tony awards

Radio City Music Hall: the place to be for the Tony Awards

Photo: Stephanie Berger

By Melissa Rose Bernardo

Despite the pandemic, the 2021–2022 season felt like the busiest ever on Broadway, with more than three dozen Tony-eligible productions bringing up their curtains. There were 15 of them in April alone! This Sunday, June 12th, Broadway gets a chance to celebrate with the 75th Annual Tony Awards at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.

The festivities kick off live at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Paramount+ with hosts Darren Criss, currently featured in American Buffalo, and Julianne Hough, who’s making her Broadway debut in the all-female ensemble of Selina Fillinger’s farce POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. Then the party continues on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT with host Ariana DeBose, the newly minted West Side Story Oscar winner. DeBose was also a 2018 Tony nominee for her turn as Disco Donna in Summer.

To help you get into the spirit, we’ve compiled 10 tidbits about this year’s buzziest shows and competitive categories. Let’s raise a glass to the 2021–2022 season. A special shoutout to the swings and understudies who kept the marquees on as shows everywhere dealt with COVID-19–related absences. You’re all winners in our book!

Watch the 75th Annual Tony Awards 7–8 p.m. ET/4–5 p.m. PT exclusively on Paramount+, and 8–11 p.m. ET/5–8 p.m. PT on CBS, and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+.

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1. Best Musical: Bob Dylan vs. Michael Jackson vs. Michael R. Jackson

Todd Almond wears a white suit and clutches a microphone with one hand while he holds the other aloft singing. Girl From the North Country Broadway cast members hold up their arms singing in the background

Todd Almond (at the microphone) and the cast of Girl From the North Country, set to the songs of Bob Dylan

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Only on Broadway could you have two Rock & Roll Hall of Famers duking it out for the Best Musical title:
• Girl From the North Country, the Great Depression–era musical written by Conor McPherson with a score of 20 existing Bob Dylan tunes
MJ, the musical focusing on the life and music of the legendary King of Pop

And then there’s Michael R. Jackson, the multi-nominated lyricist, librettist, and composer of the Pulitzer Prize–winning A Strange Loop, the self-described “big, Black, and queer-ass Great American Musical.”

The other nominees include:
• Paradise Square, a Les Miz-meets-Ragtime mashup set in a slum in Lower Manhattan in 1863
• the plucky girl-powered Tudor romp SIX: The Musical
• the stage-to-screen Billy Crystal vehicle Mr. Saturday Night

2. The Season’s Most-Nominated Show Has No Stars … in the Cast.

Jaquel Spivey wears a flannel shirt and jeans and wags a finger at the audience as he sings backed up by four cast members of A Strange Loop

Jaquel Spivey as Usher (center) surrounded by his Thoughts—Jason Veasey, James Jackson Jr., L Morgan Lee, and Antwayn Hopper—in A Strange Loop

Photo: Marc J. Franklin

The cast members are far from household names, but you might recognize a few of the names above the title of the 11-time Tony-nominated A Strange Loop.

Just a few of the show’s famous producers:
• RuPaul Charles
• Alan Cumming
• Ilana Glazer
• Mindy Kaling
• Billy Porter
• Jennifer Hudson

Hudson will become an EGOT winner if Loop wins Best Musical. That’s how John Legend got the T in his EGOT; he was a producer of the 2017 Tony-winning revival of August Wilson’s Jitney.

3. Keep an Eye on Camille A. Brown.

The cast of for colored girls  dancing with projections of their faces on large screens

The cast of for colored girls …: Stacey Sargeant, Amara Granderson, Okwui Okpokwasili, Tendayi Kuumba, Kenita R. Miller, D. Woods, and Alexandria Wailes

Photo: Marc J. Franklin

With her revival of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking 1975 choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Camille A. Brown became the first Black woman to direct and choreograph a Broadway production in 67 years. (The last was Katherine Dunham.) And she received Tony nominations for both her direction and her choreography. Although for colored girls… closed June 5th, it received seven noms.

Brown is the first person ever nominated for both directing and choreographing a play.

No Black woman has ever won a Tony for directing. This year, two are nominated—Brown and Lileana Blain-Cruz, forThe Skin of Our Teeth.

4. Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse: Déjà Vu All Over Again.

