The drama, the laughter, the tears just like pearls

In which I let the tears flow at the 2019 Tony Awards.

I know that I have to write about the Tony Awards because this is a newsletter wherein I talk about theater, but I feel so obliterated from the Tony Awards that I’m not really sure where to begin. I’m still kind of reeling from the whole night, which began with me co-hosting the fanciest party I’ve ever co-hosted and ended with me wandering into the fanciest party I’ve ever attended, where Stephanie J. Block let me see her Tony up close. But I am not here to brag. (I am not entirely here to brag.) Since I am still struggling to piece together my thoughts, however, here are a handful of things I loved from a Tonys that, as far as I’m concerned, mostly got it right. By which I mean, here are the times I teared up.

Crying moment #1: Ali Stroker winning Best Featured Actress in a Musical. I’ve been obsessed with Ali Stroker since first encountering her on The Glee Project, the most important reality competition of our generation. (Seriously, one show gave us Ali Stroker, Alex Newell, and Blake Jenner? The cultural impact jumped out.) Her performance in Oklahoma! is a fucking delight, a much needed ray of light in a largely bleak production. Sure, this Oklahoma! fucks, but it also cuts so deep. Her speech was lovely, and thinking about all the actors with disabilities who finally get to see a wheelchair user win a Tony Award — that is tremendously moving to me. “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,” she said. “You are.” And I’m crying again. (Side note: It’s shameful and embarrassing that the stage was not wheelchair accessible, which is yet another reminder of how far we still have to go.)

Crying moment #2: André De Shields winning Best Featured Actor in a Musical. He’s a fucking legend, and watching the audience go wild for him in Hadestown is one of the great joys of seeing that show. (I will also forever associate him with The Fortress of Solitude, a fantastic musical by the late, great Michael Friedman that deserves so much more recognition than it received. Listen to the perfect score on Spotify.) I teared up just seeing him win, but his speech touched me deeply: “I would like to share with you just three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity. One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.” Simple and profound words to live by from an icon.

Crying moment #3: Stephanie J. Block winning Best Actress in a Musical. I don’t know if you all have heard, but I’m… something of a Stephanie J. Block fan. I had long appreciated her work, but it was when I saw her as Trina in the Falsettos revival (many, many… many times) that I decided to stan forever. (On a personal note, she has also always been incredibly kind and gracious to me, and has made me feel seen.) I wanted Stephanie to win a Tony for The Cher Show not because it was “her time” — I mean, yes, she should have won one for Falsettos — but because she is delivering a goddamn Tony Award-worthy performance as Cher. Seeing The Cher Show again was a miraculous experience, a reminder (not that I really needed one) of how mindblowingly good she is in that show. I don’t think anyone but Cher realizes just how great SJB’s Cher is — the comic timing, the pathos, the powerhouse vocals. She is giving it her all, and it’s not for the awards, but my god was that award well deserved.

Crying moment #4: Rachel Chavkin winning Best Director of a Musical. Rachel Chavkin is another genius. She is also only the fourth woman to ever win a Tony for directing a musical, which is, well, depressing. But I’d like to believe that the success of Hadestown is a step forward — one step where thousands are needed, but a step nonetheless. And Chavkin, whose direction of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 should also have earned her a Tony, was wise to point out that nothing is holding back Broadway more than Broadway itself — or more accurately, the predominantly old white men who run things. In her stirring speech, Chavkin said, “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go. And we need to see that racial diversity and gender diversity reflected in our critical establishment, too. 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.” What a gorgeous and essential reminder. We can’t let these steps forward be flukes; they should be the start of a march.

OK, fine, I’ve been relentlessly positive — let me rattle off a few complaints before I go. First, I enjoyed the “Michael in the Bathroom” parody, but I think it was tacky to not mention Be More Chill, and more importantly, Joe Iconis should have gotten a heads-up that they were going to perform the song with rewritten lyrics. I understand how parody works, but it feels disrespectful to one of this year’s nominees. Second, David Korins was robbed for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. Beetlejuice is a stunning visual achievement. I feel much the same way about the technical awards for plays: you can’t tell me that The Ferryman deserved Scenic Design and Costume Design over Gary. Come on now. Third, as much as I do really like The Ferryman, What the Constitution Means to Me was easily the best play of the year, and such an impressive, important piece of theater that I couldn’t help but hope for an upset. That was my biggest disappointment of the night — but awards are just awards, and Constitution’s influence and impact speaks for itself.

Overall, it was a beautiful night that made me feel some (hopefully not misguided) cockeyed optimism about the future of Broadway. And yes, I teared up several times just reliving these sob-inducing moments and writing about them, because I am a tenderhearted man. I’ll close with some housekeeping, though it probably goes without saying! Today’s edition of High Drama is a shorter post, just about theater. The next newsletter will once again include all my areas of expertise — theater, Housewives, and horror — but I hope you don’t mind if I occasionally play with the format, especially when I have so much to say about one of the three, and as I take on more time-consuming freelance projects. I’m making this post public and free for all, but if you’re still feeling ripped-off, don’t hesitate to send me an angry email, and I’ll shoot you a couple sentences about the most recent episode of The Real Housewives of New York or the Midsommar trailer. Which are... actually not all that dissimilar.