Tony Awards 2021: Live Updates

This show is going to kill me with its sweet nostalgia. I love “A Chorus Line,” and Ali Stroker is killing it up there.

Ali Stroker, Tony winner for “Oklahoma!” sings “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line.”

André De Shields is always serving looks! He is completely theatrical in the purest and most endearing sense of the word.

André De Shields totally steals “Hadestown.” But did you also see him in “John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch”? Stole that, too.

I’m a music philistine and don’t know anything about David Byrne and the Talking Heads, but I find him utterly delightful.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

As is the show, “American Utopia.” In some ways it was, for me, the best musical of the season, though not eligible for that award.

Have we said enough about the fashion tonight? I think everyone’s looking really great.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

David Byrne’s “American Utopia” originally ran on Broadway from October 2019 to February 2020. But it’s not a play or a musical, the Tony Awards nominating committee decided, rendering it ineligible in the top categories.

But there is one label that’s safe to apply to Byrne’s intimately staged theatrical concert: Cultural phenomenon. The show, which was born as a 26-country concert tour for Byrne’s 2018 album, “American Utopia,” rode the momentum to a four-month Broadway run, a Spike Lee-directed concert film that premiered on HBO and HBO Max last October, and now a return Broadway engagement that kicked off earlier this month.

In his review of the Broadway production, Ben Brantley called it a “cloud-sweeping upper” of a show in which Byrne “emerges as an avuncular, off-center shepherd to flocks of fans still groping to find their way.”

Byrne, 69, is set to lead his band of barefoot, gray-suited musicians in a performance at the Winter Garden Theater during tonight’s broadcast, in which “American Utopia” will be honored with one of three special Tony Awards.

The show’s 20 songs come from Byrne’s 2018 album of the same name, along with hits from his time as Talking Heads frontman and throughout his solo career, and are interspersed with cabaret-style patter about neuroscience, civil history and Brazilian, African and Latin instrumentation.

On a recent bike ride through Queens ahead of the show’s return to Broadway earlier this month, Byrne, a devoted cyclist, told The New York Times reporter Melena Ryzik that he didn’t mind the show’s outsized presence in his current slate of projects.

“It’s a very moving show to do,” he said, “and a lot of fun.”

It’s so uncomfortable to watch an actor try to celebrate onstage but also try to address a controversy. But what else can someone do? Lauren Patten had to say something about it.

Exactly. She did the best she could in this setting, and comes off as very genuine, which is what theater people are so good at pretending to be.

God, I’ve missed theater. These people just know how to connect with an audience.

Lauren Patten, who gives an outstanding performance in “Jagged Little Pill,” is dealing with some controversy over the representation of trans characters in her show.

I love how personal Lois Smith’s speech was, talking about her love for “Howard’s End,” on which “The Inheritance” was based.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Lauren Patten, “Jagged Little Pill”

It’s so nice that Lois Smith isn’t being put through a conveyer belt, and they’re letting her speak.

In “The Inheritance,” Smith basically steals the show with a short role near the end.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Danny Burstein has been nominated seven times for a Tony Award. Now he’s finally a winner.

Burstein won the featured actor in a musical award for his work in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” in which he plays the impresario Harold Zidler. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2019, has just resumed performances.

Burstein, 57, is a much-loved Broadway veteran, who has appeared in 18 shows over the last three decades, often to acclaim. In recent years, he has starred as Alfred P. Doolittle in a revival of “My Fair Lady” and as Tevye in a revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The award comes at a difficult time for Burstein. His wife, the actress Rebecca Luker, died last December of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Earlier last year, Burstein was hospitalized with a frightening case of Covid-19.

“And I want to thank all of you,” he said in his speech, “because whether you know it or not, my wife passed away in December of ALS, and you all showed up for us, you were there for us whether you just sent a note or sent your love, sent your prayers, sent bagels.”

He continued, “It meant the world to us, and it’s something I’ll never forget, and I love being an actor on Broadway. Thank you.”

