An intimate, heart-wrenching musical about loneliness, teen angst and suicide in the age of hyperconnectivity capped its unlikely journey to Broadway smash by winning top honors at the Tonys.
“Dear Evan Hansen,” starring 23-year-old Ben Platt in a breakout — and knockout — performance, took six awards Sunday evening at Radio City Music Hall, including best musical and best actor for Platt. It also won best score for its young composers, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, already Oscar winners for the movie “La La Land.”
Platt, in his acceptance speech, addressed young people who might be suffering some of the social anxiety faced by his character, high school senior Evan Hansen. “To all young people watching at home, don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody else,” he said, “because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”
Ben Platt accepts the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City (Getty Images)
Another memorable speech came from the night’s other big musical star, Bette Midler, winning best actress (her first competitive Tony) for her lauded turn in “Hello, Dolly!” Midler took the stage in a sequin gown, and made it clear she wouldn’t leave the podium until she was good and ready. When the orchestra tried to play her off, she didn’t just speak over it — she shot back merrily: “Shut that crap off!”
Her speech provided host Kevin Spacey — who sang, did a little soft-shoe, trotted out his impressions, and was generally game for anything — with his best line of the night. Appearing as his “House of Cards” character Frank Underwood, he wisecracked that he’d better leave, “before Bette Midler thanks anyone else.”
In the highly competitive drama category, “Oslo,” a three-hour play about the 1993 Middle East peace accords by J. T. Rogers, beat out a field that included “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” by Lucas Hnath, the Pulitzer-winning “Sweat,” by Lynn Nottage, and “Indecent” by Paula Vogel. (In a new touch, all four playwrights personally introduced their work).
Unlike last year, when “Hamilton” dominated the show and won 11 Tonys, the wealth was spread out this time. “Hello, Dolly!” won four, including best musical revival and best featured actor for Broadway veteran Gavin Creel. And best director of a musical went to Christopher Ashley of “Come From Away,” the crowd-pleasing show about the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who sheltered thousands of stranded airline passengers on Sept. 11.
The boisterous “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” which had 12 nominations, ended up winning just two technical awards, for best set and lighting.
It was clearly Evan Hansen’s night. The show’s writer, Steven Levenson, won for best book of a musical, and Alex Lacamoire earned one for best orchestrations (after winning last year for “Hamilton.”) And Rachel Bay Jones won her first Tony — featured actress — for her heartbreaking portrayal of a mother who struggles to understand and help her son, Evan, as he gets caught in a terrible lie that he cannot control.
Jones spoke of her many lean years in the business, and thanked her “Nana” for selling her engagement ring so she could come to New York and pursue her dreams.
In drama, top acting honors went to Kevin Kline for “Present Laughter” — his third Tony — and to Laurie Metcalf — her first — for “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” Best director went to Rebecca Taichman for “Indecent.”
Kline made a point of thanking the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, two organizations whose federal funding is threatened under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Cynthia Nixon won her second Tony, featured actress in a play, for Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” Nixon was one of the most politically outspoken winners, giving a shout-out to people who refuse to just stand by and watch when bad things happen in the world. Another big name, Danny DeVito, favored for his entertaining work in Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” lost out to Michael Aronov, for “Oslo.”
Other winners included August Wilson’s “Jitney,” which collected the Tony for best play revival. And in choreography, Andy Blankenbuehler joined his “Hamilton” colleague Lacamoire with a repeat win this year, this time for “Bandstand.”
Spacey peppered his routines — aided by Whoopi Goldberg and Stephen Colbert, to name a few guests — with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, making a storyline out of the fact that he wasn’t the first choice for hosting duties. He also played with speculation about his sexual orientation as he sang the Andrew Lloyd Webber song “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from “Sunset Boulevard.” Dressed as Glenn Close, who stars in that revival, Spacey sang, “I’m coming out…” and then added, “Of makeup…”
Some of his most successful bits, judging by audience reaction, were his much-lauded impressions. How about: His impression of Bill Clinton even caught the fancy of a former vice president in the audience — Joe Biden.
“For a minute, I thought that was really Clinton,” Biden said, at the after-party for the award show at the Plaza Hotel. In an interview, he said he had enjoyed both Spacey and the ceremony, even though he hadn’t had time to see this year’s nominated shows yet.
Biden — whose wife, Jill, introduced the military veteran-themed “Bandstand” at the ceremony and got a standing ovation — was clearly a major draw at the party, causing a bottleneck of admiring partygoers begging for selfies with him. He stopped to chat with Keegan-Michael Key and also Josh Groban, the singer who stars in “Natasha, Pierre.”
Groban reminded the former vice president that Biden had once told him he has him on his iPod playlist, and he’d never forgotten that. “I still have you on there,” Biden said, and quipped, “I probably ruined your reputation.”
At the party, nominees, celebrities and other guests wandered through the hotel’s food stalls, munching on everything from filet mignon to avocado gazpacho to lobster rolls to chocolate macaroons.
Groban, who lost out to Platt, said he’d been “pinching myself all night” at being a nominee, and being “part of this Broadway season that has been so vibrant and brilliant. And then to be representing my show and performing tonight — I just had the best time.”