The best and worst moments of the 2022 Tony Awards
After over two years, the Tony Awards are finally back in full force!
The 75th anniversary Tony Awards, airing live on CBS, celebrated the best of Broadway since its re-opening. With Oscar winner Ariana DeBose as host, it doled out the Great White Way's highest honor to a wide array of the stage's biggest talents.
Here are the 2022 Tony Awards highs and lows.
Best: Opening number pizazz
We absolutely adored the concept of the opening number, signaling to 75 years of Tony Awards history by weaving in key snippets of songs from musical theater history. The choreography and commitment from the ensemble of dancers (all of whom are former understudies or swings) was a marvel, and it was a true tribute to some of the best-loved shows in Broadway history…
Worst: Opening number vocals
...but we did not love the original song that all these songs were strung together with and Ariana DeBose's vocals. She's an incredible talent, but why was this written in a key that seemed like she was regularly straining to hit notes and at a pace that put her out of breath while keeping step with the flashy choreography? This should've been her shining moment as a host (and we loved her monologue afterward), but DeBose deserved better material more tailored to her ample skill set for her first outing as emcee.
Best: 76 Trombones led the big parade…
The Music Man may be the hottest ticket on Broadway already, but it probably won a legion of new fans clamoring to see it after this Tony showcase. Hugh Jackman reminded everyone why he's this generation's consummate song-and-dance man, kicking off the show's centerpiece number, "76 Trombones." Backed up by the stellar company and their acrobatic brilliance, he and fellow Tony nominee Sutton Foster kicked off the night's nominated musical performances with a burst of energy, tap dancing, and joy.
Best: Patti LuPone throws shade like no one else
By now, we know there's no Broadway diva quite like Patti LuPone. Watching her win her third Tony for her role as boozy Joanne in Company felt inevitable but what wasn't was her audaciously funny speech. She started with heartfelt thanks to her castmates in both New York and London, her director (and eventual winner) Marianne Elliott, and the understudies and COVID safety teams who've kept the footlights on in an uncertain time. But the biggest laugh in her speech came when she thanked producer Chris Harper, making a nod to her iconic retort to a quarrelsome audience member who refused to adhere to mask guidelines, saying, "Chris Harper, who pays my salary." Here's to Patti Lupone. We will always drink to that.
Best: Myles Frost as Michael Jackson
A Michael Jackson musical is a potentially fraught piece of entertainment, a show that celebrates a pop icon whose legacy has become muddy, if not outright tarnished, by allegations made the last several years. But one uncomplicated thing we can celebrate is the incredible Myles Frost, who's playing Jackson on Broadway. While performing "Smooth Criminal" at the Tony Awards, he showcased his otherworldly moves and ability to channel Jackson's singular ability to marry music and dance. UPDATE: Frost made good on that performance later in the evening winning Best Actor in a Musical, delivering a speech that was delightful and moving in equal measure. Breaking into song before paying heartfelt tribute to his mom, Frost gave one of the most memorable speeches of the night.
While we'd never argue Mr. Saturday Night is bringing anything particularly groundbreaking to Broadway, we were surprisingly charmed by its Tony performance. Especially the moment where star Billy Crystal (after apologizing to the memory of Ella Fitzgerald) broke into rapid Yiddish scatting. His mile-a-minute delivery reflected the mix of deadpan and farce that he's excelled at for decades, and then the meshugas really started when he began a call-and-response with the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Worst: Phylicia Rashad gives a VERY slow speech
While we're thrilled Phylicia Rashad earned much-deserved recognition (and her second Tony Award) for her work in Skeleton Crew, did she forget this show is live and on a time schedule? It seemed like she set herself to half speed at the top of her speech, painstakingly eking out each word in a display that felt self-indulgent when others were racing just to get their speech in under the wire.
Best: Children will listen
How do you pay tribute to a singular artist who did more to shape musical theater over the last 60 years than any other human being? It's a tall order (and the Grammys already knocked it out of the park), but the American Theatre Wing had to try with the loss of Stephen Sondheim last November. One of the many composers inspired and nurtured by Sondheim, Lin-Manuel Miranda (who was audibly emotional) introduced a tribute segment featuring clips of Sondheim in his own words and Bernadette Peters singing "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods. Is it dusty in here or it just us?
Worst: More like spring naptime…
They should've sang "Totally F—ed." (If you, like me, are of a certain age, Spring Awakening was probably formative in your musical theater nerd-dom. And with that in mind, the 15th-anniversary reunion performance was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated parts of tonight's show. But in comparison to the absolutely magical and stirring HBO Max documentary about last fall's reunion concert, this performance was lackluster. Sure, "Touch Me" is one of the few songs they can sing unedited on network television and it's a good ensemble feature — but it lacks the vibrancy of most of the rest of the score imho).
Best: Boom, boom…tick!
There's always one pair of presenters at any awards show that stands a cut above the rest. Sunday night that title went to former Angels in America co-stars Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield. Garfield struggled to keep a straight face while Lane riffed on taking Jello shots with Chita Rivera, men in velvet suits, and his own (fictional) direct-to-video musical Boom, boom… tick! about an exotic dancer with an eye twitch. Both men were magnificent in Angels in America, but um, can we get them in a comedy together stat?
Best: All hail the alternates
The Tony Awards knew exactly what they were doing making Six and its upbeat, raucous pop beats the final musical performance of the night. But while we loved the stylings of all the wives, we were especially in awe of Mallory Maedke, a dance captain and alternate in the show, who host Ariana DeBose pointed out got thrown into the Tony performance only 12 hours prior. It was a cherry on top of the night's celebration of the unsung heroes that are the understudies, swings, etc.
Worst: Sound challenges
What was happening in Radio City Music Hall with the performers' ability to hear themselves? Has there ever been a Tony broadcast with this many flat or missed notes? The show brought a ton of superb performances from a myriad of incredible artists, including Ariana DeBose, Billy Porter, and Joaquina Kalukango, but there were moments where they all sounded off-key. I refuse to believe all of these folks were off their A-game, which leads me to think they must have had issues hearing themselves or their backing music (or both). The night's sound issues were summed up Ariana DeBose's face on her final note of the show, clearly telegraphing the "WTF?" we were all thinking at home. It's a real bummer that technical difficulties impacted this many performers, even if they shined in spite of it.
Best: Black Tony wins
Ariana DeBose kicked off the night with a joke about Broadway making the "Great White Way" more a nickname and less of a how-to guide. Thankfully, the show delivered on that promise, honoring a spate of Black artists, including Myles Frost, Joaquina Kalukango, and Michael R. Jackson and the entire company of A Strange Loop (including Jennifer Hudson who achieved EGOT status for her win as a producer). It's a step forward for a medium that can perhaps be perceived as more elitist than film or television. And the winners offered up speeches that championed their Blackness and their communities. But we'll most take to heart and celebrate Jackson's plea to not allow representation to be a victory in and of itself, but instead to "make sure to stay on our grind and our art, that we are doing the very best work we can do."