Burstein was raised in New York City and educated at Queens College and the University of California San Diego.

This is a very moving and inspiring moment from Lois Smith; I hope I can type a word when I’m 90, as she is.

Lois Smith is a New York theater treasure, and the kind of person the Tonys rarely remembers to reward.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Lois Smith is the greatest!

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Lois Smith, “The Inheritance”

Burstein’s tux is SHINING like his new Tony!

Danny Burstein’s win was a long-deserved and also sentimental; he has been nominated six times before, and has suffered a horrendous year since “Moulin Rouge” was forced to close last March.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

He’s also great in a show I don’t love; he’s the seedy heart of the kaleidoscope.

For supporting actor in a musical, the winner, as expected, is Danny Burstein, for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Danny Burstein, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”

I like Grier but actually wasn’t fond of his performance in “A Soldier’s Play.”

David Alan Grier gets his first win!

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Here we go! First award!

These categories are heavily stocked with members of the cast of “Slave Play.”

Best Featured Actor in a Play

David Alan Grier, “A Soldier’s Play”

McDonald recalls the year when “The Wiz” won seven awards and talks about how slow Broadway has been in changing to be “inclusive and equitable for all.” “The Wiz” is fabulous. I could go for a rewatch of that — the movie or a revival.

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

As Broadway attempts to rebound after an extended shutdown, theaters and productions are leaning on government funding to get up and running.

Under the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program, the federal government allotted $16 billion to preserve theaters and other live-event venues as they weather the financial losses of the pandemic. The program has been plagued by delays and other blunders, but as of last week, $9.7 billion had been awarded to organizations across the country.

Hundreds of millions of that total has gone to Broadway, according to records from the Small Business Administration, which manages the grant program.

The funding amounts, which are calculated based on an organization’s earned revenue from 2019, can reach a maximum amount of $10 million. Many Broadway theater owners and productions qualified for that amount.

The three musicals nominated for the top award all received the maximum funding, or near it: “Jagged Little Pill” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” each received $10 million, while “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” received $9.9 million.

Some shows were able to qualify for more funding because of their touring productions. “Hamilton,” with its four touring shows, was awarded $50 million.

The $10 million injection was not enough to keep “West Side Story,” the avant-garde revival of the classic musical, alive. The show, which did not qualify for the Tony Awards because not enough voters had seen it before the shutdown, announced last month that it would not return to Broadway. The show said it would return its grant.

Audra’s dress is REMARKABLE. I love a sheer sleeve.

First fashion note: Jeremy O. Harris, the author of “Slave Play,” has gilded his face.

Audra McDonald, host of the first two hours of the show, has arrived, not carrying any of her six Tonys.

The queen of Broadway!

Because this is at the Winter Garden, I feel we should continually rate it as better or worse than “Cats.” So far, better!

The Tonys this year are coming from the Winter Garden, a much smaller theater than Radio City Music Hall (though still large). You can feel the intimacy.

I feel like I’m alive again. I love this already. Maya and I are different!

Okay, I’m ready to be the curmudgeon of this experience because I hate awards shows. I like “Hairspray,” but I hate watching a performance with everyone singing and dancing stiffly in their glam wear.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Eight acting prizes will be given out tonight — four for work in musicals, and four for work in plays.

The musical prizes all have heavy favorites, and the favorites would all be first-time Tony winners.

Look for Adrienne Warren to win the leading actress in a musical prize for her star-making performance as Tina Turner in “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical,” and for Lauren Patten to win as featured actress for her showstopping vocals in “Jagged Little Pill.”

Aaron Tveit, the only nominee for leading actor in a musical, should easily pick up that prize for playing the bohemian Christian in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” (He needs to win support from 60 percent of those who cast ballots in the category to do so.) His co-star Danny Burstein is the favorite in the featured actor category, for playing the impresario Harold Zidler.

