NEW YORK (AP) — “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a jukebox adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s hyperactive 2001 movie, took an insurmountable lead at the Tony Awards, earning nine trophies with three top prizes — including best new musical — still up in the air.
The pandemic-delayed telecast kicked off with an energetic performance of “You Can’t Stop The Beat” from original Broadway cast members of “Hairspray!” Jennifer Holliday also took the stage to deliver an unforgettable rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from the musical “Dreamgirls.”
The singers performed for a masked and appreciative audience at a packed Winter Garden Theatre. Host Audra McDonald got a standing ovation when she took the stage. “You can’t stop the beat. The heart of New York City!” she said.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” won for scenic design, costume, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and a featured acting Tony for Broadway favorite Danny Burstein. Sonya Tayeh won for choreography on her Broadway debut, and Alex Timbers won the trophy for best direction of a musical.
In a surprise to no one, Aaron Tveit won the award for best leading actor in a musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” That’s because he was the only person nominated in the category. He thanked a long list of people, including his parents, brother, agents, manager and the cast and crew. “We are so privileged to get to do this,” he said, tearing up. “Because what we do changes peoples’ lives.”
Burstein, who won for featured actor in a musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” thanked the Broadway community for supporting him after the death last year of his wife, Rebecca Luker. David Alan Grier won featured actor in a play for his role in “A Soldier’s Play.” “To my other nominees: Tough banana, I won,” he said.
Adrienne Warren won the Tony for best leading actress in a musical for her electric turn as Tina Turner in “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.” Warren was considered the front-runner for the award thanks to becoming a one-woman fireball of energy and exhilaration. She dedicated the win to three family members she lost while playing Turner — and thanked Turner herself.
Lois Smith won her first Tony for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play for “The Inheritance.” And Lauren Patten edged out her co-stars from “Jagged Little Pill” to win the award for best featured actress in a musical.
Mary-Louise Parker won her second best actress Tony Award, winning for playing a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with in “The Sound Inside.” She thanked her dog whom she was walking in the rain when she bumped into Mandy Greenfield from the Williamstown Theatre Festival, who told her about the play.
“A Christmas Carol” cleaned up with five technical awards: scenic design of a play, costumes, lighting, sound design and score. No one from the production was on hand to accept any of the awards.
Stephen Daldry now has a trio of Tonys for directing. He won Sunday for helming “The Inheritance,” playwright Matthew Lopez’s two-part, seven-hour epic that uses “Howards End” as a starting point for a play that looks at gay life in the early 21st century.
Andrew Burnap won the Tony for best lead actor in a play in his Broadway debut in “The Inheritance.” He thanked his mom, and the University of Rhode Island and joked that he felt grateful because “I got to act for seven hours.”
Sunday’s show has been expanded from its typical three hours to four, with McDonald handing out Tonys for the first two hours and Leslie Odom Jr. hosting a “Broadway’s Back!” celebration for the second half, including the awarding of the top three trophies — best play revival, best play and best musical.
While other entertainment industries like TV and film found ways to restart during the pandemic, Broadway was unable until now due to financial and physical impediments. The lifting of all capacity restrictions was crucial to any reopening since Broadway economics demand full venue capacity.
The sobering musical “Jagged Little Pill,” which plumbs Alanis Morissette’s 1995 breakthrough album to tell a story of an American family spiraling out of control, entered the night with a leading 15 Tony nominations.
“Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’ ground-breaking, bracing work that mixes race, sex, taboo desires and class, earned a dozen nominations, making it the most nominated play in Tony history. But it hadn’t won anything, hoping for the best new play title.
This season’s nominations were pulled from just 18 eligible plays and musicals from the 2019-2020 season, a fraction of the 34 shows the previous season. During most years, there are 26 competitive categories. This year there are 25 with several depleted ones.
The last Tony Awards ceremony was held in 2019. The virus forced Broadway theaters to abruptly close on March 12, 2020, knocking out all shows and scrambling the spring season. Several have restarted, including the so-called big three of “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and “The Lion King.”
“Jagged Little Pill” goes into the telecast on the defensive, dogged by two controversies.
A former cast member, Nora Schell, a Black nonbinary actor who made their Broadway debut in the chorus in 2019, posted a statement this week on social media describing repeated instances early in the run of the show in which they were “intimidated, coerced, and forced by multiple higher ups to put off critical and necessary surgery to remove growths from my vagina that were making me anemic.”
“Jagged Little Pill” producers — saying they are “deeply troubled” by the claims — have hired an independent investigator, and the union Actors Equity Association said Sunday it was also commissioning “a thorough, independent investigation” of the show’s workplace.
In another controversy, the show’s producers have apologized to fans for changing a character from gender-nonconforming to cisgender female after the show moved from Boston to Broadway.
Two original stars — Celia Rose Gooding and Antonio Cipriano — have announced that they are leaving after Sunday’s performance, with Cipriano on Sunday citing “the harm that many trans + non-binary, and all marginalized folks, in-stage cast members and off have endured.” He wrote he took responsibility “for being part of the cause harmed.”