The Best and Worst of the Tony Awards 2019

The Best and Worst of the Tony Awards 2019


Best: Ali Stroker’s speech

Ms. Stroker, who won for best featured actress in a musical as the man-crazy Ado Annie in Daniel Fish’s iconoclastic revival of “Oklahoma!,” exuded confidence and clarity, as well as sentiment and gratitude, in accepting her Tony. “This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves as represented in this arena,” said Ms. Stroker, who has been in a wheelchair since she was two. “You are.” Though her speech was relatively (and refreshingly) short by awards show standards, she gave weight and substance to each of her words, as if all of them were of undeniable importance. They were. BEN BRANTLEY

Best: Showcase for a play

Considering the strong season for plays on Broadway, what a shame that the Tonys once again could not figure out how to represent them. This year was better than last: The playwrights were at least invited to speak (for 55 seconds) about their work. Yet Jez Butterworth, the author of “The Ferryman,” wasted his minute with a uxorious tribute to his partner and star, Laura Donnelly — sweet, I guess, but useless as a way of letting viewers know what his play, which later took home the big prize, is really about.

The only nonmusical work that really had a chance to shine was Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy,” about a gay, black prep school singer. No doubt invited to be performed — and not just talked about — on the Tonys because it relies so much on song and dance, it made the most of the opportunity, thanks to Jason Michael Webb’s superb arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Rockin’ Jerusalem,” and Camille Brown’s step-dance choreography. This was a stark and beautiful reminder that music and dance are forms of drama, not to be kept in separate cages. JESSE GREEN

Worst: Showcase for a musical that deserves better

“Hadestown” was the night’s big winner, but the performance of “Wait for Me” didn’t — couldn’t? — capture the show’s real calling cards, namely its knack for catharsis and a fabulous performance from Amber Gray as Persephone. The swinging lights are sensational in the theater, giving a sense of both climax and danger, but on the broadcast the technique came across as sort of puny. MARGARET LYONS

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Best: Audra vs. Laura

Though neither woman was a Tony nominee, Laura Linney and Audra McDonald gave the evening’s wittiest performance (sorry, James Corden) as they faced off in mock hostility in an otherwise lame segment about too-nice theater folk learning to vent. Though it was hard to top Ms. Linney’s malevolent coolness, Ms. McDonald held her own and then some, as she started to tear off her earrings to do battle. The evening could have used some more of their ripe theatricality. BEN BRANTLEY

Worst: You had to be there (really)

Is it possible the best parts of the ceremony didn’t air and were never meant to? There was audience karaoke at Radio City during the commercial breaks, which included Mr. Corden and Ben Platt duetting on “Tomorrow” from “Annie” and Billy Porter singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy.” Televise this! MARGARET LYONS

Best: Bathroom break

“Be More Chill” only had one nomination, but its breakout song “Michael in the Bathroom” got a whole terrific spoof. Mr. Corden, holed up in a men’s room stall inside Radio City Music Hall, sang wistfully about his insecurities as M.C., and then last year’s hosts, Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, joined in with laments of their own. A surprise, slick cameo from Neil Patrick Harris (and his mustache) capped off the song, making the bit funnier and snappier than the ceremony’s opening number. MARGARET LYONS

Best: Short-form performances

Mr. Corden asking stars in the crowd to practice their “losing faces” promised to be run-of-the-mill comic padding, but Kristin Chenoweth, Andrew Rannells and Jeff Daniels made the most of it, earning hearty laughs with their terrifyingly frozen smiles. SCOTT HELLER

Best: Defense of a fashion choice

“I spent too many years being a cater waiter to enjoy wearing a tux,” the playwright and performer Taylor Mac explained on the red carpet, proudly festooned in a creation by his regular collaborator Machine Dazzle. SCOTT HELLER

Worst: Defensive posture

The opening number begged binge-watching couch potatoes to consider a trip to the theater instead. Another song worried neurotically about the Tonys telecast ratings. Mr. Corden suggested that a Cardi B/Nicki Minaj-style feud might goose Broadway’s cultural profile.

Enough with the defensiveness! Broadway may be a splurge (though it doesn’t cost as much as many pop concerts) and it may not get as much attention as other performance mediums. But almost 15 million people went to a Broadway show this past season, more than attended professional sporting events in the region. It makes no sense to endorse false notions of cultural unworthiness, especially using criteria like mass popularity that most plays and musicals take such pains to delegitimize.

Let’s leave the low self-esteem in high school, where it belongs. JESSE GREEN

Best: Wise advice

They say to learn from the best and two “Hadestown” winners included sage advice in their acceptance speeches. André De Shields, the best featured actor in a musical, shared his three cardinal rules: “One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.” Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the show’s book and score, had her own three rules: “Number one, nobody does it alone. Number two, it takes a long time. And number three, it’s worth it.” MARGARET LYONS

Ben Brantley has been the co-chief theater critic since 1996, filing reviews regularly from London as well as New York. Before joining The Times in 1993, he was a staff writer for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Jesse Green is the co-chief theater critic. Before joining The Times in 2017, he was the theater critic for New York magazine and a contributing editor. He is the author of a novel, “O Beautiful,” and a memoir, “The Velveteen Father.” @JesseKGreen Facebook

Margaret Lyons is a television critic. She previously spent five years as a writer and TV columnist for She helped launch Time Out Chicago and later wrote for Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. @margeincharge

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