The 2018 Tony Awards have come and gone, honoring the best and brightest in modern theater over the last year. My girlfriend and I watched the whole thing, giddily herding out at the sight of legends such as Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone, Billy Joel, Tina Fey and numerous other luminaries sprinkled in the auditorium.
The big winner of the night was “The Band’s Visit,” and deservedly so. I had the privilege to see this beautifully acted, written, and staged, I saw this musical at its very first preview back in October with my girlfriend, and it was clear from the get-go that it would be a force to be reckoned with. Some have argued that its pointed plotline – about an Egyptian jazz band that is taken by an Israeli family due to a scheduling snafu and wind up finding common ground – would automatically give it an advantage due to modern political implication, but even if we lived in a more harmonious time, “The Band’s Visit” would still be brilliant and worthy of its dominance at last night’s ceremony.
Other big winners of the night include the revival of “Angels in America,” which won Best Revival of a Play as well as Lead and Featured acting awards for Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane (this is Lane’s third Tony), as well as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which won several technical awards. There were some surprises too; the struggling “Once on this Island” beat it out the heavily favored “My Fair Lady” for Best Revival of a Musical, and Laurie Metcalf won her second Tony in a row for Featured Actress in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” beating out “Angels in America”’s Denise Gough among others.
Performance wise, there was plenty of love, as each of the featured musicals were represented by their most lively song selections. In particular, the performance of “Mean Girls”’s “Where You Belong” was a blast, as was “Once on this Island”’s “Mama Will Provide.” I also had to marvel at the technical expertise that went into Spongebob: The Musical’s performance of “I’m Not a Loser.”
There were some truly beautiful, touching moments as well: a special award was given to Marjory Stoneman Douglas music and arts teacher Melody Herzfeld, whose students then performed a touching rendition of “Rent”’s perennial “Seasons of Love.” Bruce Springsteen, still going strong with his self titled one-man show, received an honorary Tony that was augmented by a touching solo performance of “My Hometown,” which was preceded by a lengthy but touching recollection of Bruce’s homelife in Freehold, New Jersey, and his connection to God through his community (unfortunately, time constraints allowed Bruce only one verse of the 1985 classic, ending just as it was getting good).
Speaking of The Boss, he was an indirect part of the evening’s most controversial moment, when his presenter for his performance, Robert De Niro immediately began his intro with a censored “Fuck Trump” followed by a bizarre preening of his muscles. De Niro’s sentiment was certainly shared by many including myself, but the execution has drawn criticism for taking attention away from the evening’s winners.
Perhaps the evening’s biggest success story, however, were the ceremony’s hosts, pop music superstars and recent Broadway leads Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles. While it wouldn’t be hard for anything other than a block of wood to improve upon Kevin Spacey’s wooden, forced, outdated (a Johnny Carson impression in 2016) stint from last year, Bareilles and Groban pullled out all the stops for one of the most entertaining hosting gigs in recent memory. Their opening number was spectacular, and their chemistry throughout the evening was on fire. Whether donning each other’s costumes from their respective Broadway gigs (Groban in a Waitress uniform, Bareilles donning a fake beard for “The Great Comet of 1812”) or showing off their pipes during a tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award winners Andrew Lloyd Weber and Chita Rivera, the hosts were unrelentingly likable from beginning to end, with enthusiasm to spare.
Overall, this year’s Tony Awards were excellent. Unlike most awards show, the Tonys mostly don’t feel biased or self serving. There’s almost none of the back patting elitist smugness you occasionally see at the Oscars or the Grammys; it’s the most straightforward, genuine celebration of the arts of all the major award ceremonies in entertainment. I truly hope next year manages to capture this year’s energy and excitement, because this was the best ceremony in recent memory.