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Musicals and masks: a night at the 74th Tony Awards

“What we do changes people’s lives. It changes people’s minds. It changes people’s hearts. We can change the world with this, let’s not forget that.” These were the words that concluded the speech made by the tearful Aaron Tveit as he accepted the award for Best Actor in a Musical at the 74th Tony Awards on Sep. 26, 2021. His words show the power of Broadway, and why we are all glad it is back. The last theater season was unfortunately cut short by the pandemic, but the show must go on. With the plays and musicals that were able to premiere in the season, the 74th Tony Awards were able to happen. Nominations were announced on Oct. 15, 2020. Almost a year later, there was an award show, coinciding with Broadway opening back up. With show stopping performances, heart wrenching speeches and the Broadway spirit coming back to life, this was a night to remember.

This year, the awards were structured in a way that had not been done before. Instead of one show with all of the awards and performances, there were two shows. The first show was only available on Paramount+, hosted by the incomparable six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald. Most of the awards were given out during this time, along with performances by Broadway stars of famous Broadway songs. After this ceremony, people watched “Broadway’s Back,” hosted by dashing Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr. This was available for people to watch on CBS, as well as Paramount+. During this show, the awards for Best Musical, Best Play and Best Revival of a Play were given out. After that, there were more exciting musical performances, including performances by all of the musicals nominated for Best Musical. While the show was different than normal, it still brought the house down.

On the musical side of the awards, only three musicals were competing due to the limited season. There was “Moulin Rouge,” the romantic jukebox musical based on the 2001 film, “Jagged Little Pill,” a story of a family in disarray set to Alanis Morrisette songs and “Tina,” about the life of the iconic Tina Turner. All of these musicals proved successful before the pandemic and were all worthy of nominations. They competed for 13 awards, including the coveted Best Musical. By the end of the night, “Moulin Rouge” was the big winner. Not only did this dazzling show win Best Musical, but it won 10 awards in total. This includes Aaron Tveit for Best Actor, a category where he was the only nominee due to the small number of musicals, and Danny Burstein for Best Supporting Actor. Both of these men were first time winners, and they more than deserved victories. “Moulin Rouge” might have taken control of the night, but the other musicals did not go home empty handed. “Jagged Little Pill” snagged two awards, one for Best Book and one for Best Supporting Actress for Lauren Patten. “Tina” got one award for Best Actress for Adrienne Warren, who plays the titular role. All of the musicals got recognition and people from all of the shows gave speeches that could make you cry. 

On the play side, there was more variety in nominations and winners. Eleven plays in total were competing for the awards, with five of them vying for Best Play and three of them aiming for Best Revival of a Play. Best Play ended up going to “The Inheritance,” based on the novel “Howards End” and adapted to showcase the lives and hardships of the contemporary gay community. This gripping play took home four awards in total, including Lois Smith for Best Supporting Actress in a Play, the oldest person to win a Tony Award for acting. Best Revival of a Play was awarded to “A Soldier’s Play,” a play from the 1980s that highlights issues about race that some African American men can relate to. Along with Best Revival, this play took home Best Supporting Actor in a Play for David Alan Grier. Another big contender in the play categories was “A Christmas Carol,” the classic Christmas story of old Ebenezer Scrooge, which took home five awards, including scenic design and costume design. “The Sound Inside,” a story of a professor’s important friendship with a student, took home the award for Best Actress in a Play for Mary-Louise Parker. Unfortunately, not all of the plays received awards that night. This includes “Slave Play,” a risky tale of interracial relationships, which despite setting the record for most nominations for a play with 12 nominations, did not get a single award. Even though every play didn’t get an award, the saying is true: it is always an honor just to be nominated.

If this year’s Tonys were any indication, Broadway has returned in full force. So many spectacular shows were honored this night and the power of theater was felt. From a rousing rendition of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” by many Broadway actors, to energetic medleys from all of the nominated musicals, to a wickedly beautiful duet of “For Good” between Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, all of the performances brought the house down. Performances always make the ceremony special and this year was no exception. The key to a successful Tony Awards ceremony is joy. Even though the Tonys this year were unconventional and split into two separate shows on separate platforms, there was still a lot of joy to be felt. The last Tony Awards were two years ago, and this one was worth the wait. Here’s to the excitement that next year’s 75th Tony Awards will most certainly bring.

 

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