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Voters Choose to Lead Rather Than Follow – The Hollywood Reporter


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A show about a 16-year-old girl with an affliction that causes her to age four times as fast as normal? Or about a Jewish family in the decades leading up to the Holocaust? Or about anti-Semitism in nineteen-teens Georgia?

Those are the loglines of three of the four shows that were awarded top prizes at Sunday night’s 76th Tony Awards — best musical winner Kimberly Akimbo, best play winner Leopoldstadt and best musical revival winner Parade, respectively. (The fourth, best play revival winner Topdog/Underdog, closed back in January.)

Needless to say, they aren’t exactly easy sells on paper, and haven’t proven to be blockbusters on Broadway. But voters strongly embraced them anyway — not only as a way of celebrating acclaimed work, but also, one can reasonably assume, as a way of putting a little wind behind their sails (and sales) by providing some eye-catching material for their marquees and advertisements.

Kimberly Akimbo, which boasts no household names in its cast or songs in its score (it was originally a straight play), racked up the most wins of all shows with five, including best musical actress (Victoria Clark), featured actress (Bonnie Milligan), book (David Lindsay-Abaire) and score (Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori).

Now, as with a host of other recent best musical winners that emerged from Off-Broadway — among them Fun Home, The Band’s Visit, Hadestown and A Strange Loop — the theater community has chosen to honor a humble grassroots effort, and will undoubtedly be watching to see just how long their ultimate stamp of approval can keep it going.

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It seems to me that voters sought to not only recognize excellence, but also to send a message, in a number of other categories as well.

Consider the aforementioned Leopoldstadt, which also won direction of a musical (Patrick Marber), best featured actor in a musical (Brandon Uranowitz) and best costume design for a play, and Parade, which also won best direction of a musical (Michael Arden). Both address anti-Semitic behavior of decades ago at a time in which hateful behavior toward Jews — and other minorities — is once again on the rise in America and around the world. In the face of that, it was going to be hard for many voters to check off, say, Fat Ham or Into the Woods (which, incidentally, both went home empty-handed).

Additionally, in the two acting contests in which the first two openly nonbinary performers ever nominated were competing against formidable talent including their own co-stars, both of those performers ultimately prevailed: Some Like It Hot’s J. Harrison Ghee for best actor in a musical and Shucked’s Alex Newell for best featured actor in a musical. It’s hard to imagine that quite a few voters didn’t break for them as a way of telling off the increasingly vocal number of anti-LGBTQ Americans (as Arden and presenters Denée Benton and Marcia Gay Harden did even more directly).

So, on Sunday, a couple of famous A-listers won well-deserved recognition (Jodie Comer was named best actress in a play for her one-woman tour de force turn in Prima Facie, and Sean Hayes won best actor in a play for his Oscar Levant in Good Night, Oscar); a recently rebooted hit revival was promoted very effectively (by star Lea Michele of Funny Girl); and host Ariana DeBose, well, did the thing beautifully, even without the aid of writers. But the main headline, it seems to me, is that Tony voters were clearly set on leading, rather than following, in terms of the sorts of shows and messages they championed this year. And now we’ll have to wait and see if others follow them.

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