A Strange Loop, an irreverent, sexually frank work about Blackness and queerness took home the best new musical crown at the Tony Awards on Sunday, as voters celebrated Broadway’s most racially diverse season by choosing an envelope-pushing Black voice.
Michael R. Jackson’s 2020 Pulitzer Prize drama winner is a theater meta-journey — a tuneful show about a Black gay man writing a show about a Black gay man. Jackson also won for best book. Many of the night’s other Tonys were spread over several productions.
The victory of a smaller, more offbeat musical against more commercial offerings continues a recent trend, as when the intimate musical The Band’s Visit beat the big brand-musicals Frozen, Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants in 2018 or when Hadestown bested Tootsie, Beetlejuice and Ain’t Too Proud a year later.
A Strange Loop beat MJ, a bio musical of the King of Pop’s biggest hits, for the top prize, although the other Jackson musical nabbed four Tony Awards including for best choreography. Myles Frost moonwalked away with the award for best lead actor in a musical for playing Michael Jackson, becoming the youngest solo winner in that category.
“Mom, I made it!” he said.
MJ represents the 22-year-old Frost’s Broadway debut as he plays Jackson with a high, whispery voice, a Lady Diana-like coquettishness and a fierce embrace of Jackson’s iconic dancing and singing style.
“Heal the world,” Frost said from the stage, channeling Jackson.
Joaquina Kalukango won the Tony for best leading actress in a musical for her work in Paradise Square, a show about Irish immigrants and Black Americans jostling to survive in New York City around the time of the Civil War. Earlier in the night, she blew the house down with a stunning performance of the musical’s Let It Burn.
A gender-swapped revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company rode the fondness Broadway has for the late iconic composer by earning five statuettes, including best musical revival.
Company is an exploration of a single person’s conflicted feelings about commitment, traditionally focusing on a 35-year-old bachelor. This time, it had a bachelorette and the sexes of several couples were swapped.
Marianne Elliott made Tony history by becoming the only woman to have won three Tonys for directing, the latest for Company. She thanked Sondheim for letting her put a woman “front and center.” She dedicated her award to everyone fighting to keep theaters open.
Patti LuPone won best featured actress in a musical for her work in the revival, thanking COVID-19 safety officials in her acceptance speech. Matt Doyle won for best featured actor in a musical for Company.
The Lehman Trilogy, spanning 150 years and running three and a half hours, follows the fortunes of a single family into the financial crash of 2008. It was crowned best new play and Sam Mendes won for best direction of a play, praising the season for its “rampant creativity.” One of its three stars, Simon Russell Beale, won for best actor in a play and thanked the audience for coming to see a trio of British actors tell a New York story.
Deirdre O’Connell won for best actress in a play for her work in Dana H., about a real woman kidnapped by a former convict and white supremacist. O’Connell never speaks, instead, lip-syncing to an edited recording of the survivor. On Sunday, O’Connell urged the crowd to ignore safe options and “make the weird art.”
Take Me Out won for best play revival, and Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson won the Tony for best featured actor in a play for his work in it.
“Mom, Dad, thank you for letting me move to New York when I was 17-years-old. I told you it would be OK,” said Ferguson, who also thanked his understudy and his husband.
Host Ariana DeBose kicked off her portion of the show in a sparkling white jumpsuit and wide-brimmed hat, dancing and singing to the song This Is Your Round of Applause, which mashed up shards of musical theater favorites, like Chicago, The Wiz, Evita, Rent, Hair, Cabaret, Hairspray and West Side Story, the movie remake for which she recently won an Oscar.
Still panting while welcoming viewers, she told the crowd that this was the season “Broadway got it’s groove back.”
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