by Mo Brady
In the opening moments of the 2018 Tony Awards, hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles told the audience in Radio City Music Hall “If you make art at all, you’re a part of the cure.” For the next three hours, that mantra was reasserted time and again - but only as a half truth.
The 2018 Tony Awards was proof that the Broadway industry has doubled down on diversity and inclusion as their defining characteristics. During the ceremony, performances, speeches and productions that champion these ideas were celebrated. And shows who weren’t able to present those ideals seemed out of step and walked away empty-handed.
The big winner of the evening was The Band’s Visit, which proved early not only to walk away with the prizes it was predicted to (Best Score, Best Orchestrations, Best Direction of a Musical), but also surprised pundits by winning Best Book (usurping Tina Fey) and both Best Featured Actor and Best Actor in a Musical, for Ari’el Stachel and Tony Shalhoub, respectively.
At the ceremony, performances that celebrated inclusion seemed the most resonant, from the horde of cross-dressing poor parading in My Fair Lady’s “Get Me To The Church On Time,” to the goat-infused cavalcade of pulsing islanders in Once On This Island’s rendition of “Mama Will Provide.” Watching from home, each of these performances seemed to leap from the Radio City stage into audiences’ living rooms, beaconing theatre lovers to join their crazy, loving melanges.
Alternately, the performances for Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants looked pristine, precise and, subsequently, out of step. While these productions feature diverse casts and inclusive messages, their safe performances during the telecast felt out of touch with the trajectory of the evening.
Acceptance speeches that advocated for multiplicity drummed up the most vocal support from the audience at Radio City. Both winners Lindsay Mendez and Ari’el Stachel shared stories of feeling their ethnicity needed to be hidden in order to be successful in the theatre industry. Their wins proved this unequivocally false, as Mendez told the crowd “I am so proud to be part of a community that celebrates diversity.” In fact, Stachel had perhaps the most memorable quote of the evening, saying “I want every kid out there to know that your greatest challenge may turn into your purpose.”
On social media, the Tony Awards found a success to inpoloring viewers to post photos of themselves onstage using the hashtag #tonydreaming. In the three hours of the telecast alone, the hashtag was used more the 23,000 times by both Broadway insiders and theatre students. Not since Neil Patrick Harris led 2013’s Tony-opening spectacular “Bigger is Better” has the ceremony invoked and celebrated TV audiences at home so successfully.
The most well-received performance of the evening was not from any of the nominated musicals, but rather a performance by drama students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. These twenty young survivors of a gun massacre performed Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” a song about valuing every minute of every year, for an audience of 5,000 of their heroes and future collaborators. Audiences at home and in the theatre leaned towards the stage both physically and emotionally, sending love, solace and encouragement to the student performers. Their performance resulted in what was notably the only number of the evening to receive a standing ovation.