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Review: The 2024 Tony Awards Had No Clear Front-Runner. That Made Them More Exciting.

The 2023-24 season goes out in style.

Brody Grant (center) leads the cast of The Outsiders in a performance at the 2024 Tony Awards.
(© Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

The Outsiders took home the big prize last night at the 77th annual Tony Awards, winning Best Musical. While the three other show categories (Play, Revival of a Play, and Revival of a Musical) all panned out exactly as predicted, Best Musical kept me guessing until the very end — or at least until Danya Taymor got up to accept her award for Best Direction of a Musical, beating the heavily favored Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along).

In addition to Best Musical and Direction, The Outsiders won the awards for lighting (Brian MacDevitt and Hana S. Kim) and sound (Cody Spencer, whose celebratory f-bomb caused my Pluto TV stream to cut out for a good 30 seconds). That’s four total awards, one trophy fewer than the top winner of the night, Stereophonic, which clinched Best Play.  There were no Tony juggernauts in 2024, leaving ample room for that most theatrical of qualities: suspense.

The 77th Annual Tony Awards Show
Shaina Taub won two Tony Awards at the 77th annual Tony Awards.
(© Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

The most delightful surprise of the evening came when Shaina Taub won both Best Book and Best Original Score for Suffs — a 100% batting average in her Broadway debut. She dedicated her win to her late mentor Elizabeth Swados. Taub has been delighting audiences in Central Park for years with her tuneful adaptations of Shakespeare, which she performs herself alongside a cast of hundreds. Few theatermakers in New York work harder, and her major revamp of Suffs between its off-Broadway and Broadway runs proves she’s willing to kill her darlings to make a show succeed. I suspect these two Tonys are the first of many, and we’ll be seeing her back on that stage when The Devil Wears Prada comes to town.

As always, the first part of the Tonys, broadcast separately on Pluto TV from 6:30pm to 8pm, was a model of efficiency, doling out 16 awards (including all the design categories) in under 75 minutes. Julianne Hough was an ideal host for this endeavor, keeping the show chugging along without a lot of filler. And despite the best efforts of her class-clown co-host, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and a predictably verbose Billy Porter (who accepted the Isabelle Stevenson Award for his humanitarian work), the broadcast still ended with enough time to give everyone in the theater a Broadway-length intermission. Bravo to all involved.

Naturally, the pace slowed following the leap over to CBS, with just four awards presented in the first hour. Ariana DeBose, back for her third consecutive year hosting, heralded the arrival of 8 o’clock with an oddly muted performance of the original song “This Party’s for You” (by Tom Kitt and Amanda Green), featuring choreography by DeBose and Julius Anthony Rubio that left the host gasping for breath. Wisely, DeBose took the lesson from last year’s unscripted awards and kept the cute jokes and crowd work to a minimum, resulting in a ceremony that only went over by 10 minutes — pretty good as far as awards shows go!

And really, we don’t tune in for the host. We want to see what’s happening on Broadway’s stages before we decide to book tickets. This year’s generally competent and well-planned performances offered a fair demo, with Hell’s Kitchen sure to be the most talked-about. A medley of the show’s biggest songs, it ended with a surprise performance of “Empire State of Mind” by a somewhat hoarse Alicia Keys, with Jay-Z rapping in a prerecorded bit from the lobby of the David Koch Theater (buyer beware: they’re not actually in the show). Only Angelina Jolie and Hillary Clinton (producers for The Outsiders and Suffs, respectively) outdid them in terms of star power.

Energetic showings from the casts of The Who’s Tommy, Water for Elephants, and The Outsiders surely moved a few tickets — with the latter beautifully highlighting the work of choreographers Rick and Jeff Kuperman. Merrily We Roll Along will be gone by July 8 and doesn’t have many more tickets to sell, but still proved why it was a lock to win Best Revival with an excellent performance of “Old Friends” by its three leads — Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez, and Daniel Radcliffe, who accepted his first Tony Award with adorable humility.

Meanwhile, the producers of Cabaret opted for a performance of “Willkommen” that lingered on an extreme closeup of Eddie Redmayne, perfectly conveying the aggressive awkwardness of that revival. Cabaret took home a single award, for Tom Scutt’s scenic design.

The low point of the evening came from the Best Play winner. Following a minor controversy in which Stereophonic was not announced in the initial lineup of performances (plays typically aren’t given stage time at the Tonys the way musicals are, but Stereophonic features several songs and was nominated for Best Original Score), it seems the Tony producers, Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner, were able to squeeze in a very truncated performance of “Masquerade.” Blink and you missed it. It had all the hallmarks of a classically unsatisfying compromise.

Weiss and Kirshner’s big innovation this year was to present scene transitions without a curtain to make the telecast feel more like being in a Broadway house. It’s a nice gesture and was so remarkably well-executed that it was hard to notice anything had changed at all.

The In Memoriam, regularly a minefield, similarly went off without any explosions. Nicole Scherzinger, Broadway bound with a revival of Sunset Boulevard, underscored the slideshow of the dead with a lovely rendition of “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line. I’m so glad they resisted the urge to do “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”

There were emotional acceptance speeches, most notably from Kara Young, who finally won a Tony on her third consecutive nomination. She used the opportunity to thank her parents for not only tolerating but facilitating the exhausting schedule of a teenage meritocrat. It has all paid off now.

As stage veteran Kecia Lewis said in another memorable acceptance speech, “Forty years ago yesterday I walked into the Imperial Theatre to begin my Broadway career… This moment is the one I dreamed of for most of those 40 years. So I say to everyone who can hear my voice: DON’T. GIVE. UP.”

The best speech of the evening came from Jonathan Groff, accepting his first Tony Award after two decades in the business and two previous nominations. Addressing his parents, he said, “Thank you for letting me dress up like Mary Poppins when I was 3. Thank you for letting me act out scenes from I Love Lucy on my 10th birthday. Thank you for always allowing my freak flag to fly without ever making me feel weird about it.”

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the root of this billion-dollar industry — the seed that gives birth to a massive infrastructure of directors, designers, producers, technicians, and publicists — is a childlike sense of play. The Tony Awards are an annual reminder that, with a lot of hard work and luck, you can turn that overactive imagination into a career.

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Stereophonic

Final performance: January 5, 2025

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