Tony Awards: Fun Home, Teary Surprises, and Glitzy Performances Win the Night
After a broadcast dominated by buoyant song-and-dance spectacles and the snarky yet good-natured comic energy of co-hosts Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, the 69th Tony Awards bestowed Broadway's highest honor, best musical, on the intimate and haunting family drama Fun Home on Sunday at Radio City Music Hall. Inspired by Alison Bechdel's graphic-novel memoir of her closeted gay father and her own coming out as a lesbian, Fun Home dominated the night, taking home a total of five awards. The musical, which had been in a tight race for the big prize with the dazzling, dance-drenched An American in Paris, also took home trophies for lead actor in a musical (Michael Cerveris), best score (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron), best book (Kron), and best director (Sam Gold).
Helen Mirren captured her first Tony award (lead actress in a play) for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience; she won an Oscar in 2007 for playing the same character in Peter Morgan's The Queen and an Emmy for playing another British royal, Elizabeth I, in the eponymous 2005 television movie. "Your Majesty, you did it again," Mirren joked in accepting the prize. (She is just a Grammy award away from becoming one of only 12 EGOT—Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony—winners. "I have to do an audio book of some sort," she said backstage.)
Other big winners at the ceremony included The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for best play and its star Alex Sharp, a 25-year-old recent Juilliard grad, for lead actor in a play, and five-time Tony bridesmaid Kelli O'Hara, who finally nabbed her first win.
Hosts With the Most
Broadway favorites Cumming and Chenoweth are also familiar faces to television viewers. Cumming plays Machiavellian political operator Eli Gold on The Good Wife; Chenoweth portrayed April Rhodes on Glee and Annabeth Schott on The West Wing, among other roles.
The past Tony-winners were more than comfortable onstage, supplying razor-sharp wits, droll comic timing, and the requisite razzle-dazzle. In their opening, they teased Finding Neverland producer Harvey Weinstein about his show coming up empty for nominations, singing, "Smile, even though your heart is aching…You'll find that life is still worthwhile—if you just count your over $1 million a week box office receipts!" After she lost to O'Hara for lead actress in a musical, cameras flashed to a frowning Chenoweth backstage, hilariously muttering to Cumming that "She better lock her doors tonight." When Cumming called Mirren the fiercest queen on Broadway, Chenoweth snapped, "Careful. You're messing with our core audience."
The Tony Awards are all about showing off Broadway's big production numbers, and there may be none bigger or more bombastic this season than the show-stopping number "A Musical" from the Elizabethan-era Shakespeare send-up Something Rotten! Belted out by actors Brian d'Arcy James (Smash) as a washed-up playwright and Brad Oscar as a confused Nostradamus, along with most of the company, the song simultaneously satirizes and celebrates the genre and every famous musical you can think of, from Cats and A Chorus Line to Lion King and Phantom of the Opera.
Fun Home Impresses
Fun Home had already won several early awards, including best director and best score. Yet audiences at home may have been wondering what the intimate, unique, and critically acclaimed show was all about, since it isn't based on a familiar movie. They soon got their answer. Broadway legend Joel Grey, who publicly came out as gay earlier this year at the age of 82, introduced the performance with a poignant and funny bit alongside his daughter, Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey. (The musical tells the story of a young lesbian grappling with a closeted gay father and her burgeoning sexuality.) Tony Awards producers had suggested that the show perform the upbeat, '70s-style pastiche number "Welcome to the Fun Home." But Fun Home's producers decided to go with a moving solo performance by 11-year-old featured actress Tony nominee Sydney Lucas, who delivered a soaring rendition of the song "Ring of Keys," an eye-opening ode to a young girl recognizing herself in a swaggering butch-female delivery truck driver.
Memorable Acceptance Speeches
Ruthie Ann Miles and Michael Cerveris both triumphed in tight races for their respective categories and gave memorable speeches. Miles, who plays Tuptim in The King and I, captured the featured actress in a musical Tony over three Fun Home competitors (Lucas, Emily Skeggs, and Judy Kuhn). She became just the second actress of Asian descent to win a Tony and delivered a charming, tear-filled acceptance speech that she read from her iPhone. Shaking with emotion, Miles urged the audience to recycle, frantically looked for her husband in the audience, mocked her failed attempt at a joke, and did a hilarious slow moving head-turn when Tony producers tried to force her to wrap up her speech with the sounds of tap dancers.
Cerveris, as the troubled, closeted gay father in Fun Home, won for lead actor in a musical. Known to TV audiences as menacing State's Attorney James Castro on The Good Wife, the actor improvised a humble, poignant speech, even giving a shout-out to gay rights supporters hoping for a historic ruling from the Supreme Court later this month.
Josh Groban Performs
Last year, Tony Award producers were roundly criticized for discarding the In Memoriam segment. They made up for it this year by getting singer Josh Groban to croon a moving version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel. On a screen overhead flashed pictures of the dearly departed, including longtime Broadway booster Joan Rivers (whom the Oscars failed to showcase in their tribute this year), as 175 costumed performers from this season's nominated shows rose on platforms to join Groban.
Sixth Time's the Charm
With six Tony nomination and no wins, O'Hara was becoming the Susan Lucci of Broadway. Her performance as Anna Leonowens in The King and I was lauded, but her competitors in the lead actress category included 82-year-old Broadway legend Chita Rivera (in The Visit) and pint-sized comic powerhouse and front-runner Chenoweth (as Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century). So when presenter Neil Patrick Harris called O'Hara's name, she took the stage to a standing ovation. "You would think I would've written something down by now, but I haven't," O'Hara joked. "I don't need this. But now that I have it, I've got some things to say." She saluted her and Chenoweth's legendary voice teacher, Florence Birdwell, and thanked her parents, joking that they "didn't have to pretend it's okay this time."
A Seinfeld Reunion
Seinfeld co-creator Larry David and star Jason Alexander, whose character George Costanza was David's alter ego, took the stage together and hit it out-of-the-park, delivering some of the best and most acerbic lines of the night. (Alexander will be taking over David's lead role in his hit Broadway play Fish in the Dark this week.) "It's not like I don't have experience playing you. I got seven Emmy nominations for it," Alexander shrugged. "Oooh, oooh, you got nominated," boomed David, mocking his friend's self-congratulatory air. "The true measure of a man is not to be nominated and still to show up and read a list of names that were nominated; that's a big man," David continued. "You say big man, others say loser," snapped Alexander. Then they presented the award for best musical, a category predicted to be a photo finish between intimate industry favorite Fun Home and brand-name blockbuster An American in Paris. In a year that was the best-attended and highest-grossing season in Broadway history, Tony voters chose the less commercial underdog for the biggest award of the night, with the cast, creative team, and producers from Fun Home streaming onto the stage in celebration.
2015 TONY AWARDS: Full list of winners