Bette Midler didn’t perform during Sunday night’s Tony Awards ceremony, but she still made quite an impression: Midler won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Hello, Dolly!, and refused to leave the stage even as the orchestra began playing her off.
“I’d like to thank all the Tony voters — many of whom I’ve actually dated,” Midler joked in the beginning of her acceptance speech. She called the role “the greatest professional experience of my life,” and gave individual thanks to the members of the Hello, Dolly! creative team (many of whom took the stage as the show won best revival of a musical earlier in the night).
But the fun was only just beginning — Midler kept talking as the orchestra attempted to hustle the legendary actress off-stage as the show was running over its allotted time. “Shut that crap off!” Midler said, waving her hand. When the music stopped, Midler continued. “I just want to say that ‘revival’ is an interesting word. It means something was near death and was brought back to life. Hello, Dolly! never really went away. It’s in our DNA. It’s optimism. It’s democracy. It’s color. It’s hilarity. This is a classic: come and see it. It’s not just me. This thing has the ability to lift your spirits in these terrible times.”
This is Midler’s first Tony for acting, although she received a Special Tony in 1974 for her contribution to Broadway.
Watch her lengthy speech below.
Earlier in the night, audiences were disappointed (and surprised) that Midler didn’t perform a number from Hello, Dolly! during the Tonys telecast, as she has earned widespread critical praise for her role as busybody matchmaker and widow Dolly Levi.
“This show belongs to the Divine Miss M.,” EW’s Maya Stanton wrote in her straight-A review of the show. “It’s a performance only a diva could give.” Stanton also noted that Hello, Dolly! includes “ample opportunities for Midler to show off her well-documented, still-razor-sharp comedic chops.”
The inimitable star prevailed amidst a category stacked with formidable leading ladies, including fellow vets Christine Ebersole (War Paint) and Patti LuPone (War Paint), and newer faces like Denée Benton (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) and Eva Noblezada (Miss Saigon).