Award-shows hosts like to say the ceremonies they emcee aren’t really about who wins and who takes home the trophy — it’s all about celebrating the craft.
But none those hosts have kicked f a program with a song devoted to the “loser inside you,” as Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles did in their opening performance at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards on Sunday (June 10). “This is for the people who lose, ‘cause most us have been in your shoes,” the duo sang in a comedic number that that poked fun at the “90 percent us who] leave empty-handed” before revealing a sweeter side: “These shows help us open our hearts and heal in a word that is scary,” the pair continued, bringing out cast members from the evening’s nominated productions in what was, to borrow the plot pivotal scene from the Mean Girls musical, a preemptive tiara-pieces-for-everyone moment.
It was a fitting opening for the show, not just because most did actually go home empty-handed thanks to The Band’s Visit's domination in many the major categories, but also because many winners and presenters, in lieu endless thank-yous and shop talk, used their platforms to reference, if not outright address, current events and issues happening outside New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall.
In one the evening’s biggest moments, the Tonys celebrated the resilience the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting earlier this year. First, drama teacher Melody Herzfeld, who protected students in her fice during the attack, accepted an award for excellence in theater education before the broadcast and received an on-camera shoutout. Then Matthew Morrison introduced the students the drama department, who performed a rendition “Seasons Love” from Rent that, judging by audience cutaway shots, had most in the room in tears.
Many winners used their acceptance speeches to reference the political climate. Andrew Garfield, accepting the award for lead actor in a play for his role in Angels in America, dedicated his win to the LGBTQ community “at a moment in time when maybe the most important thing we remember right now is the sanctity the human spirit.” His co-star Nathan Lane, winning for best featured actor in a play, said the Angels in America revival — which later won best revival a play — “is speaking to us as powerfully as ever in the midst such political insanity.” (While introducing Bruce Springsteen later in the evening, Robert DeNiro tried to put it more succinctly — “Fuck Trump” — but was no match for CBS censors.)
Others used their time at the microphone to highlight a range serious topics, from mental-health support to the importance diversity and inclusion in theater and beyond. In light the recent deaths Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, David Cromer, accepting win for best direction a musical for The Band’s Visit, addressed those currently struggling with depression: “If you are suffering, please call out, and for those us who are fortunate not to be suffering so deeply, let's make sure that we answer them.”
Lindsay Mendez, winning for best performance by a featured actress in a musical for Carousel, spoke about the pressure she faced to change her name to Matthews when she began her career and thanked the the room for embracing her anyway when she refused. Later in the evening, Ari’el Stachel, whose Broadway debut in The Band’s Visit won him the award featured actor in a musical, expressed gratitude for being part a production that celebrated Middle Eastern culture before turning to his parents in the audience and explaining how he used to feel embarrassed to bring them to events when he was younger, worried that their presence would call negative attention to his heritage.
The show wasn’t without moments levity, thanks to Groban’s and Bareilles’ commendable hosting duties and a number eye-catching performances from the companies Mean Girls and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, among others. Between an elaborate tap-dancing number from the SpongeBob Squarepants musical’s Squidward (Gavin Lee) and an appearance from Sven the reindeer during a Frozen medley, there were also plenty critter characters getting a chance to shine — not to mention an actual goat that came out during a performance from the cast Once on This Island, which won best musical revival that evening.
Throughout the night, viewers were encouraged to share pictures their childhood theater productions on social media with the hashtag #TonyDreaming, while presenters’ own photos flashed on stage throughout the evening — a feature that lent an endearing “just happy to be here” mood to the entire evening. The inclusivity the theater community came up repeatedly, and it got a particular thank-you from one Broadway’s newest but most esteemed members: Bruce Springsteen, who received a special award for his Springsteen on Broadway show and, later in the broadcast, performed a combo spoken-word piece about his childhood and his song “My Hometown.”
The final acceptance speech the night — Orin Wolf, accepting the award for best musical for The Band’s Visit — touched on the two things the evening's honorees devoted the most airtime to: the warm, welcoming, and tight-knit nature the world Broadway, and the chaos everything happening outside theater doors. “Our show fers a message unity in a world that more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences,” Wolf said. “In the end, we are more alike than different, and I’m so proud to be a part a community that supports that message.”