The play categories are thought to be much tighter, in part because there are fewer voters — to participate in any Tony race, a voter had to have seen each nominated performance, and that narrowed the pool of qualified voters.

But watch for one possible record to be set: Lois Smith, 90, is a leading contender for best featured actress in a play, for her work in “The Inheritance.” If she wins, she will become the oldest person ever to win a Tony Award for acting, a record previously held by Cicely Tyson, who won at 88.

Oh no, I’m crying here. Tomorrow is a brand new day, guys!

“Hairspray” is my absolute favorite. I watched the Zoom fundraiser version multiple times to cheer up during the pandemic.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Welcome, readers, to our live coverage of the 2021 Tony Awards, honoring Broadway productions that opened approximately 1,000 years ago. Here’s the cast of “Hairspray” to start things off from 2002.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

As hard as it may be to believe, the last time a play by a Black writer won the Tony Award for best play was in 1987, when August Wilson won for “Fences.”

That could change this year, when the leading contender is “Slave Play,” a daring drama by Jeremy O. Harris that uses an imaginary form of couples therapy to explore the lingering impact of slavery. The play scored more Tony nominations — 12 — than any in history; it won strong review from critics and managed to achieve a level of buzz that is rare for any play, although, like most plays, it ended its run without recouping its capitalization costs.

But “Slave Play” was also polarizing, leaving an opening for another drama to claim the prize. The most likely upset would be by “The Inheritance,” a two-part drama by Matthew López about two generations of gay male New Yorkers. That play was heralded in London, but was greeted with far more skepticism in New York; its run was also unprofitable, and was cut a few days short by the pandemic.

The most likely winner in the category of best play revival will be “A Soldier’s Play” or “Betrayal.”

“A Soldier’s Play” is a 1981 drama by Charles Fuller, about the murder of a Black sergeant in the U.S. Army, that won the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published. It was then adapted into a Hollywood film, but didn’t make it to Broadway until 2020. The production, directed by Kenny Leon, starred Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier, and was presented by the nonprofit Roundabout Theater Company.

“Betrayal” is a 1978 play by Harold Pinter about an extramarital affair. The revival was a commercial production, transferred from London, directed by Jamie Lloyd and starring Tom Hiddleston.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The three nominees for best musical are “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.”

All of them are jukebox musicals — meaning that their scores consist of previously recorded pop songs — and all of them opened in 2019.

The three nominated musicals are reopening this fall. “Moulin Rouge!,” which is an adaptation of the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film, began performances on Friday; “Tina,” which is a biomusical about the life and career of Tina Turner, returns Oct. 8; and “Jagged Little Pill,” a contemporary family drama inspired by the Alanis Morissette album, returns Oct. 21.

Only one show with an original score opened before the pandemic — “The Lightning Thief” — but it was shut out by nominators. Several other musicals with original scores were slated to open in 2020, but didn’t make it to opening night before theaters shut down. One side effect of this unusual situation: all the nominees for best score are plays.

A fourth jukebox musical, “Girl From the North Country,” opened right before the shutdown but was deemed ineligible for awards because not enough Tony voters managed to see it. That show, a drama inspired by the songs of Bob Dylan, is scheduled to resume performances Oct. 13.

There are no nominees for best musical revival, because the only one that opened before the pandemic, “West Side Story,” also was not seen by enough voters. And now that production is over — its producers have decided not to reopen it.

Credit…Rachel Papo for The New York Times

You would think in a year with so few Tony-eligible musicals — only four eked out an opening before the season’s mid-February cutoff — they would all have a decent shot at taking home a statuette.

Well. Almost all of them.

When nominations were announced last October, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” was the only musical completely snubbed. (The remaining three — “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” — are all contenders for best new musical.)

“The Lightning Thief” has a fairly devoted built-in fan base, many of whom grew up reading the best-selling young-adult novel from which the show was adapted. The story follows a 12-year-old boy who discovers his father is a Greek god, finds a summer camp full of other young demigods like him and fights various mythological monsters along the way.

