It was a night of contrasts Sunday at the Tony Awards.
“The Band’s Visit,’’ an intimate musical about unexpected connections in the Middle East, harvested a whopping 10 Tonys, including best musical, while “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,’’ at $68 million the most expensive non-musical production ever mounted on Broadway, won six awards, including best play.
“Angels in America,’’ Tony Kushner’s landmark drama about gay life and the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, also had a strong showing, earning the Tony for best revival of a play while stars Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane were honored as best leading actor and best featured actor in a play, respectively. Another work by a major American playwright — Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women’’ — also held a share of the spotlight as two of its three stars, Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf, were honored as best lead actress and best featured actress in a play.
The Tony ceremony was marked by politically pointed speeches — none more sharp than that by actor Robert De Niro, who dropped a couple of F-bombs while referring to President Trump, which were bleeped out by CBS.
Metcalf’s award marked the second consecutive Tony for the actress, who last year won for best lead actress in a play for her performance in “A Doll’s House, Part 2.’’ (Metcalf was a member of the cast of “Roseanne,’’ recently canceled by ABC after star Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet). Lane’s Tony was his third, the actor having previously won for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’’ and “The Producers.’’ At age 82, Jackson has returned to Broadway for the first time in more than three decades after a lengthy detour into British politics.
In an upset, “Once on This Island’’ beat out “My Fair Lady’’ and “Carousel’’ for best revival of a musical. Though “Mean Girls’’ was nominated for 12 awards, the stage adapation of the Tina Fey film did not win any. Also shut out was “Frozen,’’ the stage adaptation of the blockbuster Disney film.
Tony Shalhoub, the former star of “Monk’’ and a founding member of Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater, won for best leading actor in a musical, and his costar in “The Band’s Visit,” Katrina Lenk, won for best actress. The musical is about the interactions among Arabs and Jews when a snafu causes musicians in an Egyptian police band to become stranded overnight in a village in the Israeli desert. To win, “The Band’s Visit’’ prevailed over three brand-name franchises: “Frozen,’’ “Mean Girls,’’ and “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.’’
The winner for best featured actress in a musical was Lindsay Mendez for her work in the revival of “Carousel.’’ Victory in the category of best featured actor in a musical went to Ari’el Stachel of “The Band’s Visit.’’ David Cromer was named best director of a musical for “The Band’s Visit,’’ and John Tiffany won for best direction of a play for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’’
Bruce Springsteen was presented a special Tony Award by Billy Joel for his hugely popular show “Springsteen on Broadway,’’ and Springsteen later performed.
An emotional high point arrived early in the ceremony when members of the drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., site of a mass shooting in February, sang “Seasons of Love’’ from “Rent.’’ Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and actress Chita Rivera were given the 2018 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
Garfield, who in “Angels in America’’ plays Prior Walter, a gay man coping with AIDS and abandonment by his boyfriend, dedicated his award to “the countless LGBTQ people who have fought and died for the right to live and love’’ as they choose. Mendez, who plays millworker Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel,’’ said that at the beginning of her career “I was told to change my name from Mendez to Matthews or I wouldn’t work.’’ She concluded: “To all the artists out there, be your true self and the world will take note.’’ Accepting his Tony Award, Stachel said: “I am part of a cast that never believed they would be able to portray members of our own races.’’
Cohosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban and presented by the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League, the Tonys were televised on CBS from Radio City Music Hall in New York. Both the network and award organizers will anxiously await the ratings for the broadcast. Viewership spiked in 2016 due to “Hamilton,’’ only to drop sharply last year. (The host of last year’s Tony ceremony, actor Kevin Spacey, has since been accused by numerous men of sexual misconduct or assault.)
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.