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The 2015 Tony Awards: the 5 things you need to know

Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth hosted, and you could not say they didn't commit to a bit.
Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth hosted, and you could not say they didn't commit to a bit.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The fact that the Tony Awards continue to be broadcast on a major broadcast network feels a bit archaic in 2015.

The show is routinely one of the best awards presentations out there and the most reliable way for Americans of all stripes to keep up with the New York theater scene. Most years feel like a sort of Broadway family reunion, with the stage's biggest stars uniting to present awards and pal around with each other.

But the New York theater scene holds less and less influence over American pop culture with every passing year. Where stage plays used to provide a direct pipeline of talent to film and the early days of television, and where musicals used to dominate the pop charts, it's much harder to see those links nowadays. There's nothing wrong with this, but it has made the Tony Awards feel ever more like a curio.

Still, the Tonys are a fun watch, and at their best they allow for stirring moments that bring the best of Broadway to your TV screen. A show like Fun Home, with a lot on its mind, will get few better chances to sell itself than allowing its youngest star to belt out a song about her character having the first inkling of a thought that she might be attracted to women.

So if you have a chance to track down the Tonys, give them a quick look. But if you didn't get a chance to watch and just want to sound smart should you be drawn into a conversation about them, here are five things worth knowing.

1) The night's big winners were Fun Home and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Each work took home five prizes — including awards for Best Show (musical for Fun Home and play for Curious Incident), Best Direction, and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Alex Sharp for Curious Incident and Michael Cerveris for Fun Home). Fun Home also took home awards for Score (the music and lyrics of a musical) and Book (the characters, storyline, and dialogue between songs). Curious Incident won prizes for its set design and lighting.

Both works are adaptations of books. Curious Incident adapts Mark Haddon's novel about an autistic teenager who tries to discover who killed a neighborhood dog, while Fun Home adapts Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir where her coming of age and coming out as a lesbian is juxtaposed with the life and death of her closeted gay father.

Curious Incident was a heavily expected winner. As a British import, the show had several advantages. (The Tonys, like most American awards shows, are routinely wowed by the Brits.) It's been a substantial success, especially for a play.

Fun Home, however, was seen as a bit of an underdog against the new musical version of George Gershwin's An American in Paris. Both musicals scored 12 nominations, but American had a lighter tone and dealt with less serious subject matter. When things are mostly equal, the Tonys usually go for the show that will play better on a national tour (since many of the voters are affiliated with such tours and make their money from them). But the overall emotional effect of Fun Home was so overwhelming that it ultimately proved undeniable.

The Lincoln Center revival of The King and I and An American in Paris each won four awards. The former scored for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Kelli O'Hara. Skylight won Best Revival of a Play.

2) It was a (somewhat) historic night for women

Fun Home's Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron were the first ever all-woman team to win the award for Best Score, and the show itself was the first show about a lesbian character to ever score a major run on Broadway, much less win a Tony for Best Musical.

Curious Incident's Marianne Elliott became just the sixth female winner of Best Direction of a Play — though one of the previous winners was Elliott herself, for her work on War Horse. (She shared that award with Tom Morris.) Women also won four of the night's six design prizes.

Also, though this is much less substantive in nature, women were largely responsible for the night's best speeches, especially those of Leading Actress in a Play Helen Mirren, O'Hara, and Featured Actress in a Musical Ruthie Ann Miles.

3) Kelli O'Hara finally won — and Helen Mirren is almost to an EGOT for playing one woman

If you really want to sound like you knew what the Tonys were all about, then you'll talk with your theater-minded pals about O'Hara finally — finally — breaking her long winless streak.

One of the best stage performers of her generation, O'Hara has been nominated for five previous Tonys and lost all of them, including a nomination for the 2008 South Pacific revival that should have been a shoo-in. Much of the same team behind that revival reunited for The King and I, another musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the most significant figures in American musical theater.

O'Hara is a wonderfully naturalistic and sincere performer in a medium that sometimes rewards over-the-top theatrics. Her chief competition was Kristin Chenoweth for On the Twentieth Century, and the two performers (both brilliant) could not be more night and day in their approaches to material. Chenoweth is bubble and fizz; O'Hara is heart and soul. O'Hara's win finally ends a Tony speculation period somewhat akin to that time when Kate Winslet was never winning Oscars.

Meanwhile, Mirren won her Tony for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience, written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry. Morgan actually wrote the script that propelled Mirren to her Oscar for The Queen, in which she played ... Queen Elizabeth II.

Now, Mirren already had three legs of the EGOT — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony — before she won her third Tony for The Audience. (Her Emmy, amusingly enough, was for playing Queen Elizabeth I, rather than II.) But if she could somehow win another Emmy for playing Queen Elizabeth II, she would have won EGOT's three acting prizes all for playing the same real woman, which would be unprecedented.

4) The broadcast gave over way too much of its time to unnominated musicals

Finding Neverland — the musical version of the 2004 Johnny Depp film about the creation of Peter Pan — received no nominations, despite a heavy push from film mogul Harvey Weinstein. And yet there the show was, with its biggest stars, Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer (as Captain Hook!), belting away at a song from the production in the awards' final hour.

It looked awful, like the sort of thing that would be interrupted by a "three months earlier" title card before flashing back to see how things had gotten so catastrophic so quickly. But it was in the broadcast.

The biggest thing the Tonys have going for them are the musical numbers, which aren't going to pop up in too many other places on TV. So it makes sense for the awards to want to cram more and more of them into the show's running time. But where the performances used to be limited to the nominees for Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, they've now spread to anything else the Tonys can think of, which is how the team behind Fun Home got rushed off the stage during its acceptance speech in honor of a tribute to Jersey Boys.

5) The hosts were annoying

Chenoweth and Alan Cumming hosted the show, and in true Tony fashion, they spent almost the entire time singing and dancing, and even popping up in the middle of other musical numbers here and there. The Tonys usually have pretty good hosts, and Chenoweth and Cumming certainly weren't disastrous. But their constant presence bordered on irritating, and much of their shtick wore thin very quickly.

Is it any wonder that the biggest laughs of the night were reserved for a decidedly atypical presentation by Larry David and Jason Alexander in advance of the night's final award?

The Tonys could do with a bit more off-the-wall comedy. Maybe Larry David should host next year.