The 74th Annual Tony Awards finally came to fruition after the theater season came to an abrupt halt 18 months ago in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
If anything, the Tonys stand as a testament that theater is a vital pillar to our sense of community and essential in ensuring that we will continue to grow together through the stage.
Despite a list of starry nominees that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hiddleston and Audra McDonald, the evening was clearly a love letter to stage vets.
Lois Smith, its oldest recipient at 90, took home her first Tony for her few moments of stage time in The Inheritance (which also went on to win Best Play).
David Alan Grier and Mary Louise Parker were honored for their work in A Soldier’s Play and The Sound Inside, respectively.
“There’s definitely something different about [being back at the Tony Awards]. Every time someone says something poignant or personal you can hear everybody respond en masse,” said Parker summing up the night.
“It’s like there’s this collective commonality that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in a crowd that big before. It’s why some of us love the theater so much and feel like that’s our home and our family. You really feel that tonight in a way that’s indescribable.”
Moulin Rouge! The Musical won ten trophies, including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, the latter of which was thanks to Danny Burstein.
A seven-time nominee, Burstein finally accepted an award that was long overdue. His castmate, Aaron Tveit, won Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, a category in which he was the only nominee.
It was the awards event that no one was quite sure would ever happen-not even after nominees were finally announced last October (four months after the show would have taken place).
In a ceremony, Sept. 26, that split platforms between streaming live from the Winter Garden Theatre on Paramount+ and a CBS celebration aptly titled Back to Broadway, it was clear that theater has evolved and is open and ready for audiences.
The New York Independent was on hand to speak with the winners in the media room moments after accepting their Tonys. Read more about what they had to say here:
Mary Louise Parker, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, The Sound Inside
“It all feels like I’ve been waiting a long time, but also like a minute has passed. I’m just so ready to get on a stage right now. I want to be in a dressing room right now. I want to be in rehearsals right now. It’s especially sweet to have this as a welcome back. It’s kind of dreamy actually.
“The first time I remember being on stage was when I was 4. It was a dance recital. I was really shy. My parents were worried that I wouldn’t get up on the stage. I just kind of marched up there and I was suddenly really happy. I think it’s just in people. I can see the people who are comfortable there and want to be in there. I think in some ways you are born with it. People ask me why I come back to the theater, and I feel like you can you can’t come back to something you never left.”
“Doing a play is like getting married for a little moment. It’s a very big commitment. I have to have something that really drives me to want to do it because it is so important to me. If I could have my way I would always be doing a play I was in love with. I could be perfectly happy to not be in front of a camera.”
Diablo Cody, Best Book of a Musical, Jagged Little Pill
“For us to be so dark for so long, for us to be coming back, for me that is the biggest emotional win here. Winning a Tony is very cool, too. It’s definitely not something I ever thought would happen in my lifetime.
“I would much rather be the most woke show than the most retrograde show or the least inclusive show.
“When you create a show that is about all of these social issues, and it’s sort of founded in social justice, you have a responsibility to continue being responsible and to evolve and to make any necessary changes to the show, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
“The show is very much a living thing that is still changing.
“I’m very proud of what we did because I know it was ambitious. I know it’s intense and the show is too much for a lot of people.
“It’s what we set out to do and I feel that we accomplished it.”
Aaron Tveit, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
“This means so much to me. I’ve always just wanted to be an actor and have a life in the theater and I’ve been a part of this theater community. This is an acknowledgement of a moment in time, but also I like to think I’ve been doing this for a little bit and I feel a part of this community in a very new way. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“After what we’ve gone through in the past 18 months means everything is reframed in a different way-going back to work, and going back to a space in a show where a woman is coughing to death on stage.
“All of these things mean something brand new. I’m quite a private person. When I found out I had COVID early on, we still didn’t really know anything about it. I just thought, ‘I’m going to make a public health statement about this because I like to think that I take really good care of myself and I never get sick.’ My message at the time was that you have to take this seriously.
“I think live theater is so vital and it’s so important that we tell new stories. Going forward, we can’t forget anything that has happened in this last stretch of time.
“So many people like myself got into theater to find a place where you belong, you can feel at home, feel comfortable and feel like yourself.
“I think those things sometimes can be forgotten in professional theater, and that’s what I really hope in returning after it has been taken away from us; we get back to that original love and original art of storytelling and collectively being together. I love, love, love this. I’m a little bit in shock.”