But the omission was not a surprise. Critics were less than thrilled with the production, which opened for a limited run at the Longacre Theater in October 2019 after a national tour and a stint Off Broadway. (In The New York Times, Jesse Green wrote that it had “all the charm of a tension headache.”)

A show being predictably, and perhaps rightfully, shut out of any awards consideration isn’t usually met with much attention — but the lack of any “Lightning Thief” nods has left a strange vacuum in some categories. Even as this season’s only eligible musical with an original score (a selection of primarily angsty, albeit catchy, rock numbers by Rob Rokicki), nominators instead opted to exclusively acknowledge scores from plays. Perhaps most notably — with the musical’s Percy, Chris McCarrell, left out of the race for leading actor in a musical — Aaron Tveit of “Moulin Rouge!” is the category’s sole contender.

As red carpets go, the one at the Tonys is often defined by what it doesn’t have: an hour of commentary from E!, high fashion affiliations and monthslong angst about who will wear which designer. But what it lacks in commercialization, it makes up for in heart, especially this year, with Broadway having just reopened after the devastation of the pandemic shutdowns. Instead of action heroes in penguin suits, you get David Byrne in a royal blue get-up, no tie and white brogues. And wherever the golden-boy Jeremy O. Harris goes, the carpets sparkle a little brighter.

Credit…Christopher Duggan

Audra McDonald has won more competitive Tony Awards than any other performer, and tonight, when she is a nominee for the ninth time, she is presiding over the awards ceremony.

McDonald is splitting the hosting duties with the actor Leslie Odom Jr. She is hosting the streaming portion of the evening, from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern on Paramount+, when most of the awards will be bestowed; he is presiding over the concert portion, from 9 to 11 p.m. on CBS.

McDonald, 51, is a singular figure in the American theater, revered for her lyric soprano as well as her acting prowess, and last year, following the police killing of George Floyd, she helped found Black Theater United to press for change in the theater industry.

How did she rack up her record-setting string of Tonys? She has won at least once in every acting category: leading actress in a musical (“Porgy & Bess”), leading actress in a play (“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”), featured actress in a musical (“Ragtime” and “Carousel”) and featured actress in a play (“A Raisin in the Sun” and “Master Class”).

This year, she is again a nominee, for her starring role in the 2019 revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The play was written by Terrence McNally, who died during the pandemic from complications of the coronavirus.

McDonald, born in Berlin, raised in Fresno, Calif., and educated at Juilliard, has long been outspoken on social justice issues — her Twitter username is @AudraEqualityMc — and last year she helped pull together a group of Black Broadway stars to form Black Theater United. The organization has already made progress: This summer it persuaded many industry leaders, including theater owners and producers, to sign an agreement pledging to end the hiring of all-white creative teams, to rename a few theaters for Black artists, and to take many other steps to improve racial equity on Broadway.

She also has an active career as a recording artist and concert performer, and she works regularly on television, including in “Private Practice” and “The Good Fight.” She is married to the actor Will Swenson, and has two daughters.

Credit…Cindy Ord/Getty Images

It’s hard to miss the Winter Garden Theater. Nestled among the restaurants and gift shops on Broadway, it sits atop the 50th Street subway station for the 1 line, greeting New York office workers and tourists alike. In recent years, its signage has called out to passers-by, urging them to see “Mamma Mia!” (2001-13), “Rocky” (2014), “Wolf Hall” (2015), “School of Rock” (2015-19) and “Beetlejuice” (2019-20).

On Sunday, it will be at the center of the Broadway universe when it hosts the Tony Awards for the second time. (The first was in 1975.) Hundreds of stars dressed to the nines will pour into the theater, which can accommodate about 1,500 people.

And to think it was all once a place for the horses.

The Winter Garden Theater occupies what used to be the American Horse Exchange, a vast, hulking structure built by William K. Vanderbilt in 1896. The area that is now Times Square was once the epicenter of the horse and carriage trade.

