Best and worst moments of the 75th Tony Awards

Producer Chris Harper accepts the award for best musical revival for “Company” at the 75th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, on Sunday, June 12, 2022. (Photo: NYT)
The Tony Awards returned to Radio City Music Hall on Sunday for the first time since June 2019. And after such a roller-coaster ride of a year, the ceremony was a welcome chance to celebrate all those people who made sure the show went on again. There were a few pleasant surprises but voters showed that they were craving the familiar. Here are the highs and lows as our writers saw them. اضافة اعلان

Best shout out: Nods to understudies and swings
In the weeks leading up to the Tony Awards, a buzz had been building — on various social media platforms — around demands that the Tonys honor swings, understudies, and standbys. In a season often disrupted by COVID-19 transmission, these performers filled in for named players at show after show, sometimes at just a few moment’s notice.

No understudy could be nominated, but winners and presenters found ways to salute them. During the “Act One” special on Paramount+, director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, a winner for “MJ,” shouted out “all the swings and understudies who kept us onstage this season. I bow to you.”

Andrew: British-US actor Andrew Garfield attends the 75th annual Tony awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 12, 2022 in New York city. (Photo: AFP)

During the main program, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, a winner for “Take Me Out,” thanked his own understudy. Patti LuPone, a winner for “Company,” hailed not only understudies, but also the COVID-19 compliance officers. And in the big production number, DeBose took another moment, while being hoisted into the air, to thank the swings.

Perhaps the greatest tribute came during the production number for the musical “Six.” Playing Jane Seymour was Mallory Maedke, the show’s dance captain, who had subbed in hours earlier after the actress who usually performs the role, Abby Mueller, tested positive for COVID-19. Maedke stepped in. The show went on.

Best ‘Glee’ alum: Darren Criss
It is fitting that Darren Criss was one of the hosts at the 2022 Tony Awards: Before starring on Broadway, he got his big break in “Glee,” a series that was instrumental in bridging pop music and Broadway. He and Julianne Hough had a sparkly showbiz quality peppered with an adorably enthusiastic nerdiness during their hour-long hosting gig of the “Act One” portion of the Tonys. And their opening number, written by Criss, for the Paramount+ stream, had more zest than Ariana DeBose’s opener in the flagship section hosted by CBS.

Worst display: The evening-long amnesia
Imagining alternate worlds and stepping right into them is what theater people do. But there was some serious cognitive dissonance on display in the collectively imagined world of the Tony Awards ceremony, a four-hour celebration of a post-shutdown Broadway season that made it through thanks to stringent COVID-safety measures — most visibly, masks strictly required for audience members.

Host Ariana DeBose dances with Sam Rockwell at the 75th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, on Sunday, June 12, 2022. (Photo: NYT)

Disturbingly, the picture that the industry chose to present to the television cameras at Radio City Music Hall was a sea of bare faces, as if Broadway inhabited a post-COVID world. In the vast orchestra section, where the nominees sat, there was scarcely a mask anywhere.

For all the loving shout-outs that the Tonys and Tony winners gave to understudies, swings, and COVID-19 safety teams for their indispensability in allowing so many productions to go on, it was hard not to wonder about Broadway choosing a normal-looking TV visual over caution, knowing how scary it can get when positive test results start rolling in.

Worst attempt at nostalgia: Not so ‘Smooth Criminal’
I have numerous grievances about “MJ,” the Michael Jackson jukebox musical, so perhaps it is no surprise that I found the Tonys performance a bit lackluster. The musical is inherently hollow; the opacity of Michael Jackson and his life of traumas and controversies make it difficult to find material compelling and cohesive enough to tell a story onstage. The airless enormity and formality of the Tonys stage drained what little bit of charisma “MJ” might have otherwise had — though by the end of the evening the show was still a big winner, with Frost nabbing the best leading actor in a musical award.

Best spotlight: A playwright medley
Each of the five best play nominees answered a few simple questions about themselves and their work; their answers were edited together like a medley. What one word would Tracy Letts, author of “The Minutes,” use to describe it? “Hilarious,” he said, with a self-serving twinkle. What is Lynn Nottage’s favorite line from “Clyde’s”? “A little salt makes the food taste good. Too much makes it inedible.” And how would Ben Power, author of “The Lehman Trilogy,” describe a play about his own life? “As long as ‘The Lehman Trilogy,’ but with a happier ending.”

Worst trend: Rewarding marquee names
The worst part of the evening was not a single moment but the fact that almost every time the most famous person or show won. It felt as if the voters were craving something familiar for the first full post-COVID Broadway season.

There were two major exceptions to that trend: off-Broadway veteran Deirdre O’Connell winning best actress in a play for “Dana H.” and Michael R. Jackson’s bracing “A Strange Loop” winning for best musical.

Best Heroine: Joaquina Kalukango lifts ‘Paradise Square’

“Paradise Square” is not the best musical. And that makes Joaquina Kalukango’s moving performance, as the show’s tough-broad-heroine Nelly O’Brien, that much more impressive. In an otherwise drab Tonys broadcast, the excerpt from “Paradise Square” brought some much-needed vitality to the stage. Thanks to the camera close-ups (something we do not often get in the world of theater) we got to see the particulars of Kalukango’s performance. It is no surprise that she later won the award for best actress in a musical; watching her perform is like watching the bursting of a Roman candle in a starless night — that kind of powerful, that kind of beautiful.

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