David Alan Grier, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, A Soldier’s Play
“What it means for me to today is much bigger than me. It means our industry has a way forward. I remember getting on the plane on March 16th 2020 and I did not know if I had already done my last performance on Broadway.
“I didn’t see a path like many of us, how we were going to move forward because theater is such an intimate art. I went home. I lost faith. I gained faith. I lost faith. I gained faith.
“Finally, there was the path forward. I’m happy for everyone in the theater who works in the restaurants, the stagehands, the costumers, it affects so many people. It’s such an integral part of New York. There’s nothing like doing theater on Broadway. I’ve done it all kinds of crazy ways, and this is the best. It always has been.”
On being cast in A Soldier’s Play:
“I was sitting in the parking lot at Trader Joe’s. I said to myself, ‘I wonder what kind of part I would have to have for me to get up and go.’ I have a young daughter. It would have to be a part in which I didn’t even think. It would have to be a part, in which I told myself, I have to do this. And [director] Kenny [Leon] called. I didn’t know anything about the production. I said, “What part?” When I heard it was [Sgt. Waters], I knew I had to do it.”
Danny Burstein, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical
“The award itself feels a little surreal. I didn’t know what to expect. You always want to win a little bit. I was certainly hoping, because everywhere I go people are telling me I’m the Susan Lucci of the Tony Awards.
“It gets old. Let me tell ya! I was hoping to get the monkey off my back just a little bit. I was also thinking that anyone could win the award at any particular time.
“It’s apples and oranges.
“Anyone in my category could have won because they are equally deserving. I truly believe that. The theater gods gave it to me this time and I’m very honored to have it.
“This is my eighteenth Broadway show and I’ve never been a part of anything like this before. I can tell you two nights ago we reopened and we rose the roof on the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
“You may have thought you had seen Moulin Rouge! before, but now it’s more potent, vital and energetic than ever.
It’s so exciting to be there. It’s exactly what we need; it’s the perfect escape and yet it’s all about love.
“I think that’s pretty important right now.”
Adrienne Warren, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
On what she would say to her younger self:
“I would say it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to take care of yourself. It’s okay to say no sometimes. To everyone who watched the Tonys tonight that looks like me, I would say to you all, be storytellers not because Broadway is the last and final destination, but be a storyteller because somebody out there is waiting to hear your story.
“Your story, exactly the way that you are. Somebody needs to hear it.
“I’ve been sitting next to my parents all night long. That has been the most incredible moment for me. It has been so meaningful to be in a Broadway theater, but even more so to be with family in a Broadway theater.”
“I prayed for this moment for a very long time. Seeing everyone stand up, I was so unbelievably moved by that moment because it isn’t a moment just for me, there are so many people that helped me get to this point.
“This has been a nearly six-year journey. I didn’t really know that this day would come. I’m extremely moved by that. But even more so, moved by my presence in this industry.
It is different than it was when I started this show. When I started I thought I had so much to prove. Now I only want to do everything I can to make this industry better for those that come after me.
“I’m thinking about that constantly which allows me to do what I do and enjoy this last chapter of Tina with my cast and truly have fun with it.”
Kenny Leon, Best Revival of a Play, A Soldier’s Play
“The play is even more important now. The more stories we hear, the more clearly we get the truth.”
“I don’t think we have come far enough, but we have been given the opportunity to start anew. Next year at this time, what will it look like? How will we go about inviting other cultures to our stages?
“Broadway has to be a part of the solution. I lost two uncles and an aunt to COVID.
“Everything else about these last eighteen months has been good, because if not for it we would not have this reset.
“I feel that we can do better as people. Many of us are selfish and don’t think outside of our personal selves. We’re not taking care of our future.”
Lois Smith, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, The Inheritance
On how Broadway has changed over the years:
“I had a colleague who has been going to the theater for a long time. He said that he thought the audiences used to go more easily.
“Maybe that is because of the expense. Now there is kind of an expectation that it’s really got to be terrific!
“I was fascinated by [The Inheritance’s] enormously compelling storytelling to commemorate and to celebrate those terrible plagued years of AIDS.
“It’s called The Inheritance, and that seems to mean a lot.
What it meant to be a homosexual person was really very bad. People were frightened of course, but there was so much hatred rather than solace, at first especially.
That needs to be remembered, and it is [with this play].”
Editor’s note: All photos provided by the Tony Awards via Getty Images.