2018: The Year of the Adults-But...

Photo by asbe/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by asbe/iStock / Getty Images

Michael Kape
This was the year the adults dominated the Tony Awards. But 16 kids, 16 high school students, took two minutes (out of 525,600 in a year) to steal the show in what was the most emotional moment I can remember in over 50 years of Tony watching.
Going into the telecast (or live streaming online), four shows really dominated the nominations: SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and a tiny little musical called The Band’s Visit. The prognosticators expected an all-out duel between SpongeBob and Mean Girls in the various musical categories. Harry Potter faced competition from four shows already shuttered in the play competitions, so it was expected to sweep; it did not disappoint.

So, what went wrong with all the predictions? And why was Frozen essentially shut out?
Remember, a hefty number of Tony voters come from the touring houses across the country. They vote with an eye toward what is going to fill seats in their cities. Yet sometimes, they throw caution to the wind and vote for what they think is actually the best in various categories. This was such a year.

To be honest—and certainly judging from some of the excerpts we saw on the telecast—the voters were simply not all that impressed by much of what they saw. Frankly, neither was I.
How did a tiny little 90-minute show like The Band’s Visit manage to pull off a sweep and take home 10 Tonys? Simple. It was the only musical appealing to the adults in the room.
I have never been much of a fan of Frozen, which could only muster a handful of nominations in the first place. Grant you, I am not the target demographic for this show; neither are the Tony voters. Personally, I found the animated film kind of meh (and the live version running at Disney resorts even more so). It doesn’t rank as Bobby Lopez’s (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) best work. Onstage, it looks like a lot of gimmicks pasted together. Still, it’s already booking its tour dates, and I don’t think anyone needs to lose sleep over it being completely shut out. 

The Theatre Wing fully expected Mean Girls’ Tina Fey to win for Best Book (hence the reason Best Book was telecast, and Best Score wasn’t). And Mean Girls did rack up a lot of nods, so it was reasonable to expect it to pick up several honors ahead of its tour announcement. Surprise (not really), it was completely shut out. Likewise, SpongeBob SquarePants should have taken home (as it was expected) a slew of the creative awards; it won just one, for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. 

Meanwhile, The Band’s Visit kept racking up wins. Quietly. As if it had snuck into the Tonys and just being nominated was supposed to be win enough.

But The Band’s Visit was meant for adult audiences; SpongeBob, Mean Girls, and Frozen were for the kids. The adults dominated the evening, and The Band’s Visit won 10 Tonys as a result.
You would think my argument about the evening being for the adults would fizzle when it came to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Quite the contrary is true. The young readers who devoured the books as they were published are now grown themselves. Harry Potter (and its brilliant script) actually tackles the very real and adult issues of parenting and having one’s youth suddenly take center stage 19 years later, with your children having to bear the brunt of your foolishness. Adult themes and an adult show. Still, it did not take home any acting honors, instead being quite content to earn several creatives and the big prize, Best Play. 

The televised excerpts from the new musicals we viewed were a mixed bag (to be kind). Mean Girls seemed lively enough, but I didn’t feel motivated to see more (let’s just say I wasn’t surprised it didn’t pick up a Best Score win). One thing really did irk me watching it. These are supposed to be high school students and most of them looked their actual ages (ie, well into their twenties). Kind of stretches credulity, and not in the intended way. As I noted earlier, Frozen was not impressive either. Sure, great special effects and quick costume changes dominated, yet it was also kind of jarring to see the full cast singing a number where only half the cast is involved (really, who would let Sven the Reindeer into a palace to sing and dance?). I wish the excerpt from SpongeBob SquarePants had been about the title character (poor Ethan Slater showed up for 15 seconds and then disappeared). Gavin Lee did get to do his big tap dance, which was remarkable to be sure, but it’s not what the show is about. Lest we forget, there was that excerpt from Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. However, now we can forget it with its really mediocre disco choreography (truly disappointing). I personally thought the excerpt from The Band’s Visit was haunting and “Omar Sharif” is a beautiful song. The moment showed a quiet dexterity in using subtle moves to make its point. Subtlety was something all the other musical lacked in what they displayed; subtlety won the night.

What about the revivals, both Play and Musical? Even though it had its flaws, the revival of Angels in America was expected to do well—and it didn’t disappoint, with Andrew Garfield (Best Actor), Nathan Lane (Best Featured Actor), and the production itself taking home wins. Three Tall Women won what it was supposed to win—Best Actress (the incomparable and sublime Glenda Jackson) and Best Featured Actress (twice-in-two-years winner Laurie Metcalf; I guess this almost makes up for the sting of the Roseanne debacle). 

With musical revivals, My Fair Lady and Carousel were supposed to dominate. Then look at what we saw in the telecast. I could have easily fallen asleep during My Fair Lady (except for Norbert Leo Butz doing a wild imitation of Stanley Holloway, the original Alfred). Carousel confused and confounded me. On one hand, it was a great way to showcase the Tony-winning choreography of Justin Peck. Great staging for “Blow High, Blow Low” (normally a throwaway number these days but truly a highlight). On the other hand, that is NOT what Carousel is all about. Five leads were nominated in their respective categories (and I was happy to see Lindsay Mendez take Featured Actress in a Musical honors—great acceptance speech, too), and not one of them appeared in the Carousel selection. What were they thinking? I mean, guys, you had opera diva Renée Friggin’ Fleming, whose rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” put a whole new spin on an old chestnut, but she was nowhere to be seen on that stage. A really bad move indeed. Still, I expect the revival is going to make the tour—without any of the nominated leads, of course. Both My Fair Lady and Carousel came off as respectful of the originals but not overly inventive. (One need only look at the Richard Chamberlin revival of My Fair Lady 20 years ago to see a complete rethinking of the piece.) The Once on This Island moment was startling, colorful, and just brilliant. It was a complete reimagining of the original and ultimately proved why it won the award. (The goat helped in his own way.)