Mary Louise Parker smiles coyly at David Morse as the two sit at a table in How I Learned to Drive

David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker in Paula Vogel’s provocative How I Learned to Drive

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse starring in Paula Vogel’s wrenching drama How I Learned to Drive. Both originated their respective roles in the 1997 off-Broadway premiere. Parker played teenager Li’l Bit and Morse played her extremely attentive Uncle Peck.

Drive went on to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Both actors received Obie, Drama Desk, and Lucille Lortel Awards for their performances.

Now, 25 years later, How I Learned to Drive is making its Broadway debut, again directed by Mark Brokaw, with Parker and Morse. Since the play was never on Broadway, both actors are indeed eligible and were nominated for Tony Awards.

5. Lynn Nottage: Two Shows, Two Nominations

A poster for Clydes shows Uzo Aduba with long and pointed red fingernails holding a kitchen knife next to a red and black poster for MJ The Musical

Promotional posters for Clydes and MJ The Musical

Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for her plays Ruined and Sweat, earned not one but two writing nominations for two very different works this season.

One nom was for her play Clyde’s, a fast-paced, ferocious kitchen comedy set in a sandwich shop staffed by ex-cons. Actors Uzo Aduba, Ron Cephas Jones, and Kara Young all earned featured actor nods for their roles.

The other was for the book of the Michael Jackson biomusical MJ, which is nominated for 10 Tonys.

6. There Are Seven Nominees for Leading Actor in a Play.

Adam Godley Simon Russell Beale and Adrian Lester dressed in long black jackets with matching black vests standing on a table in The Lehman Brothers

Adam Godley, Simon Russell Beale, and Adrian Lester played every role in the three-and-a-half-hour Sam Mendes–directed drama The Lehman Brothers.

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Yes, seven nominees! They include:
• David Morse for How I Learned to Drive
• Sam Rockwell for American Buffalo
• Ruben Santiago-Hudson for Lackawanna Blues
• David Threlfall for Hangmen
• Simon Russell Beale for The Lehman Trilogy
• Adam Godley for The Lehman Trilogy
• Adrian Lester for The Lehman Trilogy

Remind us why the Tonys don’t have an ensemble category. The Lehman guys shouldn’t have to compete against each other!

Seven is a lot of nominees in an acting category. Five, sometimes six, is the norm. But it has happened before, back in 1958. The contenders were:
• Ralph Bellamy for Sunrise at Campobello. Bellamy ultimately won the Tony.
• Richard Burton for Time Remembered
• Hugh Griffith for Look Homeward, Angel
• Laurence Olivier for The Entertainer
• Anthony Perkins for Look Homeward, Angel
• Peter Ustinov for Romanoff and Juliet
• Emlyn Williams for A Boy Growing Up

Just a little Tony trivia for your next theatrical cocktail party.

7. SIX Boasts Eight Nominations, but Not One for Any of Its Six Actors.

The stars of SIX on a stage lit with purple lights holding microphones and singing

Bow down! Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack, and Anna Uzele in SIX

Photo: Joan Marcus

If you’ve seen SIX, the supremely witty musical salute to the wives of Henry VIII, you might be shocked to learn that none of the actresses who play the badass queens were nominated.

The Tony Administration committee determined they were all lead, as opposed to featured, actresses. With all six competing for slots in the category, it’s actually not surprising they all got snubbed. Yet another reason the Tonys need an ensemble category.

8. This Year’s Most Competitive Category? Choreography

Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in front of the cast of The Music Man leaping and dancing on stage

Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, and the dance-happy denizens of River City in The Music Man

Photo: Joan Marcus

Has there ever been a better season for choreography on Broadway? Nominees include:
• Camille A. Brown’s picturesque modern dance–powered for colored girls…
• Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s bouncy, hip-popping, arm-punching steps in SIX
• Warren Carlyle’s rousing marching band and tap routines for The Music Man (Carlyle and star Hugh Jackman worked on that tap for two years during the pandemic.)
• Bill T. Jones’ Irish step–meets–African Juba work in Paradise Square
• Christopher Wheeldon’s uncanny re-creation of Michael Jackson’s iconic moves in MJ

The only way to decide who gets the Tony? Dance off!

9. This Year’s Second-Most-Competitive Category? Set Design of a Play

The cast of The Skin of Our Teeth in front of a boardwalk set with a roller coaster that hides a slide behind cheerful neon signs illuminating mock storefronts

The Atlantic City set in The Skin of Our Teeth. (Yes, that’s a working slide. Whee!)

