2019 Tony Awards highlights
This year’s Tony Awards brought together some of the New York stage’s luminaries to celebrate a season full of talent and triumph on Broadway’s biggest night. James Corden hosted the proceedings live from Radio City Music Hall. From musical performances to living legends winning their first ever Tony to emotional speeches, here are the highlights from the 73rd annual Tony Awards.
Jake Gyllenhaal announces his engagement
Jake Gyllenhaal and his declared “fiancée” Tina Fey presented the first award of the night on a high note with some delightful banter that made us instantly want to watch this dynamic play out further in a rom-com. Fey observed that in 2019 it should no longer be necessary to separate awards by gender, but instead there should be two acting categories: humans and puppets. “Did you know it takes eight guys to operate Bryan Cranston?” she joked.
Ain't too proud to beg for Tony love
The cast of Ain’t Too Proud to Beg took to the stage of Radio City Music Hall to deliver a show-stopping medley of many of the Temptations greatest hits. The show is a definitive crowd-pleaser, and this performance made it obvious why. There’s no shortage of things that made it great from the slick dance moves that recreate the Temptations iconic choreography to two-time Tony nominee Jeremy Pope’s incredible high notes. Get ready ’cause here comes one of Broadway’s most enjoyable night’s out.
Elaine May wins her first Tony
Elaine May is truly a living legend, so it’s fitting that after 50 years away from the stage, May returned to a play that earned her the first Tony year of her decade-spanning career. May thanked her cast, directors, and producers by singing their praises. “I’ve never won a nomination for acting before, so I want to tell you how I did it,” she said before rattling through a list of everyone who helped bring her to this point. Then, in true comedic form, she spoiled the ending of her new play, talking about her death and chalking up her Tony to the moving way Lucas Hedges described her death onstage. “He described it, so heartbreaking, he was so touching, that watching from the wings, I thought, ‘I’m gonna win this guy’s Tony,'” she quipped.
A Tootsie transformation
If there’s not a mid-musical number full costume transformation live onstage, did the Tony Awards even happen? Last year, Elsa did it in Frozen but this year saw an onstage gender bend as Santino Fontano performed the Act One finale, “Unstoppable” in which he transforms from struggling actor Michael Dorsey into Broadway darling Dorothy Michaels. It’s a true moment of Broadway magic as each night, in under a minute, Fontana goes from jeans, a T-shirt, and ballcap to Dorothy’s iconic red dress, heels, wig, and glasses. Tony Awards performances are about showing the best you got to potential audiences at home — and we’re sure this got many people to jump immediately on to Ticketmaster.
We cain’t say no to this Oklahoma
Fondly known as “sexy Oklahoma,” this revival infuses the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical with some modern energy — and costumes! If you’re in doubt as to how this could work, this performance of Ado Annie’s “I Cain’t Say No” and the title song should have quieted any naysayers. It showcased the new energy and life this revival injects into one of the American stage’s most beloved (and sometimes musty) shows. Not to mention, the vocals of Tony winner Ali Stroker and nominee Damon Daunno proved just how much power there still is in these classic songs, while giving them a modern-folksy vibe akin to O Brother Where Art Thou? This performance made it clear this revival is more than just OK!
Rachel Chavkin calls out Broadway to step up
While winning the Tony for Best Director of a Musical for Hadestown, Rachel Chavkin made an impassioned speech, pleading for Broadway to be more inclusive to women and people of color, especially in jobs like directing. “Life is a team sport, and so is walking out of hell, that’s what is at the heart of this show,” Chavkin said, before using that metaphor to make a statement about the frequently white, male creative teams on Broadway. “I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season. So many women who are ready to go, so many people of color are ready to go,” she said. “This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine a world the way it could be.” Chavkin is only the fourth woman to win in this category in 73 years, following in the footsteps of Julie Taymor, Susan Stroman, and Diane Paulus.
Ali Stroker makes history
Stroker won tonight for her portrayal of Ado Annie in the revival of Oklahoma, making her the first actress who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award in history. The actress was visibly moved by the momentous win, using her speech to inspire others. “This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limiation, or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are!” she proclaimed. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house afterward — you cain’t say no to this kind of heartfelt emotion on the Tony stage.
