Hell is hot on Broadway. "Hadestown," the folk opera retelling of the ancient Orpheus and Eurydice myth, was named best musical at Sunday’s 73rd annual Tony Awards, while "The Ferryman," a British import that takes its title from the boatman who transports doomed souls to the underworld, took best play honors.
In a night that was more inspirational than political, the ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, hosted for the second time by James Corden, celebrated a Broadway season that saw a record attendance of nearly 15 million.
"Hadestown" tallied the most wins with eight. Rachel Chavkin was named best director of a musical and André De Shields best featured actor. The show, written by Anais Mitchell that started out as a concept album, also took honors for score, scenic design, lighting, sound and orchestration. Jez Butterworth's "Ferryman" won four. Sam Mendes took best director and the sweeping family saga, set during the time of the Irish Troubles, also won for scenic and costume designs.
Voters honored two longtime veterans of the New York stage. In a surprise to no one, Elaine May won best actress in a play for "Waverly Gallery." Accepting her first Tony, the actress said she did it by getting in a play written by Kenneth Lonergan. "It was about his family, I played his grandmother ... and at the end of the play I died. My death was described on stage by Lucas [Hedges, who played her grandson] so heartbreakingly ... that watching from the wings, I thought 'I'm going to win this guy's Tony.' "
Accepting his Tony, De Shields said he didn't have time to thank everyone who has "loved me into consciousness," so instead he offered the three rules that have sustained him: "Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming; slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be; the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing."
Chavkin challenged the theater industry to step up it's diversity. "I wish I wasn't the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season," she said to cheers. "There are so many women who are ready to go, there are so many artists of color who are ready to go ... this is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be."
Olter winners included Ali Stroker, best featured actress in a musical who performs her role in "Oklahoma!" from a wheelchair. "This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are."
Stephanie J. Block was named best actress in a musical for "The Cher Show" and "Tootsie" star Santino Fontana best actor. Bryan Cranston won best actor in a play for "Network" (he joked that "finally a straight old white man gets a break" before dedicating the award to all the "real journalists"). Celia Keenan-Bolger took best featured actress in a play for "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Bertie Carvel featured actor for "Ink." Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band" was named best revival of a play, and director Daniel Fish's revisionist "Oklahoma!" best musical revival.
There were some light moments. Presenting the award for best featured actress in a play, Tina Fey suggested it might be time to ditch gender categories in acting. "There should just be two acting categories," she quipped, humans and puppets. "You know it takes eight guys to operate Bryan Cranston."
And while Long Island's Joe Iconis lost out for his nominated "Be More Chill" score, his internet sensation song "Michael in the Bathroom" got a great spot, performed by Corden singing woefully from a stall, before last year's hosts Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban popped out to join the lament, wondering if CBS would do away with any host at all as in the Oscars.