The American, grown-up musical The Band’s Visit outmuscled the acclaimed and sprawling British import Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the most Tony Awards on Sunday, capturing 10 statuettes, including best musical, on a night where the theme of acceptance flowed through the telecast.
The Band’s Visit, based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name about an Egyptian band that goes to the wrong Israeli town, won seven — best direction, orchestration, sound design, best book of a musical, lighting and featured actor Ari’el Stachel, who gave a heartfelt speech about his past.
“For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person,” he said, addressing his parents in the audience. He thanked the creators of the show “for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time that we need that more than ever.”
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He added: “I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races, and we’re doing that.”
Tony Shalhoub, the Monk star who won as best leading man in a musical for his work on The Band’s Visit, connected the win to his father’s 1920 immigration from Lebanon to New York’s Ellis Island at age 8. “Tonight, I celebrate him and all of those in his family who journeyed before him and with him and after him,” he said.
The show’s director, David Cromer, said the musical is also about loneliness and despair, and asked everyone to reach out to anyone for whom “despair is overwhelming.”
The two-part spectacle Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had captured six, including best play, book, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and director John Tiffany, who asked the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to his boyfriend. They obliged.
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Andrew Garfield won his first Tony, for best leading actor in a play, for playing a young gay man living with AIDS in the sprawling, seven-hour revival Angels in America opposite Nathan Lane. He won his third, for best featured actor in a play.
Garfield dedicated the win to the LGBTQ community, who he said fought and died for the right to love. He said the play is a rejection of bigotry, shame and oppression.
“We are all sacred and we all belong,” Garfield said. He then referenced last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled in favour of a baker’s right to deny a gay couple a wedding cake based on his beliefs.
“(Let’s) just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked,” he said, to rousing applause. Lane said the play still speaks to society in the midst of “political insanity.”
In a mesmerizing moment, Melody Herzfeld, the heroic drama teacher who nurtured many of the young people demanding change following the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., was honoured from the Tony Award stage.
Herzfeld, the one-woman drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was cheered by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Herzfeld saved 65 lives by barricading students into a small classroom closet on Valentine’s Day when police say a former student went on a school rampage, killing 17 people.
She then later encouraged many of her pupils to lead the nationwide movement for gun reform, including organizing the March For Our Lives demonstration and the charity single Shine. Members of Herzfeld’s drama department took the Tony stage to serenade her with Seasons of Love from Rent.
Bruce Springsteen performed, won award
In other wins, Glenda Jackson added to her impressive resume with a Tony Award for best actress in a play for her work in a revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women. That show also yielded the featured actress win to Rosanne star Laurie Metcalf.
Billy Joel gave his friend Bruce Springsteen a special Tony Award. “This is deeply appreciated, and thanks for making me feel so welcome on your block,” The Boss said. Later, Springsteen performed My Hometown on the piano from his sold-out one-man show.
Co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles kicked the show off with a self-parodying duet on piano for all the losers out there — including them.
Neither Bareilles nor Groban have won a Grammy or a Tony despite selling millions of albums and appearing on Broadway. They turned that into a playful song.
“Let’s not forget that 90 per cent of us leave empty-handed tonight. So this is for the people who lose/Most of us have been in your shoes,” they sang in the upbeat opening number. “This one’s for the loser inside of you.”
Two new musicals led the nominations for the top Tony Award crown, with Tina Fey’s Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants receiving 12 nods each. The revival of Angels in America had 11 and the two-part play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had 10.
The revival of Carousel won two awards — choreography and for Lindsay Mendez, who won best featured actress in a musical. She accepted in tears, recounting that when she moved to New York, she was told to change her last name to Matthews or she wouldn’t work. She said she was happy to be in a production that “celebrates diversity and individuality.” To all artists out there, she said: “Just be your true self and the world will take note.”
One of the show highlights was the lively performance by the cast of Once on This Island that included a sand-filled beach, real water and a goat. Onstage guests were volunteers and staffers from three organizations that bring relief to areas impacted by natural disasters.