NEW YORK, June 11, (Agencies): A small-scale, intimate musical about hard-won cultural understanding was an altogether apt Tony winner on a night where tolerance and inclusion were constant themes.
“The Band’s Visit,” about an Egyptian police band that gets stranded in a remote Israeli desert town, forcing both sides to get to know each other, triumphed over much flashier shows to win best musical Sunday night — and a total of 10 awards. The closest runner-up, with six, was the blockbuster London import “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which won best play.
One by one, the winners of “The Band’s Visit” referenced the show’s themes of acceptance and finding a common humanity. Tony Shalhoub, named best actor in a musical, spoke of his father’s arrival at Ellis Island from Lebanon in 1920. “May we, their descendants, never lose sight of what they taught us,” he said. Ari’el Stachel, who won for best featured actor, praised the show for “telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along, at a time that we need that more than ever.” Addressing his parents in the audience, Stachel, whose father was born in Israel, confessed that “for so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person.”
The show also won awards for its luminous lead actress, Katrina Lenk, and its director, book and score, among others. Producer Orin Wolf said the message was one of unity, in a world that “more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences.” Composer David Yazbek, speaking later at the Tony after-party, said the show had special resonance amid “the climate of divisiveness that we’re seeing.” The show isn’t just about Jews and Arabs, he said, “It’s about any tribes that have figured out reasons to be at odds with each other.”
The Middle East conflict, immigration, LGBT equality, gun control — many social issues came up, explicitly or implicitly, during the ceremony, which was hosted with a light (and musical) touch by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban. The night’s first big winner, Andrew Garfield, best actor in a play for “Angels in America,” earned hearty cheers.
Garfield dedicated the award, his first Tony, to the LGBTQ community, for a “spirit that says no to oppression. It is a spirit that says no to bigotry, no to shame, no to exclusion. It is a spirit that says we are all made perfectly.”
Lindsay Mendez of “Carousel,” named best featured actress in a musical, tearfully recalled that early in her career, “I was told to change my last name from ‘Mendez’ to ‘Matthews,’ or I wouldn’t work.” She went on to say: “To all of you artists out there, just be your true self and the world will take note.” In other acting awards, Nathan Lane won his third Tony — his first in a dramatic role — for playing Roy Cohn in “Angels in America.” Glenda Jackson, 82, won best actress in a play for her fiery portrayal of an elderly woman in “Three Tall Women,” and her co-star, Laurie Metcalf, won featured actress.
While there was clearly an undercurrent of resistance to the current administration in Washington, winners did not overtly attack President Donald Trump. Then came Robert De Niro, who arrived to present the most anticipated moment of the night — a performance by Bruce Springsteen — and began by launching an expletive at the president, pumping his arms for emphasis. And then he did it again. Many in the audience stood and cheered, while TV censors quickly bleeped out the offending words.
“That was the best part of the whole evening!” commented actor John Leguizamo later that night at the Plaza Hotel after-party. “I jumped to my feet.” He added that “the Tonys have never been this political.” Leguizamo himself, accepting a special Tony, brought up the fate of immigrant children in detention centers and the deaths of thousands of Puerto Ricans in Hurricane Maria. He also declared, “I’m an immigrant, and I’m not an animal” — referring to Trump’s recent remarks that some people living in a country illegally or without legal permission are “animals.”
Several winners noted that elections are coming in November — among them playwright Tony Kushner, who wrote “Angels in America,” which won best revival of a play. He told viewers they have “21 weeks to save our democracy and heal our planet.” (On a lighter note, he also gave a shout-out to Judy Garland’s birthday.) Best musical revival went to “Once on This Island,” in a surprise win over “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel.”
While introducing the first Tony nominee for best revival of a musical, “My Fair Lady,” Amy Schumer paused to throw some general shade at the state of women’s right in America. Not even the show she was speaking about was safe.
The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” is a comedy about class and sexism. In Schumer’s own words, “It tells the story of a scruffy flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, who is transformed by Henry Higgins, a man-splaining expert on dialects.”
Schumer couldn’t help put point out how the production, which first hit Broadway in 1956, still resonates today. “This interpretation celebrates Eliza’s growing self-confidence and highlights equal rights for women. Because we actually don’t have that,” Schumer said.
Schumer added, “In Eliza’s words, ‘The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” The revival scored 10 Tony nominations, including duo acting nods for Harry Hadden-Paton, who plays Henry Higgins and Lauren Ambrose as Eliza. It also received nominations for costumes, lighting design, and scenic design.
In addition to presenting at Sunday night’s show, Schumer was also nominated for best lead actress in a play for Steve Martin’s “Meteor Shower.” The prize ultimately went to Glenda Jackson for her role in “Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.”
The 2018 Tony Awards were graced with the drama students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who sang a touching rendition of “Seasons of Love” from the Tony-winning musical “Rent.”
They were introduced by former “Glee” star Matthew Morrison, who recently performed a benefit concert in support of the victims of the tragic shooting at the Parkland, Fla. high school.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas musical theater instructor Melody Herzfeld had just been awarded the 2018 Excellence in Theatre Education Award. Herzfeld saved 65 lives by barricading students into a small classroom closet on Valentine’s Day when a shooter went on a rampage, killing 17 people.
The original 1996 Broadway production of “Rent” was nominated for 10 Tony Awards. It won four, including best musical, best book for a musical, best original score, and best performance by a featured actor in a musical for Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Heredia played Angel Dumott Schunard.
The musical is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme.” It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.