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A Tony Awards ceremony with suspense and surprise

2024 Tony Awards – Show
David Adjmi, center, and members of the company of “Stereophonic” accept the award for best play during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

It is probably best to reflect upon the 77th Annual Tony Awards ceremony, held on Sunday night at Lincoln Center and broadcast on CBS, from the comfort of a therapist’s couch or over a series of drinks, especially when recalling such moments as Eddie Redmayne’s baffling turn as a creepy clown Emcee in “Cabaret,” the surprise appearance by Jay-Z during the “Hell’s Kitchen” sequence that turned out to be pre-filmed, in blatant disregard of the spirit of live theater, or the underwhelming opening number led by host Ariana DeBose.

If nothing else, the ceremony offered genuine suspense over the essential question of what would win the Tony Award for Best Musical, which lasted until the very end when “The Outsiders” unexpectedly (though not improbably) won Best Musical over the Alicia Keys jukebox musical “Hell’s Kitchen,” which had been the assumed favorite. (Midway through, one got a hint this was going to happen when, in the biggest shocker of all, “The Outsiders” won Best Direction of a Musical over “Merrily We Roll Along.”

However, among the new musicals, wins were shared among “The Outsiders,” “Hell’s Kitchen” (for lead actress Maleah Joi Moon and supporting actress Kecia Lewis), “Suffs” (double wins by Shaina Taub for best score and book), and “Illinoise” (choreography), though “Water for Elephants” went home empty-handed.

Members of the company of “The Outsiders” perform a number from the musical during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The most redeeming quality of the ceremony involved the multiple wins by “Merrily We Roll Along,” the 1981 flop Sondheim musical that later became a cult favorite among musical theater aficionados and triumphantly returned to Broadway this season, including for Best Musical Revival, leading actor Jonathan Groff, and supporting actor Daniel Radcliffe.

The play categories played out with less surprise, with the rock band drama “Stereophonic” receiving five awards including Best Play and the dark family comedy “Appropriate” receiving Best Play Revival plus an award for Sarah Paulson’s lead performance. Luckily, Kara Young, in her third consecutive Tony nomination, won for her vibrant supporting performance in “Purlie Victorious.”

Daniel Radcliffe accepts the award for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical for “Merrily We Roll Along” during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Although the acceptance speeches seemed to go on longer than usual, there were many touching moments, such as producer Sonia Friedman declaring to the late creators of “Merrily” that the show is finally “popular,” Jonathan Groff recalling watching the Tony Awards on television as a kid in Lancaster County, PA, Will Brill (upon winning for his supporting performance in “Stereophonic”) asking his co-stars to stand, and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (upon winning for “Appropriate”) acknowledging the late Ossie Davis for “Purlie Victorious.”

My favorite moment was probably the most random of all: Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, appearing as their hapless characters in “Gutenberg! The Musical!,” trying to make sense of why “Gutenberg!” was considered a musical revival instead of a new musical. Perhaps they should be future hosts.

Alicia Keys performs alongside members of the company of “Hell’s Kitchen” during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The strangest spectacle of the night was having co-producers (who apparently were too numerous in number to allow to be onstage to accept an award) appearing from somewhere else in the theater and projected onto a jumbo screen above the lead producers, creating a kind of double vision.

The television viewership for the ceremony was slightly down, continuing an ongoing trend that will probably continue into the future and could eventually lead to it no longer being on broadcast television or a complete overhaul in its presentation.

It is unfortunate that, unlike in past years, no opportunity was provided for musicals that were not nominated for Best Musical or Best Musical Revival to perform and at least get a shot at marketing themselves to a mass television audience. On Tuesday morning, “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” which received no nominations and has been playing to half-filled houses, announced it would close on June 23. (Last year, the Neil Diamond bio musical “A Beautiful Noise” performed at the Tony Awards even though it received no nominations.)

Nick Jonas, far left, and Adrienne Warren, far right, present the award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical to Maleah Joi Moon for “Hell’s Kitchen” during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Kecia Lewis accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical for “Hell’s Kitchen” during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Hilary Clinton presents a musical number from “Suffs” during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Members of the company of “Suffs” perform during the 77th Tony Awards on Sunday, June 16, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)