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2017 Tony Awards: 4 winners and 3 losers

Bette Midler’s divahood was delightfully on display, while host Kevin Spacey seemed to be stuck in the early ‘90s.

2017 Tony Awards - Show
“Shut that crap off.”
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The 71st Annual Tony Awards was a relatively quiet affair compared to last year’s historic event, but the show still had the power, as newly minted Tony winner Bette Midler put it, “to lift your spirits in these terrible terrible times.” Midler was talking about her award-winning revival production of Hello, Dolly, but it’s an apt description of the Tonys at their best.

Dear Evan Hansen stole the spotlight with its win for Best Musical and a slew of other awards, while Hello, Dolly walked away with laurels for Best Revival of a Musical, in addition to Midler’s trophy for Best Actress in a Musical. But as always on awards night, there are official winners and there are losers — and then unofficial winners and losers. Here are seven highlights from the latter for the 2017 Tonys.

Winner: Would-be divas everywhere who will not go quietly offstage found their beacon in Bette Midler

“Shut that crap off,” said Hello, Dolly’s Bette Midler breezily, plowing right through the playoff music during her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Musical, her first Tony win. Without missing a beat, Midler thanked a litany of creatives, friends, and teachers, and then sailed into a laudatory description of the musical itself, outlasting the attempt to play her off. Midler’s speech lasted 4 minutes and 14 seconds; then she went offstage and continued to thank people, like the ultimate diva.

Plus, Midler probably saved us an embarrassingly self-laudatory House of Cards skit from Kevin Spacey, which appeared to be truncated at the end of the night. Thanks, Bette. We owe you all the Tonys for that one.

Loser: Host Kevin Spacey tried to vault into Tonys history but traveled back in time instead

After Tina Fey turned down the invitation to host this year’s ceremonies, the Tonys reportedly sought a staid host who would neither sing nor dance. Instead they wound up with Spacey, who, despite being a longtime stage veteran, is primarily known as a star of film and TV dramas. He brought his best singing game to the Tonys’ opening number, turning in a tongue-in-cheek medley about his desperation to host. Alas, the song went on too long and was a little too inside baseball to please critics, who were dissing the number even before the ceremony was over.

Viewers were considerably more positive about Spacey’s overall performance. But a couple of inexplicable impressions Spacey did of Johnny Carson and Bill Clinton seemed outdated and out-of-touch, and a bit that saw him team up with his Usual Suspects co-star Chazz Palminteri just increased the feel of surreal time regression.

To his credit, though, it was Spacey who earned the best laugh of the evening when he quipped late in the ceremony that “I wanna get the hell out of here before Bette Midler thanks anyone else.”

Winner: Ben Platt proved why he's Broadway’s star of the moment

Throughout the night, Platt, the wide-eyed 23-year-old star of Dear Evan Hansen, continually charmed the Tonys viewership, whether he was slaying the show’s opening number, “Waving Through a Window,” or interacting with presenters from his seat in the audience.

The actor fully embodies the role of Evan Hansen’s title character, a socially anxious teenage wallflower who learns to embrace his individuality and find his voice. On Sunday night, he acted his heart out while showing off vocal chords apparently made of molten steel. The audience couldn’t get enough, but then it’s hard to overstate how much Platt’s breakout performance as Evan Hansen has impacted Broadway audiences.

Platt’s manic, excited speech for his entirely predictable win for Best Actor in a Musical just sealed the deal. “Don’t waste any time trying to be anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful,” he said. Evan Hansen couldn’t have said it better himself. Plus, actors who bring their parents to the ceremony, as Platt did, always win.

Loser: politics

After a film awards season that was rife with charged anti-Trump speeches, the Tonys were downright balmy in terms of political temperature. Except for a few one-off mentions here and there, politics barely raised its head during the ceremony.

Kevin Kline, who won for Best Actor in a Play, briefly mentioned the ever-embattled National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, while Rebecca Taichman, who won Best Director of a Play for Indecent, thanked her parents “who taught me to follow social justice,” an increasingly charged description of left-wing politics. In the Tonys press room, Taichman spoke more forcefully on the subject of the importance of the NEA and NEH, as did Bette Midler. But apart from these minor and backstage mentions, political issues were largely absent from the evening.

More noticeable was the utter lack of engagement with the theater controversy of the weekend — a production of Julius Caesar at the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park program. After right-wing news outlets and reviews discussed the presentation as Trumpian, sponsors like Delta and Bank of America began to pull funding from the program. (It’s worth noting that a similar 2012 production in which Caesar was an Obama-like figure drew raves from conservatives.)

But critics hoping for the Tonys to address this controversy — in the same vein as the awards memorably did last year when the ceremony aired the same day as the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting — were disappointed. The evening’s most pointed political comment was a soft-shoe from presenter Stephen Colbert, who, without naming Trump directly, spoke of a surprising new production opening out of town. “This DC production’s supposed to have a four-year run, but reviews have not been kind,” Colbert quipped. “Could close early, we don’t know.”

Winner: The millennial songwriting team of Pasek and Paul continued their zeitgeisty creative streak

An ecstatic Benj Pasek and Justin Paul made their mark on the Tonys for Best Score for a Musical after nabbing both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award earlier this year for contributing the lyrics to La La Land’s “City of Stars.” The two theater kids started their collaboration while still in college, producing a string of cult favorites like 2012’s Dogfight. Their score for Dear Evan Hansen is already beloved. (The duo’s Evan Hansen collaborator, Steven Levenson, also took home a Tony, for Best Book of a Musical.)

“We hoped to write a show where people who were looking for a home would find one,” Paul gushed, but it was clear that for the two of them, winning the Tony was their ultimate homecoming.

Loser: David Hyde Pierce got stuck with the evening’s most inexplicable number

2017 Tony Awards - Show
This expression speaks for all of us.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Despite being one of the most nominated productions of the evening, the critically acclaimed revival of Hello, Dolly trotted out its stodgiest look for the Tonys — a mustachio’d David Hyde Pierce looking like a confederate colonel and singing one of the musical’s weakest numbers, “Penny in my Pocket.”

The song was cut from the original Broadway production but still appears in the revival, and while Pierce has drawn raves for his performance, the Tonys setting did him no favors. In front of a young audience clamoring for Platt’s Evan Hansen, Pierce, just like Spacey, seemed hopelessly out of place. Why couldn’t Dolly have just played to expectations and put on its Sunday clothes?

Winner: Rachel Bloom convinced us she should host all the awards shows

“Patti LuPone!” Rachel Bloom, apparently forgetting that Patti LuPone has guest-starred on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Rachel Bloom, the star of The CW’s musical theater-infused Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, was having an absolute blast as the Tonys’ backstage correspondent. This time she didn’t charm us with her usual song stylings, but with her endless glee — and series of progressively tinier hats — as she greeted a string of stage stars, all of whom she seemed to be as awed by and excited to interact with as any diehard musical fan would.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dogfight was a Tony-nominated musical; it was exclusively an off-Broadway show. The article also incorrectly stated Hello, Dolly had the most nominations of the evening; it had 10. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 had 12.