling epic about a farm family in Northern Ireland in 1981 endangered by the Irish Republican Army, which is determined to keep them silent about the murder of a family member. Butterworth dedicated his Tony to “everyone who lost loved ones in the Troubles.’’
Other winners included Santino Fontana as best lead actor in a musical for his virtuosic turn in “Tootsie’’; Stephanie J. Block as best lead actress in a musical for playing Cher at midlife in “The Cher Show’’; Celia Keenan-Bolger as best featured actress in a play for her portrayal of Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird’’; Bertie Carvel as best featured actor in a play for his performance as Rupert Murdoch in “Ink’’; and Sam Mendes of “The Ferryman’’ for best direction of a play.
The Tony telecast capped a record-setting year for Broadway, which attracted nearly 15 million patrons during a season that ran from May 28, 2018, to May 26, 2019. Attendance climbed 9.5 percent over the year before, and box-office grosses soared by more than 10 percent, according to the Broadway League.
Don Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com.