Once again, this year's 2019 Tony Awards accomplished what the night of achievement in the American Theatre Wing aims to do—bring theatre to the people. Few of those living in communities of 100,000 or fewer populations ever have a valid dream of a national touring company visiting a local stage. From the moment James Corden sang the first lines of his show-opener, he made it blatantly clear that theatre is set apart from other elements in entertainment.

Advertisement
Advertisement

It is “live,” and every performance, afternoon or evening, any day of the week, is guaranteed to be different than the one before. The potential for wonder in theatre rests equally between those onstage and those interacting from the audience.

For this night, Tony night, the very best of American theatre is accessible in every living room.

The Late Late Show” host went from sweats to his red velvet tux as he trotted with what seemed to be a caravan of thousands in costume and chorus from the Great White Way.

The theme was proclaimed from every aisle that theatre is “here, is real, and makes you feel.” There is no other performance medium more intimate, provoking its audience to see and taste the tears of angst or toil, or to feel triumph from the depths of the soul.

The June 9, 2019, Tony Awards were filled with history and celebration, and most of all, the message that every person belongs.

Much more heaven than hell

Long before “Hadestown” hit its virtual sweep of the night's big awards, the musical was making its presence known, taking several of the stagecraft awards that were among its 14 nominations.

Advertisement

The production ultimately ruled the night with eight trophies. No matter what anyone's southern grandmother might say, this life and a love-affirming musical based on the love lauded in Greek mythology between Orpheus and Eurydice is much more about positive choices than ultimate penalties.

A positive choice certainly came for “Hadestown” director, Rachel Chavkin, who judiciously used her platform to scold that: “I wish that I wasn't the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season.” She further elaborated that the problem was not “a pipeline issue,” noting that so many artists are “ready to go.” Chavkin chided that it is truly a loss of “imagination” in an art that is founded on the premise “to imagine the world the way it could be.”

Veteran actor Andre De Shields, who originated the role of “The Wiz” on Broadway in the 70s, recently told Anthony Mason of “CBS This Morning” that he thought “this time was different,” referring to his 2019 Tony Award nomination.

The creative gods were listening because, at 73, De Shields heard his name for the first time as a winner as the narrator of the underworld in “Hadestown.”

De Shields channeled the dreams of his parents and spoke purely and simply on success. “Surround yourself with people who light up when you come into the room,” offered the actor. He continued, “slowly is the fastest way to get where you want to go,” and that “the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next.”

The celebrated senior confessed this morning that he stayed up all night, feeling that his “karmic debt” to his parents was paid, earning his place as a star that Broadway would be proud to include.

Advertisement

“Hadestown” took the prize of the night as Best Musical. Rachel Chavkin and producer Mara Isaacs embraced in jubilation and disbelief in realizing the success of their stage concept that started in Vermont.

If there was a snub of the night, it was the single win for Celia Keenan-Bolger as Scout in the Aaron Sorkin adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Jeff Daniels, despite the wide acclaim for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, lost out to Bryan Cranston in “Network.”

Rolling into history

The sweetest and most uplifting moment of the night, even by audible standards, belonged to “Oklahoma” star, Ali Stroker.

Advertisement

She already made history simply in her Tony Award nomination in early May. Stroker is the first actor or actress using a wheelchair to win a Tony,

Stroker demonstrated precisely why she deserved Tony Award recognition in a powerhouse performance as Ado Annie. Her pipes could carry her sassy flirting with the fellas-- all on her terms-- all the way to Oklahoma with no problem. She flowed with every step of her classmates, rolling through with exuberant energy and a song that never quit.

By the time, Ali Stroker heard her name called as Best Featured Actress in a Musical, she had changed out of her blue jean shorts and tank top into a perfectly made to fit yellow gown. She could not have known her win would come but she made the moment memorable for more than just the cheers and applause. The star accepted the award “for every kid who has a disability, a limitation, or a challenge has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena.”

Stroker wanted to continue but time ran out. She hoisted the trophy triumphantly, making a statement all her own. Her feisty portrayal sparked a new conversation on disability and sexuality. Perhaps now another meaningful debate on actors, disability, and opportunity can open across the arts. Ability is the core of disability. I was in college before I saw an actual disabled actor in a television role on “Highway to Heaven.” Finally, the time has come for Broadway to become truly accessible.

James Corden saved his best performance for last. From the men's room at the 2019 Tony Awards, the host sang his ode of doubt and insecurity, soon joined by Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, who was interrupted by none other than Neil Patrick Harris, not there to sing.

Even from the bathroom, the 2019 Tony Awards made everyone welcome.

Click to read more