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5 takeaways from the 2024 Tony Awards

That was no surprise Stereophone, a play about a rock band that makes a hit album, won the most Tony Awards on Sunday night, including for best new play. It had received the most nominations for a play ever: 13 of them.

In fact, there were very few surprises at this boring 77th annual Tony Awards, except for one: Best Musical. It was widely expected that this honor would be received The kitchen of hell, a musical loosely based on the life of Alicia Keys and incorporating her music, with its 13 nominations. And then, halfway through the show, it looked like the winner might be the original musical Satisfieswhich won early Tonys for both the book and score for creator and star Shaina Taub.

But no, the final prize of the evening went to The outsiders, an energetic adaptation of SE Hinton’s beloved YA book and later film. The film was directed by Danya Taymor, who also won. The kitchen of hell only won two awards, for star Maleah Joi Moon, and Kecia Lewis, who plays her mentor.

The outsiders is an exciting show – and perhaps excitement is what Broadway needs right now. The Tonys certainly did that, because…

1. The show was… kind of boring.

For people whose professions depend on making words sound appealing, too many people have tampered with their speeches. And most of those speeches were laundry lists of thank yous (a notable exception was Jonathan Groff’s beautiful speech—for starring in a musical—about growing up with parents who didn’t always understand him but encouraged him anyway).

The performances were great, but when anyone spoke up – even the normally bubbly host Ariana DeBose – it was mostly bland.

Last year there were no scripts due to the SAG-AFTRA strike…maybe we should go back to that.

2. Politics was (vaguely) everywhere…

This theater season had its share of political shows: Satisfies is about women fighting for voting rights, Enemy of the people is about a battle over an environmental disaster, and Patriots is about Putin’s rise to power.

Politics also appeared on the Tony stage. Several presenters and winners urged people to vote in this election year, spoke confidently about “making change,” or both. Yet little was specific: I didn’t hear anyone mention a candidate’s name, speak out on a current issue, or draw attention to something they thought was undercover in the media.

3. …and so did celebrities

Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas and Brooke Shields were all presenters. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys sang their anthem ‘Empire State of Mind’, the closing song of The kitchen of hell, although they do not appear in the Broadway production. Pete Townshend of The Who was playing guitar on “Pinball Wizard” when the cast stopped Tommy performed (it’s not on Broadway either). Daniel Radcliffe, Jeremy Strong and Sarah Paulson won acting awards and Eddie Redmayne performed with the cast of Cabaret.

Basically, if someone has both Broadway and celeb credentials, the Tony Awards tried to cram them into the show. It was probably meant to feel cool. Instead, it felt a bit desperate.

4. Plays are back.

The current Broadway atmosphere seems a bit desperate. And no wonder. While there is plenty to see (36 Tony-eligible productions opened this season, 14 in the last few weeks of April alone), audiences have not yet returned to 2019 levels.

Musicals tend to attract tourists, and the Tonys showed that by featuring a song from each nominee. But they also added a play. Stereophone. (Which, to be fair, contains quite a lot of music.)

That is because Stereophone is a hot ticket right now. It just feels fresh and new and puts us in a recording studio, where young members of a band fight to create something despite their clashing personalities. It has no stars, but compelling performances, tight lyrics and memorable music. It’s innovative. It’s breathtaking. It’s something you just don’t see anywhere else.

That is very different from the musical situation. Musicals now cost so much money that producers are reluctant to back productions not based on well-known material, meaning theaters are filled with adaptations of films, books and even albums. While every show this season featured at least one scene that was innovative, moving, or even wildly creative, musicals as a whole felt disappointingly safe this year.

Binaural is just one example of many. There’s also Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate, which won best revival of a play. The intense performances, the surprising set and the complicated family drama make it an exciting rollercoaster ride. And so many others.

In short, if you’ve seen a play on Broadway this season, you can’t go wrong.

5. Advocate for theatre

Most of the most resonant speeches took place before the main Tonys started; the special performance and many of the design awards were streamed on Pluto TV before the main event.

One of the best of these was from director George C. Wolfe, the Tony Special Achievement winner, who advocated the importance of theater to society.

He said that theater “doesn’t have to look like you to be about you.” And, he said, at an “incredibly complicated time in this country,” theater celebrates and explores the human heart.

That was a speech that would have been worth hearing in prime time.

Copyright 2024 NPR