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Musicals traditionally have much more elaborate sets. Think moving mansions, crashing chandeliers. But this season, the plays were the thing.
• Beowulf Boritt created a dynamic rotating multi-room White House for POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.
• Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong’s lived-in break room in Skeleton Crew looked ripped straight out of an aughts-era Detroit auto plant.
• Anna Fleischle’s Hangmen set moves seamlessly from a dank prison cell to a smoke-filled pub, with a few dangling ropes thrown in for good measure.
• Es Devlin used a massive rotating glass cube and an almost entirely black-and-white palette to tell the epic 164-year story of The Lehman Trilogy.
• Scott Pask’s American Buffalo junk shop is a hoarder’s delight, packed with trash and treasure in every nook and cranny.
• Finally, Adam Rigg’s The Skin of Our Teeth designs are as massive as the play itself, which spans thousands of years and includes a dinosaur, a woolly mammoth, and a trip to the Atlantic City boardwalk.

10. Mr. Saturday Night Received More Tony Nominations Than Oscar Nominations.

Billy Crystal mugging and David Paymer sitting on a sofa nearby looking unamused in Mr Saturday Night

Together again: Billy Crystal and David Paymer in Mr. Saturday Night

Photo: Matthew Murphy

The 1992 movie received just one Oscar nom, for David Paymer’s supporting character Stan, the beleaguered brother of Billy Crystal’s standup comic Buddy Young Jr.

The Broadway musical, however, received five Tony noms:
• book (Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel, who wrote the original screenplay)
• original score (music by Jason Robert Brown, lyrics by Amanda Green)
• leading actor (Crystal)
• featured actress (Shoshanna Bean, who plays Buddy’s daughter)
• best musical

The one it didn’t get? Featured actor for Paymer, who’s reprising his movie role on stage. To paraphrase one of Buddy Young’s famous lines, don’t get us started!

Watch the 75th annual Tony Awards 7–8 p.m. ET/4–5 p.m. PT exclusively on Paramount+, and 8–11 p.m. ET/5–8 p.m. PT on CBS, and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+.

SUBSCRIBE NOW: Enjoy 4 Digital Plus 2 Print/Digital Issues Of Watch Per Year — For Free!

And the Tony will go to ... one of these three Best New Musicals: Tina, Moulin Rouge!, or Jagged Little Pill.

Photo: Manuel Harlan; Matthew Murphy; Matthew Murphy

By Nate Millado

Broadway's back—and our anonymous Tony Award voter couldn't be happier about The Great White Way's glorious return. "I went to [new play] Pass Over a couple of weeks ago and everyone broke out into mad applause during the pre-show cellphone announcement!" they said. With the Tonys returning to Paramount+ on Sept. 26—and a special presentation, The Tony Awards Present Broadway's Back, airing immediately after on CBS—Watch tapped this decades-long Tony voter to get their hot takes on theater's most prestigious award. Find out who they voted for (and why), then tune in to the Tonys at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Paramount+.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of the Tony Award-winning phenom Hamilton performing at the 2016 Tony Awards.

Photo: John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images

By Nate Millado

Curtain up! Light the lights! The pandemic might have dimmed The Great White Way temporarily, but everything's coming up roses because Broadway is BACK! And it's time for the 2021 Tony Awards on Paramount+! Although there's nothing more electrifying than seeing live theater in person, the Tonys telecast has done a fabulous job of bringing Broadway to living rooms. In fact, we've been gifted with some uh-MAY-zing numbers over the decades.

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Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

By Gina McIntyre

No one puts on a show quite like Broadway's best, so it's hardly surprising that the theater world's biggest night—the Tony Awards—has gifted us with countless outstanding performances from the most talented entertainers to grace the stage.

With the show postponed due to the coronavirus this year, it's the perfect time to look back at some of the most memorable opening acts over the ceremony's illustrious 73-year history, and anticipate the fun to come with the 74th.

“Willkommen” from Cabaret (1967)

Film still of Joel Grey in Cabaret

Joel Grey in the film adaption of Cabaret (circa 1972).

Photo Credit: Everett Collection.

Joel Grey put the imp in impresario as he gracefully leaped across the stage while performing the opening song from John Kander and Fred Ebb's famed musical Cabaret. Life truly was beautiful that night for Grey, who won the Tony for Featured Actor in a Musical for his turn as the master of ceremonies at a risqué Berlin nightclub. (He would go on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for reprising the role in director Bob Fosse's 1972 film adaptation.) Also noteworthy: This was the first year that the Tonys were broadcast on television.

