A certain powerhouse diva once belted out “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The song was written by Irving Berlin for Annie Get Your Gun, a musical that racked up an impressive number of Tony Awards over 50-plus years and several Broadway runs.
On Sunday night, the crowd at Radio City Music Hall—along with millions of people watching the 67th Annual Tony Awards online and from home—would have agreed wholeheartedly. With so much extraordinary singing and dancing and acting, the level of joy was downright show-stopping.
And if there was an additional good reason to celebrate live theater at the Tonys this year, it was because—to quote another classic musical (South Pacific)—“There Is Nothing Like a Dame.
In category after category, women walked away with top honors (all of whom, I’m happy to report, were predicted here at WVFC). Over and over, women winners graciously accepted their well-deserved honors and then stunned us with the grace, humor, and intelligence of their acceptance speeches.
Back-to-back Best Direction awards—for Musical and for Play—went to the only woman nominated in each category. Diane Paulus, recognized for her luminous revival of Pippin, quoted Harvard President Drew Faust, “Creativity is a form of knowledge,” before lovingly dedicating her award to her family. Pam MacKinnon, who won for her revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, joked that “Vegas got this one wrong.” Like many of the evening’s winners, she alluded to the teamwork that results in great live theater: “I have been so fortunate, so fortunate, to work with these people whose emotional integrity [and] intelligence challenged me and opened me.”
Cyndi Lauper’s speech, as she became the first solo woman to receive Best Original Score, was a little less formal. She began with some personal history: “Um, all right. I got to thank my mom for sharing all that wonderful music. I wrecked all her Broadway musicals when I was a kid, the cast albums. That’s how I learned how to sing.” And she joked about getting involved in what proved to be the season’s Best Musical winner, Kinky Boots: “I want to thank Harvey Fierstein for calling me up. I’m so glad I was done with the dishes.”
Cyndi Lauper’s acceptance speech, 67th Annual Tony Awards
Lauper was later tapped to perform her hit “True Colors” as the American Theatre Wing honored members of the community who died in the past year. It was a heartfelt, moving tribute, particularly touching as it simultaneously said good-bye to so many while welcoming a new generation of creators, including Lauper herself.
The four women who took home the Best Actress categories (and all of the remarkable women they beat) were a powerful testament to the current season’s strong female roles. Judith Light received a Tony early in the evening for her work in The Assembled Parties. Light may be better known to millions as the career woman–single mom (with the hot male maid) from the ’80s–’90s sitcom Who’s the Boss? But she made it very clear that live theater is her home and the theater community her family. Andrea Martin, recognized for her role as Pippin’s grandmother with beaucoup joie de vivre, joked about her age, noting that the type on her acceptance notes was too small to read and that she was fortunate to get to perform aerial feats with such a hunk (Yannick Thomas) in the show (by all means, see it if you haven’t). Martin’s Pippin costar Patina Miller, who won Best Leading Actress in a Musical, was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as she graciously acknowledged her fellow nominees. “To the women in my category, you guys are inspiring, and I just am so in awe of all of you.
Andrea Martin acceptance speech, 67th Annual Tony Awards
The most spiritual speech of the evening (and everyone’s sentimental favorite) was Cicely Tyson’s as she was recognized for her leading role in The Trip to Bountiful. “Thou are the potter, I’m only the clay. When I think of the moment where I stand before (you), this moment, I cannot help but remember all of the thumbprints that have touched this being during the course of her career.” Like many winners, Tyson was interrupted by the not-so-subtle orchestra as her allotted 75 seconds were up. She seamlessly wove it into her closing remarks: “Please wrap it up, it says. Well that’s exactly what you did with me. You wrapped me up in your arms after 30 years. Now I can go home with a Tony. God bless you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Cicely Tyson’s acceptance speech, 67th Annual Tony Awards
The girl power didn’t stop there, either. Throughout the Awards telecast, numbers were presented from the various nominated musicals. As a motley crew of little orphans with big voices took the stage, I thought about leaving to refresh my white wine. So glad I didn’t! I had forgotten that Jane Lynch recently joined the cast of Annie (a show I could happily die never seeing again). She played Miss Hannigan like a Prohibition-era Sue Sylvester, and brought down the house.
In addition to the wonderful women I’ve already mentioned, the evening’s top honors went to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for Best Play, Kinky Boots for Best Musical, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Pippin for Best Revivals of a Play and a Musical, respectively.
It was really quite awesome to see so many talented women (and, interestingly enough, so many talented men dressed up as talented women) shining onstage. Also, there were so many young people. Considering Annie’s “little girls, little girls” and Matilda’s “revolting children,” the stage was littered with them. Apparently, Broadway has enough talent to keep us tapping our toes for many years to come.
The immensely likable (and scarily talented) host Neil Patrick Harris kept things moving, presenting a riotous original opening number by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tony winner for 2008’s In the Heights). There was a funny self-deprecating act about Broadway stars who turn to TV for better fame (and a bigger paycheck). Even things that fell flat (Mike Tyson jokes, a sorry sketch with Oliver Platt and Liam Neeson as the comedy and tragedy masks) were blessedly brief. To close the show, Harris was joined by multi-Tony-winner Audra McDonald to perform a mash-up of “Empire State of Mind” and a rap recounting the evening’s winners, written in real-time by Miranda. It was a virtuosic and very grand finale.
My only issue (and it’s a minor one) was that the show felt a little like a three-hour “I Love NY” ad. I get it, really. I get it. “If you like this show, come to New York and see Broadway theater.” Yes, the shows need audiences. But a little more showing and a little less telling would have been welcome. Other than that, the entire evening was about as magical as live theater can be.