The Best Tony Winners to See on Broadway

Jun 10, 2019

If all the Tony buzz is any indication, Broadway's gone to hell in a sharkskin handbasket—not to mention Oklahoma, Alabama, Indiana and Northern Ireland. So no, the Great White Way isn't taking you on the most conventional world tour this year, but the ride is definitely exhilarating—especially if you’re trying to keep up with Ado Annie’s trailblazing wheelwork. Here, seven of our favorite Tony-anointed stops.

Hadestown 

Even if they’re not all happy to be there, the gods have smiled upon Hadestown, granting it eight Tony wins—not least, Best Musical—out of the 14 it was nominated for. So if ever we were to advise going straight to hell, now’d be the time. You might not instantly recognize the underworld in its current incarnation—a post-apocalyptic NOLA-kinda place that sizzles with jazz, pop, folk and the occasional aria—but you’ll probably recognize the characters: Orpheus and Euridice, and Persephone and Hades, whose stories have been spliced and reimagined by singer-songwriter-musician Anaïs Mitchell. “For me, it was the idea of this artist who has so much faith in the world and the power of his art,” she says. “If he makes something beautiful enough, he could move the heart of stone.” In case you’re a little rusty on the details, Orpheus is the artist in question who—bereft after the sudden death of his wife Eurydice—tries to get her back from the underworld with music. We won’t spoil the story, but we will say it’s worth checking out even for the cameos by other gods. See: Hermes as emcee, a performance so stunning it just won André De Shields the Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! 

Wait, isn’t that the middle-school musical that once featured your big sister as a highly unlikely Aunt Eller? Why yes—yes it is. But forget any decades-old version in your brain (even the Academy Award-winning film version). This Oklahoma! is unlike any you’ve ever seen or heard—paired-down, powerful and woke. Little wonder the show just clinched the Best Revival of a Musical title, and Ali Stroker (yup, from Glee) just became the first wheelchair-using performer to take home a Tony, or even to be nominated for one. Specifically, she’s the newly minted Best Featured Actress in a Musical, whose “boy-crazy, country siren-voiced Ado Annie…rides a wheelchair as if it were a prize bronco,” according to the New York Times. And if all the raw energy on stage has you working up an appetite, too, fear not: During every intermission, free chili and cornbread is served—and with everyone from Anna Wintour to Diane Keaton queuing up, the chow line has become one of the best places to see and be seen in New York. 

The Ferryman 

A massive hit when it debuted in London, The Ferryman arrived in New York with three Olivier Awards and now has four Tonys to add to the collection. These include Best Play and Best Direction of a Play (not for nothing was Sam Mendes brought on as the director). Written by theater titan Jez Butterworth, the play is set on a family farm in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles.” And over the course of a harvest feast, both drama and comedy ensue: Picture 30 characters, a goose and a rabbit among them, influenced by everything from Celtic fiddle music to Irish punk—and everyone from Virgil to the IRA. But the supersized cast is never overwhelming: The Ferryman is almost like an orchestra, with nuances and crescendos, observes Shuler Hensley who plays the Carney’s lovable and “unhurried” neighbor Tom Kettle. “There is the flow of a family. But everyone has a voice and every voice can be heard.” And you’ll want to catch every word.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Taking on a character as beloved as Atticus Finch is no easy feat. But just as Jeff Daniels had to bring George Washington "down off the dollar bill," while playing our first president 20 years ago, the Hollywood veteran had to figure out how to humanize the hero of Harper Lee's classic novel in Aaron Sorkin’s new play, To Kill A Mockingbird. Clearly, something worked, because he was rewarded with a Tony nomination.  And Celia Keenan-Bolger, who costars as Scout, gives such a convincing, nuanced and profoundly moving performance that she walked away with the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play. In fact, when she first heard about the Broadway production, she thought, “What lucky little girl is going to get to play Scout Finch? I’m so jealous of her.”  Though that jealously turned out to be unfounded, theater impresarios everywhere would be forgiven for feeling a bit envious: To Kill A Mockingbird is now the top-grossing American play in Broadway history.

Tootsie

Michael Dorsey is a struggling New York actor who’s as difficult as he is talented.  No one will hire him, but he’s desperate to do the one thing he loves above all else, so he gets creative. Reinventing himself as a Southern gal named Dorothy Michaels, s/he gets cast in the Broadway musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet and we’re off to the races. If this all sounds eerily reminiscent of a 1982 Dustin Hoffman blockbuster, well, bingo. But Broadway’s take on Tootsie is updated for the 21st century, complete with social media references, rhymes about Scalia, and a young virtuoso for a lead—Santino Fontana—who just won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.  In fact, director Scott Ellis was so attached to the idea of Fontana as Dorothy/Michael, he agreed to direct only after the star had signed on. And if you think that’s an extreme position, you won’t once you see (and hear) Fontana.

And speaking of decades-old movies turned acclaimed Broadway productions, we’re sad to report that Network—for which Brian Cranston just won the Best Leading Actor in a Play—closed before the awards ceremony. In fact, so did the show that garnered Elaine May the Leading Actress in a Play award (the 87-year-old’s first ever Tony). Moral of the story: If you can catch a show as soon as it starts generating buzz, do. Just think about how smugly you would have been watching the Tony Awards if you’d seen the Waverly Gallery in January. And if you did, respect.

King Kong

For a giant of Broadway who melts the most hardened hearts and brings audiences to tears day after day, the star of this show has shockingly few backstage requirements: really, just a space that can accommodate a 20-foot fella of roughly 2,000-pounds. In the show that bears his name, King Kong is a steel and carbon fiber marvel. In fact, Sonny Tilders and Creature Technology Company—the creative forces who birthed him—were just honored with a special Tony Award for creature design. Astoundingly lifelike, Kong blends puppetry, state-of the art animatronics and live human voices offstage.  “It has never been hard for me to emotionally connect with him,” says Christiani Pitts, the first African American woman to play the iconic Ann Darrow.  “Even though the creature is not real, there is so much human heart attached to him. He hasn’t let me down yet.” 

 

The Prom

Nominated for seven Tonys—including Best Musical—this show may have come up short on actual wins, but it remains a crowd favorite.  Because what’s not to love about four Broadway divas descending on a small Indiana town to help a local girl take her banned gf to prom? That these aging performers are convinced their PR stunt will help their own sagging careers only adds to the fabulous mayhem. A blend of whip-smart dialogue, killer choreography and soul-stirring songs, the show routinely moves teens to wait by the stage door to say essentially the same thing: “I never thought I’d see myself represented like this.” The show has plenty of adult superfans, too, one being Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, who recently signed a reported $300 million deal to turn the Prom into a movie. (Way to soften the awards snub, Netflix!)

 
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