Tony Awards9 Memorable Moments From the 74th Annual Tony Awards CelebrationThe best performances, speeches, and surprises from an unusual ceremony.
Dan Meyer, Logan Culwell-Block
September 27, 2021
After a long wait, the theatre community finally came together to celebrate the best of the 2019–2020 season. As stages went dark March 12, the industry changed forever—and that was acknowledged many times throughout the evening—but the 74th annual Tony Awards wasn’t without its typical fanfare.
The show took place in a Broadway house for the first time in 22 years (and saw Chita Rivera return after 64 years to the home where she created the role of Anita in West Side Story), and appropriately, Broadway magic was abound.
Below, look back at some of the best performances, speeches, surprises, and more special moments from the 74th annual Tony Awards. The full, 2-part ceremony is available to stream on Paramount+.
1. That Midway Opening Number: Broadway’s Back Tonight! Once in the CBS-broadcast portion of the evening, host and Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr. kicked things off with “Broadway’s Back Tonight,” an opening number written by Hairspray songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman with comedian and soon-to-be Broadway book writer Amber Ruffin. Going from outside, down the aisles, and then to the stage of the Winter Garden, Odom Jr. and an ensemble of dancers celebrated Broadway’s return with nods to Waitress, The Lion King, and Wicked. We even got cameos from ensemblist favorites Angie Schworer and Rachelle Rak, the latter of which got to transform from a house-bound TV watcher to a Broadway usherette with her trademark apple bite as a pièce de résistance.
2. Live Theatre, Folks The fact that the Tony Awards happened at all is a miracle of miracles. With the return to live performance, there were plenty of moments to remind us why we love it. Whether it was Audra McDonald reading her own name off the teleprompter (confusing herself and the audience), André De Shields' battle between “Hammerstein” and "Hammersteen," or Leslie Odom, Jr. calling out Tituss Burgess' late entry, theatre lovers had plenty to remind themselves of the magic of doing it live.
3. Calls for Equity and Inclusion Awards host Audra McDonald said theatre is “ready to commit” to diversity in order to make theatre “more equitable for all.” The theme continued throughout the evening with many calling out the need for accessibility in the industry. Among the many moments were Britton Smith’s emotional speech accepting a Special Tony Award on behalf of Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Sonya Tayeh acknowledging the lack of female winners in the Best Choreography category, and Kenny Leon honoring Breonna Taylor and George Floyd with the repetition of their names.
4. Daniel J. Watts’ Spoken Word Hey, Mr. Producer: Give Daniel J. Watts his own solo show, please. The Tony nominee’s performance of own original work with tap dancing and rhythmic, vocal gymnastics was everything we want Broadway to welcome in the future: genre-bending vocals, a variety of dance styles, and calls for the industry to do better. It even ended with a nod to “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime.
5. Broadway Looks Back Fondly Looking beyond material from nominated productions, this year’s broadcast featured performances of beloved songs from Broadway’s past made newly poignant after a year-and-a-half of dark stages. Oklahoma! Tony winner Ali Stroker took on “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line, while soon-to-be Waitress star Jennifer Nettles offered a fresh arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s titular tune “Anyone Can Whistle” (as heard on her recent Broadway album). Particularly in an odd year with no eligible musical revivals, these performances helped make sure that Broadway’s rich past was celebrated alongside its present and future.
6. Reunited and It Feels So Good The Winter Garden was home to several major Broadway reunions at this year’s Tony Awards. The ceremony opened with a performance of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” featuring original Hairspray cast members Marissa Jaret Winokur, Matthew Morrison, Kerry Butler, Chester Gregory, and Darlene Love. We also got Dreamgirls Tony winner Jennifer Holliday singing the song that made her forever a Broadway legend: “And I Am Telling You.” It was a performance that brought the house down so hard that multiple presenters and Tony winners called it out on stage afterwards. Holliday was introduced by her Dreamgirls co-star—and soon-to-be Broadway producer—Sheryl Lee Ralph, who shared anecdotes about the original production and its continued poignancy. It turned out this was only the beginning of a number of performance highlights between the two broadcasts...
7. Duets to Remember ...as the Broadway’s Back! portion of the evening included a string of landmark Broadway reunion duets, with Wicked’s original witches Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel dressed in their trademark pink and black for an emotional performance of “For Good,” Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal rocking out to “What You Own” from Jonathan Larson’s Rent, and a visibly emotional Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell revisiting their stirring interpretation of Ragtime’s “Wheels of a Dream.” As it turns out, Ragtime had a great night at the 74th Annual Tony Awards!
8. Giving Our Regards to Those Who've Passed After an introduction from Bernadette Peters, an interpretive dance of “Give My Regards to Broadway” could have veered far off course, but Brian Stokes Mitchell’s surprise appearance to sing “Impossible Dream” from his Tony-winning performance in Man of La Mancha was an inspired choice. Then, Kelli O’Hara and Norm Lewis dueted on “Somewhere” from West Side Story, ensuring everyone at home wept along with the in-person audience as we remember those we've lost.
9. Musicians Get Into the Spotlight What would Broadway be without music? Often unseen and stuck in the orchestra pit, Broadway musicians got the spotlight several times during this year’s awards. Pit musicians got shout-outs in acceptance speeches from Tina Tony winner Adrienne Warren and Tony-winning Moulin Rouge! orchestrator Katie Kresek. In addition, late longtime Tony Awards conductor Elliot Lawrence received special recognition from Lin-Manuel Miranda before presenting this year’s Best Original Score Tony Award.
Check Out Photos Inside the 74th Annual Tony Awards Presentation