By Sharon Eberson
The Tony Awards turned 75 with a celebration of youth and experience, the British influence on Broadway and a few surprises along the way.
Best actor in a musical went to 22-year-old Myles Frost, who stars as Michael Jackson in the biomusical MJ. His win came over veterans Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman and Rob McClure, along with another new kid on the block, Jaquel Spivey. The 23-year-old graduate of Point Park University, Class of 2021, is the star of 2022’s best musical A Strange Loop, the Pulitzer Prize-winner by the other MJ, Michael R. Jackson.
Spivey jumped to his feet and applauded when Frost’s name was announced.
The MJ star arrived on stage in sunglasses, which he pulled up to say, “Mom, I made it,” and ended a heartfelt speech with, “As Michael would say, ‘With love, with love, heal the world.’ ”
Best revival of a musical went to Company, in a night when Stephen Sondheim was honored as part of the CBS primetime presentation. The revival earned a third Tony for Patti LuPone, as best supporting actress in a musical, and also No. 3 for director Marianne Elliott.
Many of the winners thanked audiences for sticking with them during the pandemic shutdown and COVID stoppages, and gave shutouts to understudies, swings, safety coordinators and more.
“I want to dedicate this award,” said Elliott, “to all of you out there fighting for the survival of this beautiful, transformative and essential art form.”
Among the producers of the gender-swap Company revival are CMU alumni Kevin Emrick and Pittsburgh native Jamie deRoy. DeRoy also is a producer of best play winner The Lehman Trilogy, about generations of the New York family. The play also won best director (Sam Mendes), actor (Simon Russell Beale) and set design among its eight nominations.
Best actress in a play went to Deirdre O’Connell of Dana H. Accepting the award, she said, “Please let my standing here be a sign from the universe to make the weird art.”
As Tony Awards go, the 75th annual ceremony honoring the best of Broadway had Pittsburgh written all over it – mostly in the presenters’ lineup. From CMU, for example, there were Judith Light, Patina Miller, Patrick Wilson and Billy Porter, who sang “The Street Where You LIve” from My Fair Lady for an emotional in memoriam segment. Telly Leung presented the Excellence in Musical Theatre Education Award, co-created by the Tonys and CMU.
Among the acting nominees, The Music Man’s Sutton Foster studied theater at CMU for a year (1993–94). However, best actress in a musical went to Joaquina Kalukango of Paradise Square, who brought the audience to its feet with her electrifying rendition of the song “Let It Burn.” She was nominated last year as well, for Slave Play.
August Wilson’s presence was felt on the Radio City Music Hall stage often, including when Samuel L. Jackson spoke of reviving The Piano Lesson, opening in October. His first Broadway job was as an understudy in the original 1990 production.
Phylicia Rashad has honorary Pittsburgh status as a Wilsonian actress with ties to the August Wilson African American Culture Center – she won her second Tony Award, as featured actress in a play, for Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew. Rashad was directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a best actor in a play.
During the first hour of the Tony Awards, streamed exclusively on Paramount+, a tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Angela Lansbury – her sixth Tony Award – drew lots of social-media speculation. The 96-year-old Broadway legend was not present, nor was there a video, and there was no explanation for her absence.
Ariana DeBose, a Broadway baby and an Oscar-winner as Anita in the latest screen version of West Side Story, was an impressive first-time host, with a powerhouse song-and-dance mashup opening number.
DeBose paid tribute to the original stage Anita of West Side Story, Chita Rivera, who announced A Strange Loop as best musical to end the night.
Find a list of winners at tonyawards.com.