By 1911, when the Lee and Jacob J. Shubert leased the exchange, that era was ending. So just as the horse exchange was being converted into a theater for people, horses were being replaced by automobiles on the streets outside.

In the decades that followed, it would become the home of “West Side Story,” which ran there from 1957-59, and undergo significant renovations for “Cats,” which took the stage in 1982 and ended up running there for 18 years. Next up: A revival of “The Music Man,” starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, which is scheduled to start previews on Dec. 20.

Now all that is left of those times are the memories (sorry, we had to!), but perhaps some new ones will be made at the Winter Garden Theater on Sunday night.

Credit…Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

“Jagged Little Pill” barrels into tonight’s Tony Awards with 15 nominations, more than any other show — but also with its producers confronting two controversies that have prompted scrutiny and an apology.

The show, a musical featuring Alanis Morissette songs and a script that explores a host of social issues, is one of three contenders for best musical, and is a leading contender in the best featured actress and best book categories. It plans to resume performances on Broadway next month.

But in the run-up to the Tonys the show’s producers have found themselves responding to criticism over how depictions of a character’s gender identity evolved as the show developed, and over the accusation by a former member of the cast who said they were asked to delay a surgical procedure. (The Tony voting period ended in March, before that accusation became public.)

On Saturday, the show’s lead producers, Vivek J. Tiwary, Arvind Ethan David and Eva Price, said that they had hired an employment lawyer to look into an accusation from the former cast member, Nora Schell, who uses the pronouns they and them, and who said the production had asked them to delay a procedure to remove vaginal cysts. The union representing stage performers, Actors’ Equity, also said it would investigate; Schell said a union vice president was among those who mishandled the medical concerns.

The statement from the producers came a little more than a week after the musical had issued an apology for its response to concerns about the gender identity of one of the show’s main characters, Jo, who is played by Lauren Patten, a nominee for best featured actress in a musical.

During the show’s pre-Broadway run, some people saw Jo as a rare example of nonbinary representation in a major musical; when the show then transferred to Broadway, some of those fans were disappointed with how the role had evolved.

“In Jo, we set out to portray a character on a gender expansive journey without a known outcome,” the lead producers said. “Throughout the creative process, as the character evolved and changed, between Boston and Broadway, we made mistakes in how we handled this evolution. In a process designed to clarify and streamline, many of the lines that signaled Jo as gender nonconforming, and with them, something vital and integral, got removed from Jo’s character journey.”

The producers said they had “hired a new dramaturgical team (which includes nonbinary, transgender and BIPOC representation), to revisit and deepen the script.”

Schell, who was a member of the ensemble when the musical opened in late 2019, voiced their concerns about backstage treatment on Twitter.

“During previews for the Broadway run of JAGGED LITTLE PILL I was intimidated, coerced and forced by multiple higher ups to put off CRITICAL AND NECESSARY surgery to remove growths from my vagina that were making me anemic,” Schell wrote.

The producers responded with their own statement, declaring themselves “deeply troubled” by the claims and pledging to “take this matter very seriously.”

“Broadway shows are by their very nature collaborative human efforts, so there is nothing more important to us than our people,” they said. “We are committed to continuing to nurture a work environment where everyone feels valued and respected.”

On Saturday, one of the show’s Tony-nominated stars, Celia Rose Gooding, said on Twitter that she was concerned by the allegations. Responding to Schell’s tweet, she wrote, “this is unacceptable. nobody should have to put off necessary medical treatment for a show, ever.”

And, in a more general tweet bidding farewell to the show, which she is leaving for a role in “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” she wrote that she “cannot ignore the harm Jagged has done to the trans and nonbinary community.”

Credit…Mark Sommerfeld for The New York Times

Up and down Broadway, where theaters had been gathering dust since they were forced to close on March 12, 2020, design teams and stage crews have been busy burnishing dirty fixtures, replacing dead batteries, re-fireproofing safety cloths and trying to make sure that everything still functions.