Choir Boy steps and sings their way into the annals of great Tony performances
It’s rare to see a play get a Best Choreography nomination, but the stirring performance from the ensemble of Choir Boy made it clear why they deserved it. Following a stirring introduction from playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney where he made a plea to honor the “queer boys” who uphold the traditions of spirituals, the cast, including double nominee Jeremy Pope, gave one of the most riveting performances of the night. Blending spoken word, choreography featuring the percussive art of stepping, and the choral whispers of the spirituals at the heart of the play, they gave testament to why this show mesmerized audiences.
James Corden in the bathroom
Offering up a reworked version of Be More Chill’s “Michael in the Bathroom,” Corden delivered his most winning bit of the night. Corden sang about his anxieties as a host with quippy lyrics like “People say Corden’s a talentless hack/Why can’t CBS get Neil Patrick Harris back?” The number got kicked up a notch when it was revealed Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles were also in the bathroom, still recovering from their gig as last year’s hosts. But what really sealed the deal on this already incredibly delightful number? A last-minute appearance from a self-assured Neil Patrick Harris saying he was just there to use the bathroom. Is it possible “Michael in the Bathroom” is now even more of a viral hook than it already was courtesy of this performance? Correction: This slide previously stated composer Joe Iconis assisted with the revised lyrics. He did not.
Hadestown takes viewers to hell (in a good way)
Hadestown was tied with Ain’t Too Proud to Beg for the most nominations (14) this year — and this performance was packed with the devilishly great stuff that made it abundantly clear why. Tony winner André De Shields kicked things off as Hermes with his narration, sending viewers into the underworld to be introduced to lovers Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada). But it was the tight-knit ensemble work and incredible set design, including carefully choreographed swinging overhead lights, that made for a lush stage picture which, combined with Anaïs Mitchell’s haunting music and lyrics, created one hell of a Tony’s performance.
Kiss Me Kate's 'too darn hot' performance
It is theoretically insane that Kelli O’Hara is currently performing on a Broadway stage and she didn’t sing live on the Tonys. But we’ll let it slide for the delight of this high energy take on the Cole Porter classic “It’s Too Darn Hot.” Corbin Bleu (not pictured in this photo) led the ensemble of Kiss Me Kate through this rousing rendition of this Broadway chestnut with plenty of slick, eye-catching dance breaks. There are few things more satisfying in a musical than a well-executed tap number, and this was a treat for audiences at home to bear witness to one of the most exhilarating numbers in musical theatre.
Jez Butterworth gives his Tony to 'The Ferryman' star Laura Donnelly
After reflecting on how tonight marked the 25th anniversary of Butterworth’s deciding to take a chance on pursuing playwriting as a career, The Ferryman scribe handed his Tony to star Laura Donnelly and dedicated the win to the “families of the disappeared.” Donnelly’s uncle was murdered by the IRA and his story provided the seeds of the story that went on to win Best Play. Donnelly and Butterworth share more than a creative partnership — they have two children together, both of whom she gave birth to during the run of The Ferryman in London and New York, which Butterworth honored earlier in the evening when presenting the play.
Cynthia Erivo feels the love
One of Broadway’s finest voices, Cynthia Erivo, was on hand to deliver the “In Memoriam” segment of the evening honoring greats we lost over the past year, including Neil Simon, Carol Channing, and Georgia Engel. She sang Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and infused it with such soul, heart, and verve that it became a stirring testament to those she was remembering. It was a bold choice to choose this more modern love ballad, but Erivo made it more than work with her incredible vocal chops and this more restrained arrangement that showcased her powerhouse voice over lush orchestrations.
Santino Fontana honors his grandmother
Broadway veteran Santino Fontana won his first Tony award Sunday night for his double duty as Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie. Fontana gave a heartfelt speech thanking everyone from his parents to his wife to his future daughter and his acting teacher. But he paid special tribute to his grandmother and her role in inspiring Dorothy. “[She was a] fiery red-headed woman with a singular voice,” he said. “Every day I get to bring her into the room, and it’s been the best experience of my life.”
Stephanie J. Block shares her 'journal entry'
Winning for her portrayal of Cher in The Cher Show, Stephanie J. Block was effusive in her gratitude, referencing her pre-teen journal entries about yearning to be a part of the Broadway theater community. “[I would] tell that little girl, it was nothing you expected and everything you needed,” she said of her journey to this moment, before thanking Cher herself. “To the goddess, Cher, for her life and her legacy.” Oh, and she also made sure to thank the team who help with her 29 (!) costume changes.