“I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line (1976)

A Chorus Line playbill

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Broadway.

The backstage musical went in to the ceremony as the clear front-runner with an astonishing 12 nominations, eventually winning an impressive nine awards. A Chorus Line also gave the show its opening and closing numbers. The ceremony kicked off with a seven-plus-minute sequence from the Michael Bennett–directed production in which the stage was transformed into a minimalist rehearsal space where 17 dancers learn a complicated routine under the ever-critical eye of their choreographer. The exacting Bennett reportedly even oversaw the way the sequence was shot for television.

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy (1989)

Angela Lansbury in a red gown.

Angela Lansbury during 43rd Annual Tony Awards Party at New York Hilton in New York City.

Photo Credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images.

Dressed in a flattering rose-red, tea-length dress, host Angela Lansbury kicked off the 43rd show with a rousing rendition of the Gypsy showstopper, belting out the lyrics with verve and gusto. It takes a true talent to hold the stage on her own, and in her fifth outing as mistress of ceremonies, Lansbury blew the roof off the theater with her incredible pipes.

“Broadway Divas” (1998)

Rosie O'Donnell performing at the Tony Awards, circa 1998.\u200b

Rosie O'Donnell performing at the Tony Awards, circa 1998.

Photo Credit: Jeff Christensen/Getty Images.

Three of Broadway's indisputable queens joined host Rosie O'Donnell and the Chicago dancers onstage for a showstopping medley of iconic songs: Patti LuPone sang "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita; Jennifer Holliday performed "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, and Betty Buckley delivered "Memory" from Cats. It was an astonishing collection of talent showing what the Tonys do best.

“One Night Only” from Dreamgirls (2004)

Actor Hugh Jackman performs with members of the Rockettes on stage at the Tony Awards

Actor Hugh Jackman performs with members of the Rockettes on stage during the 58th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 6, 2004 in New York City.

Photo Credit: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images.

It takes a special man to high-kick alongside the Rockettes, but second-time host Hugh Jackman proved more than up to the task during the spectacular opening number for the 58th ceremony. The four-minute sequence featured talent from shows including Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and Caroline, or Change. Jackman also won Best Actor in a Musical for The Boy from Oz, which marked the Australian's Broadway debut.

“Circle of Life” from The Lion King (2008)

\u200bCast of "The Lion King" perform on stage at the Tony Awards

Cast of The Lion King perform on stage during the 62nd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 15, 2008 in New York City.

Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

The unmistakable Zulu call of Lesotho-born singer Tsidii Le Loka swept the audience away to the African plains, where director Julie Taymor set her stage adaptation of Disney's much-beloved 1994 animated film. The sequence marked the 10th anniversary of the hit production, but as the musical's animal puppets ambled up the aisles to congregate onstage, the spectacle felt just as transporting as the day the show debuted.

“Bigger” (2013)

Neil Patrick Harris and casts of Broadway shows perform onstage at the Tony Awards

Host Neil Patrick Harris and casts of Broadway shows perform onstage at the 67th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2013 in New York City.

Photo Credit: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

Four-time host Neil Patrick Harris went "bigger" than ever with cheerleaders, contortionists, and even former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson gracing the stage during his jampacked opening number, which also featured appearances by performers in almost every nominated production—from Newsies to Kinky Boots. His return engagement was no less than magical: At one point, he vanished in an illusionist's trick cabinet, only to reappear moments later at the back of the theater.

“That Could Be Me/This Could Be You” (2016)

The nominees perform onstage with host James Corden during the 70th Annual Tony Awards

The nominees perform onstage with host James Corden during the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City.

Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The evening began with an appropriately solemn offer of condolences to all those affected by the tragic mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that had taken place early that morning, but host James Corden managed to lift the audience's spirits with a rousing tribute to the inspirational power of theater and his own journey toward success (Corden won a Tony Award in 2012 for Best Actor in a Play for his turn as Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors).

Broadway classics including Les Misérables, Fiddler on the Roof, and Annie all got well-deserved shoutouts, though the evening unquestionably belonged to pop culture juggernaut Hamilton, which earned a record-breaking 16 nominations, winning 11 awards.

Originally published in Watch Magazine, May-June 2020.

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