For performers, stage crews, producers and more, reopening has been a monumental challenge. And what about those visual effects that bring the dazzle to the razzle? How are shows making sure some of their signature spectacles are ready for prime time? Returning shows, including “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Moulin Rouge!,” have retuned, restored and restarted their signature effects.

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Originally scheduled for June 7, 2020, the Tony Awards were delayed — and delayed again, after nominations were announced last October — in an attempt to bolster a pandemic-hobbled industry.

Here’s a look at how we got here after so much uncertainty.

It’s been more than a year and a half since that fateful day — March 12, 2020 — when the curtain came down on all 31 plays and musicals running on Broadway. Initially supposed to last 32 days, the suspension knocked out 16 planned spring 2020 openings, from March 12 (“Six,” which was just hours from its opening night) to April 23 (when “Take Me Out” was scheduled to open).

As it became clear the coronavirus was going to be with us for a while, the Tonys were postponed indefinitely.

Nearly a month into the shutdown, the reopening date for Broadway was pushed to June. Then, in August, came the announcement that the Tony Awards would go ahead, albeit online. The awards administrators debated combining the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons for one televised ceremony in 2021, but decided against that over concern that it would not be fair to shows that opened in 2019. (Of course, they didn’t yet know there wouldn’t be a 2020-21 season.)

The nominations were announced in October 2020, with “Jagged Little Pill,” the Alanis Morissette jukebox musical that the New York Times chief critic, Jesse Green, called “sincere without syrup, rousing and real,” and “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’s portrait of race and sex in America that Green called “one of the best and most provocative new works to show up on Broadway in years,” receiving the most nominations. “Slave Play,” which has 12, became the most-nominated play in Tonys history.

But then came November. And then December. And then a new year — and still, no ceremony.

Tonys voting plans were announced in January, though organizers wouldn’t commit to an event until Broadway’s return was set. In March, 778 voters made their selections — more than a year after they’d seen many of the shows. Then, on May 26, the actual, this-is-really-happening plan was announced. And here we are.

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

It’s been a long, long time since Broadway last held a Tony Awards ceremony.

Tonight, after a 27-month hiatus, the event honoring Broadway’s best plays and musicals is back.

There will be plenty of awards — 25 competitive categories in all this year — and lots of speeches.

But the thrust of the evening is a little different: reminding viewers that Broadway has reopened after a disastrously long pandemic shutdown, and hoping that a showcase of show tunes and sentiment will persuade audiences to return.

This year’s Tony Awards are taking place, live and in-person, at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern, and scheduled to end at 11.

Most of the awards will be announced during the first two hours, at a ceremony hosted by the six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald. That segment will be viewable only on the streaming service Paramount+.

The second half of the evening will consist of a concert at which stars of the theater world will perform classic and contemporary show tunes. That portion of the event, called “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!,” will be hosted by Leslie Odom Jr. (a Tony winner for “Hamilton”) and broadcast on CBS, and it will include three big awards, for best musical, best play and best play revival.

Because the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, the ceremony is restricted in many ways.

The red carpet is much shorter than usual. There is no official after-party. (The city rejected a request for a permit to hold one on the street.)

And the audience watching in person will be limited — the Winter Garden holds 1,500 people, compared to 6,000 at Radio City Music Hall, where the event was often held in previous years. All of the attendees must show proof of vaccination, and they are being asked to wear masks throughout the event.

The awards ceremony will honor plays and musicals that opened during a pandemic-shortened eligibility period — from April 26, 2019, to Feb. 19, 2020. Only 18 shows were eligible for awards — about half as many as usual — and only 15 scored nominations.

The most-nominated shows are the musicals “Jagged Little Pill,” with 15, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” with 14, and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical,” with 12, as well as “Slave Play,” which with 12 is the most-nominated play in Tonys history.

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