Every once in a while, Broadway gets it right.
As it should have, The Band’s Visit swept the prizes last night at The American Theatre Wing’s 72nd Annual Tony Awards, winning 10 of the 11 awards for which it was nominated. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School performed a heartbreaking rendition of “Seasons of Love” from Rent that won’t soon be forgotten. And, though we never knew we wanted it, we all now have a GIF of Nathan Lane (who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play) looking judgily at a goat for our meme collections. Mean Girls and SpongeBob didn’t take anything home—audiences and critics want something different than musical theater adaptations of proven brands. Producers: give the people what they want.
If she wasn’t already, Katrina Lenk is a queer icon now and forever for her transporting “Omar Sharif.” If, by chance, you’re a tone-deaf and heartless philistine, you have only to take in her gender-bent performance of “If I Were a Rich Man” from MCC’s Miscast gala to understand that she is an All-Powerful Queen Who Deserves Every Good Thing, including Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical.
Can we also please bow down to Andrea Grody, music director of The Band’s Visit? It’s truly stupid that we don’t honor these stalwarts, these backbones, these tireless men and women who serve as the musical and dramaturgical glue for every musical on Broadway. Her work is incredible, and she gets my honorary Tony Award. To The Wing: bring back the Best Music Director of a Musical award and retroactively grant it to Ms. Grody.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, did pretty well for itself, too, with six of its 10 nominations turned into victories. Two of those wins were for women in technical roles—Katrina Lindsay won for Best Costume Design of a Play and Christine Jones won Best Scene Design of a Play. Producers: hire more women in technical roles on Broadway.
Once On This Island, with its beautifully diverse cast, won Best Revival of a Musical. If you don’t know this show, I highly suggest you get your hands on any of its cast recordings immediately and melt as “The Human Heart” reminds you why you are alive. Last night, the cast performed “We Dance / Mama Will Provide,” which is a lot of fun.
The Tony Award for Best Shade Thrown went to Rachel Bloom for her Neil Patrick Harris clapback. The white, gay actor, who snottily asked who she was on Twitter, was Shamed To Death when she pointed out that the two had met numerous times, and that her husband had written for How I Met Your Mother for five years. Everyone, everywhere: do not forget about Rachel Bloom. And white, cis, gay men, I can’t believe I have to say this: do not forget the names of the women who stan for your work! Additionally: Neil Patrick Harris has a standing request for birthday presents (lol) and his home address listed in his Twitter bio. He requests something expensive and/or well thought out. What will you buy and ship to a rich, white, cis, gay actor you don’t personally know for his birthday this year?
Who is the woman in the top hat backstage at @TheTonyAwards? Gideon remarked that she says ‘like’ and ‘oh my god’ a lot. I’m confused…
— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 11, 2018
I’m a big fan of yours. We’ve met numerous times and my husband, Dan Gregor, wrote for “How I Met Your Mother” for 5 years. Notably, he wrote the episode where your character finally meets his father.
— Rachel Bloom (@Racheldoesstuff) June 11, 2018
While I’m grateful for Andrew Garfield’s touching acceptance speech for his win (as Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play in Angels in America), which foregrounded LGBTQ+ rights in the context of an increasingly hostile political environment, I truly, at my core, believe that queer actors should be playing queer roles. Period. As I watched the awards play out on Facebook and Twitter, I became deeply sad as I watched my gay, male friends lust after him. This could have been a moment for an up-and-coming queer actor to win the hearts and minds of gay people all over the country, and for straight audiences to be challenged to make space for queer people from the mouth of a queer person.
That kind of representation, which I see as non-negotiable, takes intervention at every level. It’s going to take queer playwrights in positions of power, like Tony Kushner, to insist that queer actors get cast to play their queer characters. It’s going to take producers in positions of power, like Jordan Roth, to challenge their collaborators to work harder at representation. It’s going to take straight actors in positions of power, like Andrew Garfield, to ask questions of casting directors and agents when they’re approached to play queer characters. (Angels in America, for the record, won Best Revival of a Play.)
But most importantly, it’s going to require queer audiences to insist that we see people like us on stage, accepting Tony Awards for representations of characters like us. We can’t afford to settle for a handsome face and a glib statement about how cakes should be for everybody. With such a well-populated, diverse, and talented pool of actors, it’s ludicrous that we should stand for these crumbs. Bake us cakes, but let us eat them, too.
The New York theater community has a long way to go before people of difference get their fair shake. But, as author and theater librettist Tim Federle wrote this morning, presumably in response to the performance by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, “Theater kids will save us all.” I look forward to seeing how we continue to do better for our own.