Fun Home Upsets An American in Paris for Best Musical in a Closely Divided Tony Awards
It's hard to identify one show as the big winner of the 2015 Tony Awards. While a clear favorite usually emerges (often the show leading the awards count), the 2015 Tonys are remarkable for just how evenly the awards were distributed. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Fun Home won five awards each, with both The King and I and An American in Paris winning four. None of them left Radio City Music Hall with a giant haul (like the 12 awards won by The Producers in 2001), but several shows did leave with awards that are sure to offer a major boost to ticket sales and prestige.
This is particularly true for Fun Home, which took the most important prize of the night: Best Musical. This most coveted award offers a shot in the arm to the unconventional show. A lesbian coming-of-age story set in a funeral home, Fun Home initially looked like a hard sell for Broadway despite its status as a critical darling. By the end of the night, it was clear that Tony voters also loved Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's adaptation of Alison Bechdel's graphic novel.
In addition to Best Musical, Fun Home won awards for Best Score (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron), Best Book (Lisa Kron), Best Direction of a Musical (Sam Gold), and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Michael Cerveris). Producer Mike Isaacson appeared ecstatic following the win. "We're in the age of Netflix," he observed. "Audiences want to see all kinds of stories." If past winners offer any template, Fun Home will run for at least another year (possibly much longer) as Tony watchers spend their Broadway bucks on this year's Best Musical.
Box office hit An American in Paris (which was widely seen as the frontrunner for Best Musical) is positioned to run for years without a Best Musical Tony. Consistently grossing over $1.2 million in ticket sales each week and riding an ever-expanding advance, it really didn't need a Best Musical Tony to secure its financial success (this may have factored into voters' decision to give the award to Fun Home). Still, Tony didn't send An American in Paris home empty-handed: The show garnered four awards, including Best Choreography for director Christopher Wheeldon, who can rightly be credited with raising the bar for dance on Broadway this season. This appears to be part of a larger trend as a class of brilliant choreographers (including Wheeldon's fellow nominees Joshua Bergasse and Steven Hoggett) continue to push the bounds of storytelling through dance.
The 2014-15 season was also big for projections on Broadway, with projection designers Finn Ross and 59 Productions winning for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and An American in Paris, respectively. "The medium has found a maturity," Ross asserted about the advances made in projections in the past year. Since there is no Tony category for Best Projections, Ross was recognized alongside set designer Bunny Christie in the Best Scenic Design of a Play category (this was also true for 59 Productions, which shared its award with scenic designer Bob Crowley). The Tony Awards administration committee may want to consider offering an award specifically for projections in the future as their use on the Broadway stage appears to be another trend with no sign of abating.
One theatrical trend was irrevocably smashed this year: Following a string of five previous nominations and no wins, Kelli O'Hara finally took home the Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical. Visibly shaken by the win, she was almost defiant in her acceptance speech: "I love what I do. I don't need this, but now that I have it I've got some things to say." Winning for her performance as Anna Leonowens in The King and I was particularly significant for the 39-year-old O'Hara as it represents a shift in the type of roles she has previously played. "I played a lot of ingenues in my youth," she said, adding, "Anna is a teacher, a mother, and a trailblazer. I want to be like her."
This was also a huge night for O'Hara's costar Ruthie Ann Miles, who won the award for Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her performance as Lady Thiang. In addition to O'Hara and Miles, The King and I also won for Best Costumes in a Musical (Catherine Zuber) and Best Revival of a Musical.
Best Play went to London transfer The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won four other awards including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for 26-year-old Alex Sharp. That show's director, Marianne Elliott, also won her second Tony Award for Best Direction, making her two for two: She's only directed twice on Broadway and has won the Tony both times (her first win was for another page-to-stage adaptation, War Horse). It's a tremendous vindication for Elliott who recalled assuming that one must be a man to direct when she started doing it at age 28. Twenty years later, she is now one of the most acclaimed stage directors on both sides of the Atlantic.
"They make the Atlantic look like a little creek you can just pop across," British actress Helen Mirren remarked about the producers of The Audience. Mirren was a lock to win the Tony for Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in that work. A celebratory vodka gimlet in hand, she was not coy about her plans to join the elite club of EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winners. "I really want a Grammy," she stated. "I have to do an audio book of some sort."
The victory of Mirren's Audience costar Richard McCabe in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play was less expected. McCabe plays Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (rumored to be the Queen's favorite). "Were he alive today I know Harold Wilson would be tickled to be featured in an award-winning Broadway play," McCabe said as he collected his Tony. With Tony Awards spread across a wide diversity of plays and musicals this year, plenty of people could rightly say they were tickled to be part of an award-winning show on Broadway.