It was a historic night at the Tony Awards — Fun Home became the first-ever musical written entirely by women to take home the top prize for Best Musical.
“This is a big deal, y’all,” said composer Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the show alongside writer/lyricist Lisa Kron. The show is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her own coming out and her relationship with her closeted father. “It’s 2015 and it’s about time.”
The show also took the honors for best score for Tesori and Kron — the first time for that award to go to an all-female writing team — and director for Sam Gold and leading actor in a musical Michael Cerveris. The musical is also a landmark in that it is the first-ever Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist front and center.
“Often when producers and artistic directors look at young artists, I think people take chances on men based on their potential and women based on their accomplishments,” Kron told reporters backstage, and in her acceptance speech, Tesori hammered home the importance of role models for women.
“For girls, you have to see it to be it,” said Tesori. “My grandfather was a composer in Italy, and he came to this country to try to fulfill that dream. I didn’t realize a career in music was available to women until I saw Linda Twine conducting Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.“
Another big win for women came when six-time Tony Award nominee and one of Broadway’s foremost leading ladies, Kelli O’Hara, landed her first award for her portrayal of Anna Leonowens in Lincoln Center’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, about an 1862 kingdom in Siam, now Thailand, where a king brings in a British schoolteacher to teach his children and wives.
“You would think that I would have written something down by now!” O’Hara said as she took the stage, thanking her fellow nominees and her voice teacher, Florence Birdwell, whom she shares with nominee Kristin Chenoweth. “I love what I do and I don’t need this, but now that i have it, I’ve got some things to say….My parents, who are sitting next to me for the sixth time tonight, you don’t have to pretend like it’s okay this time. And thank you for giving me roots.”
The King and I also took the award for best revival of a musical and for featured actress in a musical for Ruthie Ann Miles. “This feels like I”m being punked!” Miles said, accepting the award for her Broadway debut as Lady Thiang. Backstage, she told reporters that director Bartlett Sher told her that “Lady Thiang is Hillary Clinton,” and “introduced Lady Thiang in a way that made her feel so familiar. It was almost like I’ve always had her in me. She’s like my Thai aunt.”
Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne presented Christian Borle with his second Tony Award for featured actor in a musical for his portrayal of Shakespeare in Something Rotten!, and Ruthie Ann Miles won for feature actress in a musical for The King and I, which marked her Broadway debut.
“To my dear friend Roger Rees, thank you for teaching me that you don’t have to chase every mouse,” Borle said in his speech, thanking his director for Peter and the Starcatcher, which won him his first Tony.
But it wasn’t just the musical theatre actors who wanted to get in on the singing fun. “I really want a Grammy. It’s terrible isn’t it,” admitted Dame Helen Mirren to reporters backstage after her win for leading actress in a play for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in The Audience. Alex Sharp won leading actor in a play for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which also won best play. Annaleigh Ashford won for featured actress in a play for the revival of You Can‘t Take It With You, and Richard McCabe won featured actor in a play for The Audience.
The broadcast launched with co-hosts Chenoweth and Alan Cumming performing a medley of of original riffs on classic Broadway songs like “Popular” from Wicked and “Cool” from West Side Story.
“Good evening ladies and gentleman and those of you who don’t identify as either,” began so-host Alan Cumming at the top of the ceremony before he began singing “Wilkommen” from Cabaret, for which Cumming won a Tony for his portrayal of the Emcee in the show’s revival in 1998.
The Tony Awards producers didn’t have to look far for a suitable opening number for the broadcast this year — there’s a built in number in the show Something Rotten, with “A Musical,” a number from the show, about the (fictional) invention of the first musical, which is an homage to all musicals.
The hosts gave a special shoutout to producer Harvey Weinstein, whose lead Broadway producing debut Finding Neverland received zero nominations. To ease his woes, the two sang “Smile,” though Weinstein got the last laugh in a way with his all-out number on the broadcast, which was presented by Jennifer Lopez, Nick Jonas, and Kiesza. The singers, along with Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Jessie J, and more, will be on the pop concept album of the show’s score.
“We’re both available for movies,” Chenoweth joked. “For very reasonable rates,” Cumming added.
The evening’s performances were vastly varied. From a surprise tribute montage to lifetime achiement award recipient and 10-time Tony winner Tommy Tune, with Chenoweth and Cumming performing from Grand Hotel and The Will Rogers Follies. Ashley Tisdale presented the performance of Gigi, featuring her “best friend Vanessa Hudgens.” Josh Groban performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the In Memoriam sequence in front of a chorus of Broadway performers in costume.
Before the broadcast began, John Cameron Mitchell accepted his special Tony Award for creating Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and his return to the role in the Broadway revival this year.
“What’s an old drag queen doing up here uptown?” Mitchell asked from the stage. “People say everything’s been done, but you know what? Turn off the internet, combine everything you love in the world, take some time, and you might come up with something special that’s lasting.”
The final performance of the night came from the Broadway company of the Tony winning show about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons Jersey Boys, singing “Oh What a Night.” What a night indeed.