On a night that was marked by tragedy — and occurring mere hours after news broke of the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida — the Tonys provided a much-needed bit of levity. The performers and honorees didn’t shy away from speaking about the shocking events of the day, but the overall mood was one of celebration. Part of the credit goes to the master of ceremonies James Corden, best known as the goofy host CBS’s Late Late Show, yet still a dorky theater kid at heart; his charming, cheerful persona brought an upbeat mood to the proceedings. And the Hamilton effect — and the fact that it was just a strong year for Broadway in general, with plenty of wonderful productions to celebrate — surely had something to do with it as well.
But it wouldn’t be an awards show without some bits that left us scratching our heads in utter WTF confusion. Here, take a look at the good, the bad, and the somewhat ugly moments from the 2016 Tony Awards.
Best: The graceful opening that acknowledged the tragedy in Orlando
The unspeakable tragedy currently playing out in Orlando, Florida was undeniably on the minds of everyone at the awards. Prior to the event, the producers stated that the show would be dedicated to the victims of the shooting. And the broadcast began with a simple, eloquent message delivered by host James Corden: “All we can say is you are not on your own right now. Your tragedy is our tragedy … Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win. Together, we have to make sure of that.” Others, including Best Lead Actor in a Play winner Frank Langella and presenter Barbra Streisand, offered their own condolences as well, in similarly subdued and heartfelt ways. AP
Worst: CBS’s corporate synergizing
Though the Tiffany Network’s self-promotion lessened as the evening wore on, there were some presenters who didn’t make a whole lot of sense last night. Unless, of course, you’re a corporate entity hoping to get people to tune into your mid-season show, BrainDead — in which case Mary Elizabeth Winstead was a perfect choice. No offense to the actors, but this isn’t the Emmys, and with the Tony awards challenging constraints that other mediums have so much trouble with, like age and race, this was an opportunity to celebrate many of Broadway’s best performers instead of television’s PYTs. Also, CBS is the only network that doesn’t air what’s supposed to be a live awards show for the whole country at the same time. The West Coast watched on delay as social media exploded with spoilers. Greed and self-interest prevailed at the Eye. PR
Best: James Corden’s opening number
Hamilton loaned its opening number to the Late Late Show host, with Leslie Odom Jr. wondering exactly how Corden went from “chattin’ with Hollywood phonies” to being “the guy who hosts the Tonys.” And for his part, “the chubby dude from Into the Woods who played the baker” brandished the statue and cautioned the eager performers onstage to “wait for it.” (Hopefully this was funny/delightful even if you haven’t listened to the cast album on repeat for months.)
From there, Corden big upped the evening’s everybody’s-welcome mix by saying the show was so diverse that Donald Trump threatened to build a wall around the theater, and then launched into a medley of a dozen famous musicals (among them Les Miserables, The Lion King, and Annie) by way of explaining the origins of his love for the theater. His energy and enthusiasm was desperately needed in the wake of this weekend’s tragedy, and Corden captured the essence of Broadway. His opening set the tone for a show that did seem a hell of a lot more sincere than anything put on by those Hollywood phonies. PR
Worst: Cutting speeches off a little early
Some performers were given an appropriate amount of time to get their thanks in — thank the deity of your choice that no one interrupted Frank Langella’s moving tribute to the victims in Orlando. But others, including Hamilton breakout stars Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr., and the legendary Jessica Lange, got cut off after what felt like less than a minute.Yes, this is a complaint that you could lobby against virtually every awards show, but it felt particularly egregious last night. There are other ways you can trim minutes off the long ceremony … like, for example, ixnaying the Carpool Karaoke bit (more on that in second). AP
Best: The tween cast of School of Rock shredding it
The Broadway adaptation of the 2003 comedy that made Jack Black a household name doesn’t exactly seem like it’d be a contender for a hit or, frankly, a Tony nominee. But it’s gotten good reviews since opening, along with four nominations (though it didn’t win any in the year of Hamilton), and the cast’s performance during the broadcast showed why. The pint-sized performers, all of whom play their own instruments, proved they’ve got excellent musical chops — and that, combined with Alex Brightman’s charismatic turn in the lead role, made for a super-fun performance. AP
Best: Hamilton cleans up, winning 11 awards
You almost have to feel sorry for every nominee who landed in a category with someone from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s devastatingly original musical, especially when the ceremony had already been nicknamed the “Hamiltonys.” As expected, the young, scrappy, and hungry cast (and crew) made an impressive haul. The show’s not-so-secret weapon Daveed Diggs won for Best Featured Actor, and Leslie Odom Jr. beat his own boss for Best Leading Actor, provoking a Twitter feed’s worth of “Burr slays Hamilton again” jokes.
