There’s nothing quite like going to the theatre. The seats are ancient and uncomfortable. The rows are narrow, so you need to sit sideways just for legroom alone. The aircon is freezing. You can’t use your phone. There is no live tweeting and tickets are expensive even if they are last minute and yet, for some reason, we still love to go to the theatre.
There is nothing quite like live theatre. To gaze at a stage of performers to be in their presence and bask in their arts. You will laugh a deep belly laugh, tears will sting your eyes and hair will stand up on the back of your neck. You go to a show because the show lets you know you are here, you are in the present, totally in the moment and 100% alive. You engage in a way that staring at a screen does not allow.
And there are the awards. In the US the theatrical equivalent of the annual movie Oscars ceremony in Hollywood is the Tony Awards, held in the Radio City Music Hall in New York, home of Broadway, New York’s central theatre district. The 73rd Annual Tony Awards show was held on Sunday, June 9th with James Corden as the host for the second time. He opened the show with a ten-minute musical number about the joys of live theatre. Corden tried to keep light hearted throughout the night, creating personal dramas in a hope of a ratings boost. Claiming that the show needed some “Cardi-B, Nicki Minaj type beef” he asked actors if they had grievances they wanted to air, with nominees standing up to declare grievances as simple misunderstandings with apologies offered but ending with Laura Linney and Audra McDonald squaring off. All of this was funny but felt a little forced.
The overall winner of the evening was Hadestown, a musical based on a Greek myth, written by folk singer, Anais Mitchell. Like the recent calls for diversity on the screen, the stage is no different. Rachel Chavkin was the only woman director on Broadway this season and took home the prize for best direction of a musical. “I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway on season,” she said as she accepted one of Hadestown’s eight Tony awards. “There’s so many women and artists of colour ready to go. It’s a failure of imagination by a field whose job it is to imagine how the world could be.”
Backstage, she furthered her point, asking, “First and foremost, who is the story and what stories are we telling? I think inclusion is at the forefront. Before we worry about fixing problems elsewhere, there has to be a lot of attention paid to our own backyard.” The first woman to win the Tony for best direction of a musical was Julie Taymor for “The Lion King” in 1998, 51 years after the first Tony awards ceremony. Diane Paulus was the latest woman to win, for “Pippin” in 2013.
The awards ceremony saw a number of firsts, with Actress, Ali Stroker, picking up the award for her role as Ado Annie in a revival of Oklahoma! She is the first person in a wheelchair to win a Tony in the ceremony’s history. In her acceptance speech, Stroker talked about how important it is to see people with disabilities on stage.
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, a limitation, a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are.”
The clear winner for the most moving speech would be 73-year-old actor Andre DeShields, who offered his three rules of life as he accepted his first ever Tony for his role as Hermes in Hadestown.
1. “Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. “
2. “Slowly is the fastest way to where you want to be.”
3. “The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”
Clearly, good advice for all.
The main winners in the ceremony were:
• Best play – The Ferryman, By Jez Butterworth, Directed by Sam Mendes
• Best musical – Hadestown
• Best book of a musical – Tootsie, By Robert Thorn
• Lead actor in a play – Bryan Cranston, Network
• Lead actress in a play – Elaine May, The Waverley Gallery
• Lead actor in a musical – Santino Fontana, Tootsie
• Lead actress in a musical – Stephanie J Block, The Cher Show
While there weren’t many surprises, the 73rd Annual Tony Awards was still a night to remember, filled with calls for greater diversity and performances by James Corden reminding us why we love theatre.