NEW YORK (AP) — Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane won Tony Awards on Sunday for their work in “Angels in America,” while the shimmering, grown-up musical “The Band’s Visit” began to pull away with a leading seven awards.
Garfield, who won his first Tony, plays a young gay man living with AIDS in the sprawling, seven-hour revival opposite Lane, who won his third. Garfield dedicated the win to the LGBTQ community, who he said fought and died for the right to love. He said the play is a rejection of bigotry, shame and oppression.
“We are all sacred and we all belong,” Garfield said. He then referenced last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled in favor of a baker’s right to deny a gay couple a wedding cake based on his beliefs.
“(Let’s) just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked,” he said, to rousing applause. Lane said the play still speaks to society in the midst of “political insanity.”
At the halfway mark, “The Band’s Visit,” based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name about an Egyptian band that goes to the wrong Israeli town, won for best direction, orchestration, sound design, best book of a musical, lighting and featured actor Ari’el Stachel, who gave a heartfelt speech about his past.
“For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person,” he said, addressing his parents in the audience. He thanked the creators of the show “for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time that we need that more than ever.”
He added: “I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races, and we’re doing that.”
The show’s director, David Cromer, said the musical is also about loneliness and despair, and asked everyone to reach out to anyone for whom “despair is overwhelming.”
In a mesmerizing moment, Melody Herzfeld, the heroic drama teacher who nurtured many of the young people demanding change following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was honored from the Tony Award stage.
Herzfeld, the one-woman drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was cheered by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Herzfeld saved 65 lives by barricading students into a small classroom closet on Valentine’s Day when police say a former student went on a school rampage, killing 17 people.
She then later encouraged many of her pupils to lead the nationwide movement for gun reform, including organizing the March For Our Lives demonstration and the charity single “Shine.” Members of Herzfeld’s drama department took the Tony stage to serenade her with “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.”
J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” franchise has extended its magical touch to Broadway with five awards for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” including book, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and director John Tiffany, who asked the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to his boyfriend. They obliged.
In other wins, Glenda Jackson added to her impressive resume with a Tony Award for best actress in a play for her work in a revival of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” That show also yielded the featured actress win to “Rosanne” star Laurie Metcalf.
Billy Joel gave his friend Bruce Springsteen a special Tony Award. “This is deeply appreciated, and thanks for making me feel so welcome on your block,” The Boss said. Later, Springsteen will perform “My Hometown” on the piano from his sold-out one-man show.
Co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles kicked the show off with a self-parodying duet on piano for all the losers out there — including them.
Neither Bareilles nor Groban have won a Grammy or a Tony despite selling millions of albums and appearing on Broadway. They turned that into a playful song.
“Let’s not forget that 90 percent of us leave empty-handed tonight. So this is for the people who lose/Most of us have been in your shoes,” they sang in the upbeat opening number. “This one’s for the loser inside of you.”
Two new musicals led the nominations for the top Tony Award crown, with Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” receiving 12 nods each. The revival of “Angels in America” had 11 and the two-part play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” had 10. Many critics have tapped “The Band’s Visit” as their odds-on favorite to be crowned best new musical.
The revival of “Carousel” won two awards — choreography and for Lindsay Mendez, who won best featured actress in a musical. She accepted in tears, recounting that when she moved to New York, she was told to change her last name to Matthews or she wouldn’t work. She said she was happy to be in a production that “celebrates diversity and individuality.” To all artists out there, she said: “Just be your true self and the world will take note.”
Getting buzz from appearing on the telecast can dictate a show’s future, both on Broadway and on tour. Broadway producers will be thankful this year that the telecast won’t have to compete with any NBA Finals or Stanley Cup playoff games.
For most of the previous awards season, shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes have acknowledged the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Bareilles and Groban will try to do that while also eviscerating any memory of last year’s Tony host, Kevin Spacey, who since then has been accused by at least 24 men of sexual misconduct or assault.
The pair will also hope to end a ratings slide following the 2016 edition that was led by “Hamilton,” which drew 8.73 million viewers. Spacey’s ceremony last year drew 6 million viewers, which represented a drop of approximately 31 percent in total viewers from the previous year.
The show is a sort of victory lap for a Broadway season that saw grosses hit another record high by pulling in $1.7 billion — up 17.1 percent over last season’s $1.45 billion. Attendance was also up, coming in a 13.79 million, an increase of 3.9 percent at last season’s 13.27 million.
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