James Corden—and his opening number
The Tonys were filled with success stories this year, but the runaway surprise (or was it?) was host James Corden, who showed no weakness in keeping the telecast flowing with smooth comedy, giddy enthusiasm, and an unending supply of gags that made him one of the most charming hosts in recent memory. From the opening number—written by David Javerbaum and Gary Barlow, sending up musicals like Les Miserables, The Sound of Music, Sweeney Todd, and pretty much everything in between—to Corden’s dazzling suits and on-the-fly interview with his parents in the audience, the late-night host made it look supremely easy to serve as emcee…and anyone who’s watched an awards show recently knows that such is not always the case. (So, the question is, how can we get Corden to host everything from now on?)
School of Rock blows the roof off Broadway
We’re all in the band with School of Rock.
The first performance of the night was also perhaps its most impressive: A dozen child musical prodigies, transforming themselves into a band right in front of the audience’s eyes, honored the source material of the 2003 Jack Black film, but it’s the pitch-perfect turn from the electric Alex Brightman who will sell those tickets once the show begins touring. Brightman pumped up the Tonys with the same level of kinetic energy that he exerts eight times a week in School of Rock—although we can’t even begin to explain how.
Renee Elise Goldsberry and Daveed Diggs win for Hamilton
Hamilton‘s featured players break out.
Two of Hamilton‘s sure things came into their own prophecy when Renee Elise Goldsberry and Daveed Diggs earned their first Tony Awards in the supporting musical acting categories. Goldsberry’s emotional speech reminisced about the actress’s long journey from the ensemble to the show-stopping role of Angelica Schuyler, while Diggs shared a moving anecdote about his father’s early support of his interest in the arts (leading to his dual role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson). Both were expected to win for their juicy, unforgettable roles, and now, they’re expected to become nothing but stars.
Classic commercial breaks
A fun twist on the typical awards formula saw the casts of all the nominated musicals assembling to perform snippets of songs from beloved musical gems of years past: Bright Star taking on Damn Yankees, She Loves Me doing Cabaret, The Color Purple honoring The Lion King, and Hamilton belting out Rent. One particularly insane interstitial involved Lin-Manuel Miranda, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, and Andrew Lloyd Webber performing Annie on tambourine. So, yeah, it’s truly never been a cooler time to be a musical theater nerd.
Cynthia Erivo is here
The last time an actress (LaChanze) played the role of Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway, she won a Tony. This time, the actress is Cynthia Erivo, and she won not just a Tony but the total admiration of viewers after delivering the kind of showstopping performance that will inspire theater-geek YouTube spirals for years to come. In a year when Hamilton was the obvious big winner, it might be Erivo who emerges as the real victor.
Shuffle Along shuffles along swimmingly
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry, and Audra McDonald!? In one Tonys performance!? The cast of the history-honoring Shuffle Along tapped their way across the Beacon Theatre stage with their show’s memorable opening number, which puts on display the four fantastic male vocalists and modern stage legend McDonald, who—lest we not forget—can do a high kick while pregnant whereas most of us probably can’t do a high kick at all.
Corden lays down the Law & Order
One of host Corden’s best gags poked fun at the long, long history of theater actors landing bit roles on Law & Order. Corden proffered embarrassing ’90s throwbacks for Claire Danes, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., and, hilariously, Danny Burstein, rattling off a list of increasingly ridiculous—and disguised—roles that the six-time Tony nominee has played over the years.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's Shakespearean win
An early victory for Hamilton came in the form of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s win for Best Score, and his speech summed up the creative’s work on the Broadway phenomenon. Whereas last time around he performed a freestyle rap to thank his In the Heights family, this year’s speech saw a much more emotional Miranda reading a sonnet, appearing genuinely moved and humbled by the love surrounding his show. His powerful poem also honored the tragic shooting in Orlando, Florida earlier that morning, before concluding with a message we could all use: “Fill the world with music, love, and pride.”
Fiddler gets a chance to play
To life! To life! To a galvanizing performance from the cast of one of the season’s criminally underrated gems, Fiddler on the Roof!
Frank Langella offers wise words
The Tonys were officially dedicated to the victims of the Orlando shooting on June 12, and a few winners took the opportunity to address the tragedy with some moving messages. Stage veteran Frank Langella, winning his fourth Tony for his harrowing dive into dementia in The Father, spent most of his acceptance speech speaking up about the country’s role following the massacre: “When something bad happens we have three choices: we let it define us, we let it destroy us, or we let it strengthen us. Today in Orlando we had a hideous dose of reality, and I urge you, Orlando, to remain strong.”
Hamilton starts, stops, and ends the show
You came for Hamilton, so you’re going to get Hamilton. The toast of Broadway bookended the night with clever, out-of-character performances, but its pinnacle was the performance of “History Has Its Eyes On You” and “The Battle of Yorktown.” In the inspired medley, Miranda’s rapping talents were put on prime display, along with nods from Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, and Okieriete Onaodowan. Just know that every time you rewatch this performance, you’ll get charged about $450 per viewing.
Waitress opens up
It didn’t matter that the Sara Bareilles-penned score was left to bake until the evening’s end. Show star Jessie Mueller rewarded the audience with an endearing and oft devastating belt of what’s become the musical’s signature song, “She Used to Be Mine.” While Bareilles herself began the solo, it was Tony winner Mueller who picked it up—and delivered it fresh and piping hot.