Tony Awards: ‘Stereophonic,’ ‘Merrily We Roll Along,’ ‘The Outsiders,’ and ‘Appropriate’ Take Top Prizes

Tony Awards: ‘Stereophonic,’ ‘Merrily We Roll

“Stereophonic” and “Merrily We Roll Along,” two shows that examine the tension between art and commerce, triumphed at the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, capturing prizes for best play and best musical revival. “The Outsiders,” a kinetic adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel, was named best musical, while best revival of a play went to “Appropriate,” a piercing and darkly funny tale of family dysfunction.

It was a night filled with tributes to following dreams and staying true to your artistic compass, as well as a show that alluded to the rise of authoritarianism around the world and revival of Trump-ism in this country. In one of many politically charged moments, Shaina Taub, who won Tony Awards for writing the book and the score of “Suffs,” a look at the women’s suffrage movement, urged the audience to remember that “when we organize, when we come together, we are capable of making real change in this country for equality and justice.” Later, one of the show’s producers, Hillary Clinton, took to the stage to a standing ovation.

The former First Lady was there to introduce a number from “Suffs,” one of several energetic performances during the broadcast from the likes of “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club,” “Water for Elephants” and “Hell’s Kitchen” (which saw Alicia Keys joined by Jay-Z for “Empire State of Mind”). They represented just a handful of the 36 new productions and three special events that comprised the 2023-24 season. For many of these shows, winning a Tony Award, particularly in a major category, can mark the difference between an extended run and a closing notice. It is still seen as one of the best ways to attract audiences, particularly at a time when the theater business has not fully regained its pre-COVID stride.

With five awards, “Stereophonic” was the evening’s biggest winner, but if there was a statue for most unlikely comeback it would go to “Merrily We Roll Along.” The Stephen Sondheim show, which moves backwards in time as it examines the fraying bonds between a trio of friends, was a fiasco when it debuted on Broadway in 1981. It closed after 16 performances and 44 previews. And yet its revival was one of the major commercial successes of the season, as well as an awards season victor, earning four Tony Awards.

“Stereophonic,” the story of a Fleetwood Mac-like rock band, struggling to make an album while contending with too many drugs, too much romantic drama and too many clashing egos, earned prizes for Daniel Aukin’s direction, as well as the supporting performance of Will Brill as the most substance-addled member of the band. It was written by David Adjmi, who spent 11 years creating a show about artistic obsession and the unquenchable drive to create something truly lasting.

“The Outsiders’” Danya Taymor was named best director of a musical for bringing a grittiness to the look at a group of brawling Oklahoma teens. Taking off her heels as she accepted her award, she implored young artists: “Don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Artistic risk yields rewards.” The show’s Oscar-winning producer Angelina Jolie was on hand to watch “The Outsiders” capture its four honors (CBS’ cameras panned back repeatedly to the Oscar-winning movie star throughout the broadcast to catch her reactions). Going into the evening, awards sages had predicted that “Hell’s Kitchen,” a semi-autobiographical look at Alicia Keys’ early life in New York City, would win best musical.

“Appropriate” marks the Broadway debut of its writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a two-time Pulitzer finalist whose previous shows such as  “An Octoroon” and “The Comeuppance” were beloved by critics. It won three prizes, including best actress in a play for Sarah Paulson’s lacerating turn as a woman in a fight with her siblings over her father’s inheritance.

In an emotional speech, Paulson paid tribute to Janet McTeer, who she said inspired her with her work in the 1997 revival of “A Doll’s House.” “Some nights when I’m backstage I think about the indelible impact of her and I think about the walls of theaters all over this magical town holding the impact of each and every one of you in this room and all of those who came before,” she said. “And I think how lucky those walls were to bear witness to the relentless interrogation of human experience that we endeavor to explore nightly.”

Jeremy Strong was named best actor in a play for his performance as a doctor who raises the alarm about a public health crisis in “Enemy of the People” at great personal cost. Strong drew parallels between his character’s struggles and the moral dilemmas society is grappling with today. “This play is a cry from the heart and an exhortation to face up to the difficult truths that are staring us all down right now,” Strong said. “It’s been a privilege to give its warning and its hope to audiences.

Kara Young won best supporting actress in a play for her comic turn in “Purlie Victorious” as a woman involved in a scheme to buy back a community church. Even before her victory, Young made history as the first Black actor to be nominated for a Tony three years in a row. She was previously recognized for her work in “Clyde’s” and “Cost of Living.”

“Merrily We Roll Along” earned two of the four musical acting prizes, winning best actor in a musical for Jonathan Groff, as well as a statue for the supporting performance of Daniel Radcliffe. Tearing up, Groff thanked his parents for encouraging his theatrical pursuit, saying, “I walk through life with an open heart because you let me know that I could.” In his acceptance speech, an emotional Radcliffe said “I will never have it this good again.” He noted that he had become so close to Groff and his co-star Lindsay Mendez that “I don’t really have to act in this show; I just have to look at you and feel everything that I want to feel.”

“Hells Kitchen” breakout Maleah Joi Moon was named best actress in a musical for her Broadway debut as a talented musician rebelling against an overprotective mother. She had trouble finding her speech in her purse after her name was called. Like Groff, she thanked her parents for the role they played in getting her to Broadway’s biggest stage. “‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is about a 17-year-old on the cusp of a dream,” she said. “I can’t imagine how many dreams deferred, how many sacrifices each of you made.”

Kecia Lewis (who had to tell well-wishers to stop texting her as she accepted her statue) was named best supporting actress in a musical for her portrayal of an inspirational music teacher in “Hell’s Kitchen.” “I’d like to thank those people in my life who wouldn’t let me give up,” she said. “Being in this business 40 years, I wanted to give up many times.”

Ariana DeBose, the Oscar-winning star of “West Side Story,” hosted the Tony Awards for the third consecutive year. After a spirited dance number, DeBose nodded to the upheaval around the world.

“Headlines are frankly terrifying most of the time, but the theater is a safe place for us all,” she said. “In the most trying of times art is imperative, because art reflects society and provides context for the very real situations that we find ourselves in today.”

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