Southern California’s La Jolla Playhouse was well represented at Radio City Music Hall during Sunday night’s Tony Awards. The winners in both directing categories were not considered front-runners, but were outright surprises -- Rebecca Taichman for the play “Indecent” and Christopher Ashley for the musical “Come From Away.”
And both productions debuted at La Jolla Playhouse before heading to Broadway.
“Come From Away,” written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, chronicles the true story of a Canadian town, Gander, Newfoundland, that sheltered thousands of airline passengers whose flights had been diverted on Sept. 11, 2001. It had its world premiere at La Jolla in June 2015.
In February, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul fell just short of Hollywood’s highest honor when “La La Land,” the Southland-set musical they penned the lyrics for, failed to win best picture at the Academy Awards.
No misses this time.
The stars shone for the composer-lyricists and book writer Steven Levenson, as “Dear Evan Hansen” nabbed the Tony Awards’ top honor of best musical at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night. The trio’s show, an emo-pop piece about an awkward teenager who becomes an accidental hero, won over voters with a story that’s both a timeless tale of teenage anxiety and an of-the-moment examination of social media.
Kevin Spacey was the somewhat surprising — though certainly not unqualified — host of the 71st running of the Broadway theater-honoring Tony Awards, broadcast Sunday night from New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Having made his first Broadway appearance 35 years ago and, more recently, serving as artistic director of London's Old Vic Theater for about a decade, he has theater cred to spare.
He even has a Tony himself, awarded in 1991 for Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.” Most important, he has a sense of play and fun. What mattered all the way through is that he was game.
But unlike last year’s host James Corden, and other recent hosts such as Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman, Spacey is not known for his singing or dancing. And so, naturally, he sang and danced through the first 10 minutes of the broadcast from New York’s Radio City Music Hall in a medley of numbers playing off of current Broadway musicals.
In “Dear Evan Hansen,” newly minted Tony winner Ben Platt portrays a high schooler who’s so nervous, unsure and desperately lonely that he seems to fold into himself, as though trying to make himself disappear.
None of this remotely resembles the lead-musical-actor recipient in his own high school years at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City. Instructors who worked with him until his 2011 graduation say he was confident, always ahead of the game, a natural leader.
Teacher Ted Walch, who directed Platt in several of the actor’s most prominent roles at the school — including an inventive senior-year performance as the title character in “Pippin” — recalls: “Ben was always early, always had done the work between rehearsals that needed to be done, was the first to learn his lines, to learn his music. Yes, he’s wildly talented, but first and foremost he is on top of his game. He knows what it means to be prepared, to do the work you need to do so that your talent can shine through.”
We all knew this was where he was heading and we knew that he would get there. He was so determined.
Throughout her more than 50 years in entertainment, Bette Midler has racked up multiple Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy awards — and was twice nominated for an Oscar — but she’s never been nominated for an official Tony in a competitive category. (Given her always-present panache, she did earn a special Tony in 1974 for “adding lustre to the Broadway season” that year for “Clams on the Half Shell Revue.”)
Sunday evening she took the stage to accept her award for lead actress in a musical for “Hello, Dolly!”
Midler, 71, was considered a shoo-in to win in her category for playing the brassy, flamboyant Dolly Gallagher Levi, a socialite-turned-matchmaker set on snagging a rich husband in 1890s New York.
Trust the material. It’s easy to get afraid of the difficult places that Evan has to go. Don’t overplay the anxiety, the nervousness, the defensiveness. Play it beat to beat. And really, take it one show at a time.
A manic and completely overjoyed Ben Platt gave his thanks with the speed of an auctioneer after winning lead actor in a musical for "Dear Evan Hansen."
"When I was 6 years old, I was a prince in 'Cinderella,' and I have spent every day of my life since then just madly in love with musical theater," said Platt, almost running out of breath.
He went on to thank his parents, who he said were the greatest people on Earth; his "edible, edible, edible" nephews; and his physical therapist for keeping him from becoming a hunchback from an intensely physical performance.
It was a big night for Hollywood producer Scott Rudin, who was behind two of the evening's biggest winners: "Hello, Dolly!" and "A Doll's House, Part 2."
The former took the trophy for best revival of a musical as well as best lead actress in a musical for Bette Midler, and the latter claimed best lead actress in a play for Laurie Metcalf.
"It was a huge honor to do this," Rudin said, taking the stage after "Hello, Dolly's!" win. "I saw the show 50 years ago when I was 8. I sat in the last row of the balcony at St. James. It was a remarkable, life-changing evening."