The 76th Annual Tony Awards may have been different from many previous ceremonies, but there were still plenty of moments to fascinate and celebrate. From historic wins to politically powerful statements, Playbill takes a look at the trends that peppered the ceremony. Read the full list of this year's winners here.
Read on for some takeaways from this year's awards presentation.
Non-Binary Tony Winners
Last year’s Tonys saw the long overdue first-ever win for an openly non-binary theatre artist with SIX The Musical co-writer Toby Marlow winning with collaborator Lucy Moss for Best Original Score. In yet another historic evening, this year’s awards took things a step further, giving viewers the first-ever wins for openly non-binary performers, with Alex Newell winning Best Featured Actor in a Musical for their work in Shucked and J. Harrison Ghee winning Best Leading Actor in a Musical for their work in Some Like It Hot. Especially poignant and welcome as the LGBTQIA+ community struggles to fight against a disturbing trend of anti-trans and anti-queer legislation, the wins also shine a spotlight on the Tony Awards’ still-gendered acting categories; both Ghee and Newell won in Actor categories even though they identify as non-binary. Several other theatrical awards—including the Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Awards—have shifted to gender neutral performance categories in recent seasons, and the Tonys have indicated they are looking for ways to address the situation as well. Newell and Ghee’s wins might just fan the flames of that process.
Breaking Records Left and Right
A number of record-breaking wins happened at the 76th Tony Awards. Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt was his fifth piece to win the Best Play statuette, making him the most awarded playwright in Tony history. With his first play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, winning in 1968, that’s 55 years of Tony excellence! Second, Jeanine Tesori picked up her second Tony for Best Score, making her the most awarded female composer in Broadway history. Third, Natasha Katz broke the tie to become the most awarded lighting designer of a musical in Tony history, with her Sweeney Todd win tipping her to eight wins in the category. That’s a whole lot of history, theatre lovers!
Ariana DeBose Needs No Script
In the opening number for the Tony Awards, host Ariana DeBose opened a script filled with empty pages. She shone in the show’s opening number, a long dance performance choreographed by Karla Puno Garcia. But DeBose also showed off her formidable skills in her opening monologue, which was entirely unscripted. “We don’t have a script, you guys. I’m live and unscripted, you’re welcome!," she exclaimed at the top of the evening. DeBose thanked everyone who put the show together, commended the nominees, and gave a passionate entreaty for Broadway theatregoing, saying, “It is the one night of the year we get the opportunity to bring Broadway to all of you at home. One night. Because maybe, just maybe, you will see a performance that inspires you to take a trip to New York City, buy a ticket for you and your friends and your family to go see a Broadway show.” DeBose was so funny, free, and unfiltered that it made us wonder… Can she be unscripted all the time?
The Evening Was Political
This year’s Tony Awards were not afraid to be political. From director Michael Arden decrying homophobia, transphobia, and antisemitism in his speech (which went viral for a part that was bleeped out) to the Tony Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner Jason Zembuch Young signing his Tony Awards speech in ASL, the Tony winners used their brief time on stage to speak to the issues that matter most. And, as previously mentioned, the evening also made history with J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell becoming the first openly nonbinary actors to win Tony Awards—and both used their time to issue messages of comfort to the trans and non-binary youths watching. Despite the messages of progress and diversity in the winners’ speeches, this year’s acting winners were less diverse as a whole. Out of the eight acting categories, six were given to white actors. So while Broadway continues to make history and progress on some fronts, in other areas, there’s still conversation to be had.
First Time Lucky!
A remarkable number of performers won their first Tony Award this year: in fact, Lead Actress in a Musical winner Victoria Clark was the only performer to return to the podium! Brandon Uranowitz, Miriam Silverman, Bonnie Milligan, Sean Hayes, J. Harrison Ghee, Alex Newell, and Jodie Comer are all first-time Tony winners. Of those winners, only Uranowitz and Hayes are previous nominees. New talent is always around the corner!
WGA Members Came Out–And Used Their Platform
While the ongoing WGA strike led to an unscripted ceremony for this year’s Tony Awards, there had been speculation that some of this season’s Tony nominees and other members of the Broadway community might not attend in solidarity with the union. The WGA had asked its Tony-nominated members not to attend, but not a single nominated individual appeared to be missing. Instead, members of the WGA and allies to the union used their moments at the ceremony to shine a spotlight on the strike and advocate for the WGA. There were jokes by host Ariana DeBose and presenters as well as heartfelt comments in speeches by Tom Stoppard, Victoria Clark, Jeanine Tesori, David Lindsay-Abaire, and Miriam Silverman. And, Tesori, Lindsay-Abaire, Jessica Stone, and Lin-Manuel Miranda all sported WGA pins on their outfits as well.
Many were surprised when the list of performances for this year’s ceremony were revealed. We’re used to seeing performances from the shows nominated for Best Musical and Revival of a Musical, but this year we also enjoyed performances from A Beautiful Noise, which received no Tony nominations, and Lea Michele in Funny Girl, a production that did not perform at last year’s awards after not getting a nomination in the revival category. But is that really so surprising? Lots of Tony broadcasts have included performances beyond that season’s nominated musicals. Along with special look-back performances, like last year’s ceremony’s Spring Awakening reunion, musicals left out of the major production categories get to perform not infrequently, like when On Your Feet! performed in 2016. Less frequent, however, is a repeat performance, which was part of this year's broadcast: Michele sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” even though she performed the number in 2010. But hey—no one here is complaining—she delivered it thrillingly, and we know that for many around the world, The Tony Awards are primarily about the performances anyway!