The 2019 Tonys: A big night for Hadestown and true talent
This year’s Tony Awards ceremony “got a lot of things right,” said Caroline Siede in AVClub.com. Broadway had set new records for the year in both attendance (14.8 million) and revenue ($1.83 billion). And “when it came to awarding the best and brightest of this season,” the Tonys were a “smashing success,” showering eight prizes, including Best Musical, on daring Hadestown, while honoring for the first time several great performers, including wheelchair user Ali Stroker and 87-year-old Elaine May. Capping an “uncommonly strong” year for new plays, said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter, The Ferryman, a London import about sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, also prevailed as expected over its box-office betters To Kill a Mockingbird and Network.
For everything going right, though, the Tony’s telecast was “kind of a snooze,” said Aja Romano and Constance Grady in Vox.com. Host James Corden lacked energy, most of the musical numbers were even more low-key, and the viewing audience declined to a five-year low of 5.5 million. “A gauze of earnest sanctimony” enveloped the ceremony even more than usual, said Mike Hale in The New York Times. Nearly everyone who took the stage seemed to preach the need for tolerance and inclusiveness in society, though at least some honorees “managed to break through the monotony.” Stroker, for one, delivered “one of the most joyous Tony moments in years,” said Jocelyn Noveck in the Associated Press. Minutes after the 31-year-old delivered a “sexy, saucy” rendition of ‘I Cain’t Say No’ from Daniel Fish’s radically reimagined Oklahoma!, the audience jumped to its feet as Stroker re-entered on her wheelchair and dedicated her historic win to all aspiring performers with disabilities.
Let’s remember the year for performances like hers, not for the Tonys telecast, said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. Unorthodox shows such as Hadestown and Choir Boy proved “risk can bring surprising rewards,” and actors like May and Network’s Bryan Cranston exemplified “what stage acting at its best can offer.” Broadway isn’t a utopia and the Tonys aren’t perfect. But “in paying tribute to those artists who stopped our breath with the unimpeachable honesty of their gifts, the awards point the way forward.”