Between Kevin Spacey’s self-deprecating opening number, Ben Platt’s emotional speech for Dear Evan Hansen, and Kevin Kline’s big thanks to the National Endowment of the Arts, the 71st Annual Tony Awards continued to inspire hope for the performing arts in an era lacking governmental support. Though inspiring, the night remained rather uneventful and failed to showcase the many minority talents nominated for this year’s performances.
Apparently, Kevin Spacey’s pick as host came very last minute for “Broadway’s Biggest Night,” leaving him with very little time to come up with the eight-minute opening. However, between a myriad of costume changes, celebrity impressions, satirical renditions of nominated performances, and even a little tap dancing, he kept the night fun—which it needed.
Besides Spacey’s interjections, the night remained pretty cookie-cutter. In light of this year’s chaotic award season events, may I remind readers of the Oscars disaster, perhaps this was a relief. In saying that however, this bled into the night’s diversity representation.
Several nominated works featured performers of color— Corey Hawkins for Six Degrees of Separation, Denée Benton for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Eva Noblezada for Miss Saigon, John Douglas Thompson for August Wilson's Jitney, etc. yet none of them won. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic about Ben Platt winning for his amazing performance in Dear Evan Hansen, both for “Best Musical” and “Best Actor in a Musical,” however I felt completely robbed of racial representation.
Perhaps my disappointment comes from the fact we live in an age of amazing, booming theatre. In the midst of last year’s big Hamilton sweep, this year’s continuation of a classic’— A Doll’s House, the relatable story of Dear Evan Hansen, and the revivals of Miss Saigon and Hello Dolly, I expected a diversity of winners, and that did not happen. With so much amazing writing and immense stage talent, I felt it unfair to the theatre community that more people were not awarded or given recognition. While Bette Midler got away with vulgar lines, saying “I can’t remember the last time I had so much smoke blown up my ass, but there is no more room,” and even telling the orchestra to “shut that crap off,” as she wrapped up her speech, Eva Noblezada’s spectacular performance "I'd Give My Life for You"— which brought me to literal tears— got lost amongst it all. Though entertaining, it showed the immense amount of privilege big names in the game have. I mean the only real big minority moment came from Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odem Jr’s small performance with The Rockettes of “New York, New York.”
In saying all of this however, the theme of arts appreciation shined through. Kevin Klein of Present Laughter thanked the National Endowment of the Arts, saying that many of the people in the room would not be there if it was not for the organizations. Gavin Creel who won “Best Featured Actor” from his performance in Hello Dolly, told audience members to start scholarships and support young performers like himself.
All in all, the ceremony left me excited to be a performer and a little disheartened to be a minority performer. Just when the performance industry seems to be representative of society, such as last year’s Hamilton win, which showcases people of color, it brings you right back to the harsh realities of the desire for Caucasian celebrities.