Tony Awards 2021: Broadway’s long-awaited family reunion

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The Tony Awards, the fourth leg of the EGOT, the final bow of the award season, usually airs in June at Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan. While the television, film and music industries have been able to create new content and recognize its brightest stars amidst the global pandemic, the bright lights of Broadway have been off for more than a year, leaving its greatest talent in the dark as well. 

Now that the lights are back on and theaters have begun performances in front of live audiences (all of whom masked and vaccinated), the Tony Awards have returned. To mark such a return, the Broadway community came together like never before to create what I think was one of the best Tony Awards I’ve ever seen. The entire evening was a joyful, heartwarming event with all participants thoroughly enjoying the fact that they were with their friends and colleagues again.  

Rather than limiting the performances to those of the shortened 2019-2020 season, the show featured several reunions of some of the best and most memorable stars to ever perform on stage in some of the most iconic numbers ever written for the theater. I mean, come on, can you really beat watching Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth reuniting to sing the “Wicked” classic, “For Good”? Or Jennifer Holliday delivering her rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” the same number she performed at the Tonys in 1982 that won her the statue? Or my personal favorite, Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell belting out “Wheels of a Dream” with the same power as their performances in the original 1998 production of “Ragtime”? Each performance ended with a hug between the reunited costars — showing that the bond of the theater goes much deeper than we realize. 

One of my biggest critiques of the evening, however, was the show’s migration to the Paramount+ streaming platform. The whole event was fairly complicated with all but three awards given out on the streaming service and a two-hour concert with the final awards (Best Musical, Best Play and Best Revival of a Play) broadcasted on CBS.  

I know awards shows are falling in popularity and struggle to keep sizeable ratings, but to be frank, Broadway is not a cheap hobby. Tickets are tremendously expensive and those living outside of the greater New York area have few opportunities to experience a live Broadway show. The Tony Awards, usually broadcasted on CBS, traditionally provide a glimpse into this world of theater and the talented people who are a part of it. If this transition to streaming services is permanent, Broadway could become a place only for the elite, in direct contrast with the speeches pushing for greater inclusion in the theater community.  

And now a little bit about the awards. Unlike most award shows, there were very few sizeable upsets or snubs, perhaps because of the smaller pool of nominees. In most cases, several shows did exactly as expected. “Moulin Rouge!” swept the musical competition, taking home 10 Tonys. While in an ordinary year, this adaptation of the jukebox musical movie would struggle against an original piece, the over-the-top sensory overload style of “Moulin Rouge!” is exactly what audiences have missed, so it was rightfully awarded in this pool of productions. It ran away with the male acting category with Aaron Tveit, the only nominee for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, rightfully taking his trophy. Danny Burstein was awarded Best Featured Actor in a Musical, his first Tony win after seven nominations. Burstein’s acceptance speech was particularly touching as he thanked the Broadway community for their love and support after his wife, Broadway veteran Rebecca Luker, lost her battle with ALS in December 2020. Even the evening’s host, Audra McDonald, needed a minute to compose herself after that tearjerker. 

Adrienne Warren, who won Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her role as Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” showed why she was worthy of the honor in her electrifying performance of “Proud Mary” in the CBS concert special. Lois Smith walked away with Best Leading Actress in a Play who, at age 90, became the oldest actor to win a Tony for her performance in “The Inheritance.” While I am not one to follow Broadway plays, it was slightly disappointing to see “Slave Play” be completely shut out of the competition and go home empty-handed. However, practically every award recipient of the night, both musical and play, made sure to share the award with their fellow nominees to acknowledge their hard work in an industry we all took for granted before the onset of COVID-19. 

The 74th Annual Tony Awards made a statement that Broadway is back, and we cannot be more thrilled to see it back in the spotlight where it belongs. 

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