But, this being a classier, more humble show than the Oscars, you truly believed every winner when he or she said that they shared the award with the entire ensemble. Together, the winners — director Thomas Kail; choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler; featured actress Renée Elise Goldsberry; Miranda, the multi-hyphenate himself; and more — created a Broadway phenomenon. As President Obama said, it was “a civics lesson our kids can’t get enough of,” and it deserved relentless acknowledgement. Minor complaint: The cast didn’t perform either of the most popular songs from the soundtrack (“My Shot,” “Wait for It”), which — given the prohibitive cost of tickets — would have been a real treat for the legions of fans who can’t afford to see Hamilton any time soon. PR
Worst: The #Ham4Ham-inspired outdoor performances
This was a well-intentioned recurring bit, picking up the spontaneous, for-the-people offerings that the Hamilton cast originated outside the Richard Rogers theater. But here, it just didn’t quite work: The ensemble of Fiddler on the Roof doing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun or the School of Rock kids singing a few refrains from one of Phantom of the Opera‘s most famous numbers was confusing and hurried. With barely time for a chorus from each, it was a clumsy attempt to cover a lot of historical territory in honor of the Tonys’ 70th anniversary. The show was already overstuffed with magnetic performances, and the televised riffs obviously lacked the thrill of the casual, intimate #Ham4Ham experience. Though no doubt it was fun for Lin-Manuel Miranda to shout “Andrew Lloyd Webber on tambourine!” PR
Worst: Running credits over Hamilton‘s “The Schuyler Sisters” number
The cast of the Broadway smash contributed two performances to the broadcast: a stirring rendition of “Yorktown,” a big ensemble number that showcases much of the company’s talents; and “The Schuyler Sisters,” an R&B-inflected tune that introduces the audience to the show’s leading ladies. The latter performance ran at the end of the broadcast, however, after Hamilton picked up its final award for Best Musical; even worse, CBS chose to run the credits over the cast’s exuberant performance (touting New York “as the greatest city in the world”), which put a damper on the whole thing — especially for those whose best bet at seeing the musical of the year is through the Tony’s broadcast. AP
Best: Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Best Score” acceptance speech
In lieu of a traditional acceptance speech, the Hamilton creator showed why, exactly, he’s been deemed a genius by pulling out a sonnet that he had only recently composed instead. The piece, recited in Miranda’s typical rapid-fire verse, was both a love poem to his wife, Vanessa, as well as an elegy for those who lost their lives in the tragic mass shooting in Orlando. “When senseless acts of tragedy remind us/That nothing here is promised, not one day/This show is proof that history remembers,” he said through tears. By the time he was finished, after reciting “love is love is love,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. AP
Best: The Law & Order joke
If you’ve ever thumbed through a Playbill wondering “Where have I seen that actor before?!?,” the answer is usually: Law & Order. Corden made very rewarding use of this New York actor résumé mainstay last night when he called on Claire Danes for her memorable portrayal of … L&O‘s Tracy Brandt. The joke only got better as Corden showed footage of Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. (who were in the same episode!) and poor Danny Burstein — the Fiddler on the Roof star played six different roles on the series, and each time Corden flashed the photo of another character, the audience (and Burstein) laughed harder. Apparently, there is absolutely no continuity on Law & Order. PR
Worst: The week-old “Carpool Karaoke” reprise … why?
Corden has become famous for his Carpool Karaoke bits, in which celebrities prove how relatable and cool they are by singing songs in a car with the Late Late Show host. For the Tonys, he got a group of Broadway A-listers — Lin Manuel Miranda, Jane Krakowski, Audra McDonald, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson — together to sing songs from Hamilton, Les Miserables, and more. But the bit hit the Internet a week ago, which means by the time it was shown on the broadcast, it already felt a tad yesterday’s-news stale. Pro tip: Once something’s gone viral, you probably don’t need to replay it for the TV audience. AP
Best: The Color Purple’s Cynthia Erivo winning the Best Featured Actress award
The British actress has been racking up accolades and awards for her portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple, and the Tonys was no exception — she snagged the prize for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. And if there was ever any doubt over her deserving the honor, the cast’s performance earlier in the show would have put that to rest: Erivo belted the heck out of “I’m Here,” one of the production’s showstoppers, bringing the crowd to its feet and confirming her place as the show’s breakout star.
Worst: On Your Feet‘s performance fails to pop
In theory, the performance from the jukebox musical about the life of pop icon Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio, should have been a winner. It included some of the night’s most recognizable tunes (who doesn’t know all the words to “Conga”?) and Estefan herself showed up to lend her star power to the performance. But the chopped-together montage of the singer-songwriter’s greatest hits felt a bit lackluster, and didn’t sell the musical itself very well. (We’ll spare you any jokes about the rhythm not getting us.) AP
Best: The Humans wins Best Play
Like August: Osage County, writer Stephen Karam’s instant classic is a biting, intergenerational tragicomedy that trains the microscope on one middle-class American family to illustrate the impossible costs of surviving in our country. (Given the election-year campaign stumping, it could not have come at a more resonant time.) But it also reveals the complicated affairs that are family holidays as the Blakes gather for Thanksgiving in a shambolic Chinatown duplex, which is expertly evoked by set designer David Zinn (who also won a Tony). Daughters lecture parents on the importance of superfoods, while parents wonder why kids want to live longer if they’re so depressed all the time anyway. Best actor and actress Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell movingly acknowledged the decades they put into their careers before finding success as seasoned veterans, but they also expressed gratitude that the thirty-something Karam has so many more years ahead of him to create. Amen. PR
Worst: Shuffle Along’s Savion Glover shut out for Best Choreography
Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler won for his innovative work, a mix of classic and modern, inspired by Bob Fosse and hip-hop in equal measure. But it would’ve been nice to see Savion Glover take home the prize for choreographing Shuffle Along, a revival (sort of — it’s complicated) of a 1921 musical of the same name that’s known for being one of the first black musicals on Broadway. The tap-dancing legend teamed up with director George C. Wolfe for the pair’s first Broadway collaboration since the ground-breaking hit Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, and their work is as dynamic as ever, as the cast performance during the broadcast proved. (But not, apparently, enough to stop the Hamilton juggernaut.) AP