As seen in virtually every pundit’s Tony Awards predictions (including my own), it was a given that “The Band’s Visit” was going to win best musical, along with (at the very least) awards for best score (David Yazbek), direction of a musical (David Cromer) and actress in a musical (Katrina Lenk).
But whether it was because this relatively modest and mild-mannered but absorbing musical (which scored rave reviews) caught on with voters, or because the voters had become nauseated by the brand-infused nature of the other nominated musicals (“Mean Girls,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Frozen”), “The Band’s Visit” over-performed.
Tony Shalhoub — who left “The Band’s Visit” over the winter but returned last month for several performances intended for Tony voters — won best actor over Ethan Slater (“SpongeBob”) and Joshua Henry (“Carousel”). And, 26-year-old Ari’el Stachel (who plays Shalhoub’s heartthrob companion) won best featured actor in a musical over two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz (“My Fair Lady”).
In what may have been the biggest shock of the night, playwright Itamar Moses (“The Band’s Visit”) won best book of a musical over Tina Fey, who was expected to win for “Mean Girls.”
The producers of the Tony Awards were caught embarrassingly off-guard. Had there been the slightest doubt over whether Fey would win, the award would not have been televised, which was the case with best score, which has always been a comparatively higher-profile award.
“Mean Girls,” “Frozen” and “Summer” won no Tony awards (making them officially snubbed) and “SpongeBob SquarePants” won only for its scenic design. But they still did better than Jimmy Buffett’s “Escape to Margaritaville,” which did not merit even a single Tony nomination.
Another pleasant surprise occurred when the Caribbean-flavored fairy tale musical “Once on This Island” captured best revival of a musical over “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel,” two better-known musicals with bigger production values.
“Carousel” has engendered decidedly mixed reactions and “My Fair Lady” (while rightfully praised) does bring on a sense of déjà vu following “South Pacific” and “The King and I.”
Laurie Metcalf unexpectedly won best featured actress in a play for her performance in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” over Denise Gough for “Angels in America.” (Glenda Jackson was a shoe-in for “Three Tall Women.) However, “Angels in America” still managed to pick up awards for best revival of a play and the performances of Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane.
It was no surprise to hear a few politically-tinged comments in acceptance speeches, touching up issues of immigration, gay rights, women’s rights, diversity, mental health treatment and the Middle East, but no one expected Robert De Niro to take the stage and twice invoke language about the president that required being muted by CBS.
While it had been previously announced that Melody Herzfeld, the drama teacher of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, would receive a special honor for theater education, it was wonderfully moving to see her students take to the stage and perform the cathartic pop-gospel anthem “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.”
Co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles brought an unusually youthful, classy vibe to the proceedings that seemed to be pitched to teenage theater geeks around the country who can’t attend Broadway shows but are streaming video clips and cast recordings and performing in high school productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Of course, whether or not they will be invited to host again may depend on the yet-to-be-released ratings.