Yes, he deserves to be discussed all by himself. He’s been packing in audiences at the Walter Kerr for months (a hotter ticket than Hamilton). He looks terrific, not even close to his 68 years. (Too bad the same couldn’t be said about Billy Joel, his contemporary, who looked like he’s forgotten how to take care of himself.) For much of the broadcast, I thought diversity was going to be the dominant theme of this year’s show. Then Bruce Springsteen came on and proved it was more than that—it was diversity in the context of the American spirit. During the telecast, some of my fellow ATB bloggers were grumbling about how he talked so much and didn’t sing. But I fear they were mistaken. “My Hometown” is a brilliant monologue with a few bars being sung. It celebrated (and bemoaned) a time of lost innocence, of family bonding, and of an unfulfilled longing. Personally, I loved it and thought it was one of the evening’s highlights. 

Just some random thoughts about the various acceptance speeches, which ranged from quietly dignified to exuberant to deeply moving and stirring. Just some notable moments:
Andrew Garfield (Best Actor in a Play) set a lot of the tone for the evening in his heartfelt plea to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community—and to let them have their cake and eat it too (a none-too-subtle dig at the Supreme Court).

The time for the beard at the Tony telecast is finally gone, and gay men can finally thank their husbands and partners openly. Some of those thanks were emotional (Nathan Lane) and some were actually quite funny (Happy birthday, David!). 

Ari’el Stachel (Best Featured Actor in a Musical) was both inspiring and infinitely sad. Sad because he trained to play any ethnicity but his own; inspiring because he just won a Tony for playing his own ethnic background. 

I would have liked to see the full acceptance speeches—live on air—for all those creative awards presented during the commercials. Someone should remind the Theatre Wing and CBS you can’t have a Broadway show without costumes, sets, orchestration, choreography, and sound design. And not showing David Yazbek finally winning a Tony (after three pervious losses) for his score to The Band’s Visit was just plain criminal.

Why the hell cut off Jack Thorne (Best Play) from giving his acceptance speech for his brilliant work on Harry Potter? Really a bad move all around.

Couldn’t help but be moved by the acceptance speech given by David Cromer (Best Director of a Musical). His reaching-out to those in pain, those who feel isolated and alone, and those who (tacitly implied) might be considering suicide was such a wondrous departure yet so fitting with the mood of the event.

I loved Tony Shalhoub’s (Best Actor in a Musical) heartfelt tribute to his father, who came over from Lebanon as an immigrant. (A lot of grumbling online about this win for so quiet a performance as the one he delivered. Best Actor in a Musical doesn’t always have to be about belting out the score, you know.)

Other Observations
Some other notes I have for the telecast:
Three cheers for Josh Grobin and Sara Bareilles for doing a terrific job as co-hosts. You could see and feel the chemistry between them (they are good friends off-camera). They kept things moving. They were just so cute together and alone. And how the hell did they manage all those costume changes? (The cross-dressing bit was a hoot!) I gave up trying to keep count. Kudos to both of them for pulling off a big win for themselves. Now if only someone would put them together in a show, perhaps a re-imagined Nick and Nora.
A note from the Red-Carpet strut. Seems like no one was a chromophobe at the Tonys.
Shout-out to the current cast of Dear Evan Hansen for its rendition of “For Forever” during the very upsetting In Memoriam segment. 
Happy Daddies Day—no double entendre intended there I’m sure.
I’m kind of saddened because there were only three Best Musical Revival entries. 
Who the hell thought presenting the Lifetime Achievement Awards to Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd-Webber off camera was a good idea? That montage was nothing short of ridiculous. They both deserved their own individual moments to shine. Really a bad idea.
Bobby Lopez—a Frozen 2 is in the works? Do we really need this?
Mamma Mia 2 (as seen in the commercials)? Do we really need this (since the first one was so awful)? I don’t if care Cher is featured. Take away my card.
Judging from what we saw, the glam squad was out in full force last night.
That Moment
And a child shall lead them. Well, 16 children, actually. 
It was already a beautiful moment when Melody Herzfeld, a dedicated theatre teacher at Marjorie Stillman-Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, was awarded with Educator of the Year. Then the Tonys surprised everyone in the room and on television as a drop was raised and there stood 16 drama students who had survived the massacre on February 14, in no small part due to the heroic efforts of Ms. Herzfeld. Then they broke into “Seasons of Love” from Rent. Not a dry eye to be found in the house or at home. (No good using allergies as an excuse!)
This kind of special moment can only happen in the theatre. No movie can duplicate it. No book can adequately portray it. It was the children teaching the adults a lesson—and it was beautiful to behold. 
In Conclusion
Yes, the end is near. Not the end of the Fabulous Invalid. This year’s Tony Awards actually came off better than most I’ve ever seen. The right hosts. An undercurrent of diversity and acceptance throughout. And that moment.
Feel free to disagree (you’re wrong in my opinion, of course), but no one and no show was robbed at the ceremonies. The kiddie shows didn’t win but the adults did. And for some of us, that was a very good thing.