The Tonys, Broadway’s annual star-studded awards gala, were back in full swing this year despite a rather lackluster theater season that saw just four musicals vying for the main prize. In a year dominated by plays — Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, along with a major revival of Angels in America — co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles kept things mostly bland and breezy at the awards ceremony.
Still, there was a suitable amount of spectacle: a Frozen reindeer! The Angel herself! and a goat whose attempts to befriend Nathan Lane resulted in the night’s biggest burn. Actually, make that the second-biggest burn: That honor went to the always-fabulous Rachel Bloom, the evening’s backstage host, for her rebuttal to longtime Tonys cohost Neil Patrick Harris, who intimated on Twitter that he had no idea who she was — despite having met her several times. Yikes!
Thankfully, few of the evening’s winners and losers served up that level of red-hot drama. Here are our picks for the moments and memories that really won (and lost) tonight’s ceremony.
Winner: the little show that could, The Band’s Visit
In a season where all of the four nominees for Best Musical were based on previous movies, David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’s underdog story about Arabs and Israelis forging friendships through the power of music didn’t have much buzz heading into the awards. Yet it steamrolled past much heavier hitters like Mean Girls and the Spongebob musical to win 10 of its 11 nominations, including Best Score, Best Musical, and three acting awards.
Though, like all the other musicals, it was also based on a preexisting movie or series — an acclaimed 2007 Israeli film of the same name — it was the only nominated musical not based on a mainstream US franchise. The Tony voters reminded the world that while Broadway may be currently overrun with Disney productions and other showy adaptations, it’s still in love with the outsiders, with musicals about ideas, and with musicals that celebrate the kind of lively, diverse spirit that makes up New York itself. In these categories, there was no question that lovely little Band’s Visit delivered over its competitors.
Loser: the brief trend of musicals that are not based on movies flourishing at the Tonys
Broadway observers love to proclaim that true Broadway is dead or in its death throes, and ever since The Lion King began its long reign, one of the most oft-cited symptoms of that death was the scarcity of hit musicals that weren’t based on existing movies. (Think Hairspray, Kinky Boots, and so forth.)
But then: a light at the end of the tunnel! For the past few years, the winners of the Best Musical award have been original musicals! Fun Home, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen were here to save us all from the glut of big-budget movie musical adaptations, from soulless cash grabs and creatively empty rehashes of someone else’s story.
But in 2018, every single nominee for Best Musical was based on a movie, and three of them were major franchise movies. That those three big franchises were more or less universally shutout, and that the night’s big winner was the one show based on a little-known movie, speaks volumes as to the theater community’s general distaste for that trend.
Winner: Andrew Garfield for beating Mark Rylance
Andrew Garfield was the heavy favorite to take this award for his campy and deeply felt performance as Prior in Angels in America. So his win wasn’t a surprise — but it was notable. Because Garfield was going up against Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance, who has only lost once before when he was nominated, and that was to himself. (Rylance was nominated in the same year for both Twelfth Night and Richard III; Twelfth Night beat Richard.)
Garfield’s win isn’t just confirmation that Angels in America, and Garfield’s performance therein, is the biggest theatrical event of the year. It’s confirmation that Angels and Garfield are big enough to take down an institution.
Loser: Tina Fey’s EGOT chances
Tina Fey is drowning in Emmys (she’s got nine), and when she wants a Grammy she just has to record a comedy album, but if she ever wants to land an EGOT, she’ll need to pick up both an Oscar and a Tony award. The Mean Girls musical was supposed to be her chance to lay the groundwork for the latter — but while it racked up 12 nominations, on Tonys night itself, the show didn’t pick up a single award.
If Fey wants to make another stab at a Tony, may we suggest 30 Rock: The Musical?
Winner: the Angel from Angels in America
The titular angel from Tony Kushner’s landmark play was only onstage for a moment, but its shadowy, shocking puppeteered presence was just as impressive on camera as it is onstage. In a culture focused on the glitz of musicals, the Tonys rarely get a chance to laud the drama of plays, so this was a tiny but important moment of spectacle.
Even though the searing poetry of Kushner’s story about identity, loss, and American apocalypse wasn’t on display, its most mesmerizing element was. And for audiences unable to see the limited run of Angels for themselves, well, a little was better than nothing.
Winner: Rachel Bloom and her pal Steve
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star and co-showrunner Rachel Bloom is a true theater kid made good, and for the past couple of years she’s been living her best life as an official backstage Tonys correspondent, never attempting to hide her fangirlish glee at getting to meet her faves. This year, she took it up a notch in a T-shirt that showed Stephen Sondheim smoking a joint (CBS made her turn it around when she was on camera), and a series of ever more whimsical hats.
And she kept busy when she was off camera, too. She got her revenge on some old enemies...
…and she reintroduced herself to an old friend.
Loser: the goat who suffered Nathan Lane’s disapproval
Best revival of a musical nominee Once On This Island had one of the most joyous performances of the evening. Less happy? The baby goat who wandered the aisles only to be roundly rejected by Nathan Lane.
The goat appears onstage on Once On This Island as a representative of village life, and for the Tonys, it took to the aisles as a gesture towards the immersive theater-in-the-round staging Once enjoys in its home theater. But Lane, cheerfully watching the rest of cast of Once On This Island dance their faces off onstage, was in no mood to frolic with a goat. When the goat’s minder offered Lane its adorable little paw, he received only a shake of the head and a firm, “No, thank you.”
Hopefully the baby goat got a chance to frolic around the Tony Once took home later that night for best revival of a musical instead. It’s the best consolation there is for being rejected by Nathan Lane.