NEW YORK – “Hadestown,” the brooding musical about the underworld, had a heavenly night at the Tony Awards, winning eight trophies Sunday, including best new musical and handing a rare win for a female director of a musical.
Playwright Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” was crowned best play. In the four lead actor and actress categories, Bryan Cranston won his second acting Tony, but theater veterans Elaine May, Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block each won for the first time.
The crowd at Radio City Music Hall erupted when Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony. Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down due to a car crash when she was 2, won for featured actresses in a musical for her work in a dark revival of “Oklahoma!”
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.”
Rachel Chavkin, the only woman to helm a new Broadway musical this season, won the Tony for best director of a musical for “Hadestown.” She became only the 10th woman to win as director of either a play or a musical on Broadway and told the crowd she was sorry to be such a rarity.
“There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many people of color who are ready to go.” A lack of strides in embracing diversity on Broadway, she said, “is not a pipeline issue” but a lack of imagination.
Cranston seemed to tap into the vibe when he won the Tony for best leading man in a play award for his work as newscaster Howard Beale in a stage adaptation of “Network.”
“Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” he joked. The star, who wore a blue ribbon on his suit to support reproductive rights, also dedicated his award to journalists who are in the line of fire. “The media is not the enemy of the people,” he said. “Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”
The respect for women’s work also got a boost when Butterworth, who earlier asked the crowd to give his partner, actress Laura Donnelly, a round of applause for giving birth to their two children while working on the ensemble drama, handed his best play trophy to Donnelly. A Donnelly family story inspired him to write the play.
Fontana won his first Tony as the cross-dressing lead in “Tootsie.” Fontana, perhaps best known for his singing role as Hans in “Frozen,” won in an adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film about a struggling actor who impersonated a woman in order to improve his chances of getting a job. It was the only win for “Tootsie.”
Another first-time winner was Block, who earned her Tony Award for playing a legend – Cher. Block, who has had roles on “Homeland” and “Orange Is the New Black,” is one of three actresses to play the title character in the musical “The Cher Show.”
She thanked “the goddess Cher for her life and legacy.”
Other winners included the legendary May, who took home her first ever Tony for best leading actress, playing the Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother in Kenneth Lonergan’s comic drama “The Waverly Gallery.”
Andre DeShields captured featured actor in a musical for “Hadestown,” his first Tony at the age of 73. In his speech, he gave “three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity.
“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be, and three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”
Corden, in his second stint as Tony host, was at his fanboy best, whether anxiously hiding in a bathroom with previous hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareillies or trying to provoke a Nicki Minaj-Cardi B-style beef between usually overly polite and supportive Broadway figures (Laura Linney and Audra McDonald finally obliged). He also asked celebrities to sing karaoke during the commercials.
He kicked off the show with a massive, 9-minute opening number that served as a full-throated endorsement of the live experience, with Corden beginning it seated alone on a couch in front of a TV, overwhelmed by his binge options, before taking flight with dozens of glitzy dancers from this season’s shows, all filling the Radio City stage with an unprecedented volume.
The first acting award went to Celia Keenan-Bolger, who won for best featured actress in a play for her role as Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She noted that her parents read her the book when she was a child in Detroit and her grandparents had a burning cross put on their lawn because they helped African Americans.
Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for “Ink.” He said he wished he could be with his mother, hospitalized in London: “I love you, mum.”
Oscar-winning director and producer Sam Mendes won his first directing Tony Award for guiding “The Ferryman” and the play earned Rob Howell two Tonys – for best play set designs and costumes. Robert Horn won for best book of a musical for “Tootsie.”
“Hadestown” other wins were for scenic design, sound design, lighting design and orchestrations. It also went on to earn singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell a Tony for best score.
Legendary designer Bob Mackie won the Tony for best costume designs for a musical for “The Cher Show,” getting laughs for saying “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old.”
The dark retelling of “Oklahoma!” beat the lush and playful revival of the rival Golden Age musical “Kiss Me, Kate” to the Tony for best musical revival. “The Boys in the Band” was crowned best play revival.
Sergio Trujillo won the best choreography prize for “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations,” saying in his speech that he arrived in New York decades ago without legal permission. “I’m here to tell you the American dream is alive,” he said. It was the only win for the musical, which had 12 nominations, second only to “Hadestown.”
The awards cap a season that showed Broadway is in good shape. The shows this season reported a record $1.8 billion in sales, up 7.8 percent from last season. Attendance was 14.8 million – up 7.1 percent – and has risen steadily for decades.
Associated Press writers Leanne Italie and Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits