This year, I joined the approximately six million theatre fans in what I think was a delightful broadcast of the 72nd Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre. Hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, it was a celebration for theatre nerds everywhere, executed with class. Fun lyrics. Playful pokes. No debasing jokes with unwilling, and unwitting, audience participants. Broadway let Broadway speak for itself.
Which is precisely why I thought this show shined.
Broadway delivered a real-time, real-life message about embracing inclusion, without needing any extraordinary measures. They made the political personal, warm, and simply human.
Diversity was displayed everywhere, beginning way before Andrew Garfield’s exceptional thank-you speech. Beginning, indeed, outside on the red carpet where David Zinn, nominated for two Tony Awards, arrived wearing a stark black T-shirt with white lettering. It read “Love is at the root of our resistance.” And yes, he finished off his look with a pink heart and some serious neck accessorizing.
And no, we’re still not up to the Andrew Garfield moment. We’re at the opening Bareilles-Groban number. “This is for the people who lose/Both of us have been in your shoes”—a good natured smile for those who wouldn’t be crowned that evening.
Now, we’re with the first winner, Andrew Garfield, for his role in Angels in America. Accepting the award, Andrew said, “At a moment in time, where maybe the most important thing we remember right now is the sanctity of the human spirit, it is the profound privilege of my life to play Prior Walter in Angels in America, because he represents the purest spirit of humanity and especially that of the LGBTQ community. It is a spirit that says ‘no’ to oppression;…‘no’ to bigotry, ‘no’ to shame, ‘no’ to exclusion. It is a spirit that says we are all made perfectly and we all belong. So, I dedicate this award to the countless LGBTQ people who have fought and died for the right to live and love as we are created to.… We are all sacred and we all belong, so let’s just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked.”
Later, Lindsay Mendez, winning for her portrayal of a New England girl in Carousel said, “When I moved to New York, I was told to change my last name from Mendez to Matthews, or I wouldn’t work. I’m so proud to be part of a community that celebrates diversity and individuality. Be your true self and the world will take note.” A theatre geek aside: Audra McDonald won her first Tony for that same role.
When Ari’el Stachel won for his role in The Band’s Visit, he began with, “Both my parents are here tonight. I have avoided so many events with them because for so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person. And after 9/11 it was very, very difficult for me and so I concealed and I missed so many special events with them.… I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races and we are doing that. And not only that but we’re getting messages from kids all over the Middle East thanking us and telling us how transformative our representation is for them.”
He concluded with, “I want any kid that’s watching to know that your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose.”
Honorees ran the gamut from Britain’s Andrew Lloyd Webber to American born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, better known to us theatre peeps as Chita Rivera. In an emotional moment, Melody Herzfeld was presented with the 2018 Excellence in Theatre Education Award for her heroism during the Parkland school shooting. Everyone stood, visibly moved, as she was serenaded by her own Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students singing “Seasons of Love,” from Rent.
Were there less subtle moments? Absolutely. Robert DeNiro’s bleeped shout-out—good taste or bad timing? Depends on where you sit. Forcing the Tony audience to sing happy birthday to your partner? Again, depends. It was Cursed Child director, John Tiffany, asking the whole audience to sing—to his boyfriend.
Will people quibble there wasn’t enough of this or that? Sure. For me, I’m still not sure how you honor Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber and don’t give them five minutes of stage time, but this isn’t that article.
This article is about Tony Shalhoub, winning best leading actor in a musical (The Band’s Visit) and using his speech to talk about immigration—his father’s—from Lebanon in 1920.
“He was then just a boy of eight. Disembarked on Ellis Island, just a few short miles from this very spot.… So tonight I celebrate him and all of those whose family journeyed before him and with him and after him. And I feel that this extremely generous gesture of yours honors not only their aspirations, their courage, their resourcefulness and their creativity, and their selflessness.…”
And then, because when the political is personal, and the personal is filled with love and warmth, then you can impart a message for everyone to hear.
“…May we, their descendants, never lose sight of what they taught us.” ▼
Stefani Deoul is the author of the YA mystery novel On a LARP from Bywater Books. Contact Stefani.