Tony Awards Analysis: Big Names Pack Ceremony, But Broadway’s Own Win Most Top Prizes

There were a ton of “Hollywood names” at the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday night, which undoubtedly helped to elevate interest in a nationwide telecast that is always a bit of a tough sell, given that it celebrates shows that relatively few people outside — or even inside — the tri-state area have actually seen.

Among the A-listers on hand this year were Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose, returning as the host for the third time; presenters such as Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Hudson, Oscar winners both; performers including Alicia Keys, Jay Z, Pete Townshend and yet another Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne; and worthy honorees like Jeremy Strong (best actor in a play for An Enemy of the People) and Sarah Paulson (best actress in a play for Appropriate), each of whom has an Emmy at home, and Daniel Radcliffe (best featured actor in a play for Merrily We Roll Along), the face of one of the biggest film franchises of all time.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

But, in a demonstration of the fiecely independent spirit that has long defined the Tonys, the members of the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League awarded their top prizes for new shows, best musical and best play, to titles with nary a celebrity in their cast (The Outsiders and Stereophonic, respectively), and most of their acting awards to people who are known primarily for their work on the Great White Way: Merrily We Roll Along’s Jonathan Groff, Hell’s Kitchen’s Kecia Lewis and Maleah Joi Moon, Purlie Victorious’s Kara Young and Stereophonic’s Will Brill.

The Outsiders, it must be acknowledged, does share source material with a 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film and counts Jolie among its producers. And Hell’s Kitchen and Suffs, the two shows with which it was thought to be in a neck-and-neck race for best musical, the one prize that consistently moves the needle at the box office, also had celebrity backers (Keys for Hell’s Kitchen, a semi-autobiographical account of her youth, and Hillary Clinton for Suffs, the story of American suffragists), if not already-known stars.

The Outsiders left with four prizes — in addition to best musical, it won for its direction (Danya Taymor, Tony winner Julie’s niece), lighting design and sound design — while Hell’s Kitchen and Suffs each won two. Kitchen’s wins were best actress in a musical for the newcomer who plays “Ali,” Moon, and best featured actress in a musical for the 40-year Broadway veteran who gives a towering performance as her fictionalized mentor, Lewis. Both of Suffs‘ wins, meanwhile, went to 36-year-old Shaina Taub, not for her performance as the show’s lead, which went un-nominated, but for writing the show’s book and score.

Stereophonic, which entered the evening with 13 noms, the most for a play in Tonys history, ended up winning five prizes — in addition to best play, it was recognized for its direction (Daniel Aukin), scenic design, sound design and, unexpectedly, Brill’s featured performance — the highest tally of any show this year, but a bit short of the record for a play (The Coast of Utopia won seven in 2007).

The winning revivals were the musical Merrily We Roll Along (a famous flop when it was first mounted on Broadway in 1981, now a blockbuster) and the Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play Appropriate (which has actually never previously been performed on Broadway, only off, making its classification a bit perplexing).

It was widely expected that the leads of both shows, Groff (of Spring Awakening and Hamilton fame) and Paulson, would prevail in their categories, as would Radcliffe, and indeed they did. Somewhat surprising were the losses of Merrily featured actress Lindsay Mendez, a 2018 winner in the category for Carousel, to Hell’s Kitchen’s Lewis; and of Appropriate featured actor Corey Stoll, who was upended by Stereophonic’s Brill.

It was gratifying to see other Tonys go to Young, an acting nominee for the third consecutive year, and now a winner for the first time, for her featured performance in the play Purlie Victorious; 36-year-old wunderkind Justin Peck, claiming his second Tony for best choreography, for Illinoise, six years after his first, for Carousel; Cabaret for best scenic design of a musical (it could have won for the design of its “prologue” alone); Jaja’s African Hair Braiding for best coustume design of a play; The Great Gatsby for best costume design of a musical; Appropriate for best lighting design of a play; and Merrily for best orchestrations.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter