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Dear Evan Hansen
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyBen Platt

The highs and lows of the 2017 Tony Awards

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

After last year's Hamilton party, the 2017 Tony Awards were bound to suffer from a bit of a hangover. And sure enough, there was plenty of complaining on social media about this year's Tony telecast, some of it from us. But the truth is, there's plenty of complaining about every Tony telecast. We are theater people. We complain. Yet in the key areas—length and quality of musical numbers, touchingness of speeches, correctness of wins, general classiness—the Tonys are maintaining a high standard. Here are some reactions to Sunday night's telecast.

1. The musical numbers were mostly good: First things first. Even more than the actual winners and speeches, musical numbers are the heart of the Tonys: what most viewers tune in to see, and what theater obsessives will watch and rewatch for years to come. The one that is likeliest to pass into show-fan heavy rotation is Ben Platt's performance of "Waving Through a Window" from Dear Evan Hansen, thanks in part to the popularity of the show but also to the song's quality and directness. (It wasn't Platt's very best performance of the song—he had his eyes closed a lot—but it was memorable nonetheless.) A dynamic medley from Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, though perhaps confusing to those who don't know the show well already, made the show seem like a party where anything could happen. Less effective were numbers from Groundhog Day and Come from Away, both of which got somewhat lost in the hugeness of Radio City Music Hall, but two shows that were not nominated for Best Musical—Bandstand and War Paint—made the most of their telecast slots, the former with an exciting dance number and the latter with a duet that effectively showcased the first-rate singing of stars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Miss Saigon's Eva Noblezada sang awfully well, too, in a number that displayed how impressive she could be when not dwarfed by her show's gigantic set. There was also a number from Hello, Dolly! We'll get back to that.

2. Kevin Spacey did fine: He may not have been anyone's first choice as host, as he joked about many times, but he was versatile and adept. His impressions—Johnny Carson! Bill Clinton!—may not have been the very freshest around, but they were executed well. Was the opening number, which found him quick-changing into this year's top musicals (not without hitches), a little inside-baseball? Sure, but we've always believed that the Tonys are better when they have a clubby feel.

3. No show was robbed: In the weeks leading up to the telecast, it seemed as though front-runner Dear Evan Hansen might lose Best Musical to the scrappy Canadian import Come from Away. And although Hansen won a number of competitive categories early on, an upset victory by CFA director Christopher Ashley kept the tension high. In the end, however, Dear Evan Hansen—the better show, in our view—took the prize. We would have been happy to see Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 at the podium a bit more, but there were no major head-scratchers among the winners, and in a strong season it seems right that the awards were spread out beyond the biggest winners. The ten awards for plays were divided among seven productions. (As for our Tony predictions: We got 20 out of 24 categories right, the most accurate of all the experts' predictions this year.)

4. Hello, Dolly!'s no-show robbed us: After a game of chicken with the Tonys—in which the producers of the Bette Midler Hello, Dolly! reportedly requested to perform from the stage of the Shubert Theatre instead of restaging a number for the telecast, like every other show does—the hit revival musical grudgingly represented itself with its dinkiest song: "Penny in My Pocket," a solo for David Hyde Pierce. Pierce is a delight, and the revival is worth every pretty penny that audiences are paying to see it, but this was a slap in the face to Tony viewers and Midler fans. Hello, Dolly! says it didn't want to compromise the aesthetic integrity of the show by doing one of Midler's songs, but she is the season's brightest star draw, and her absence as a performer came off as the needless petulance of an insecure diva. The more charming prima donna shtick in her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Musical—"I can't remember the last time I've had so much smoke blown up my ass but there is no more room, so thank you!"—couldn't make up for the night's most glaring snub: Hello, Dolly!'s, of the audience.

5. Weirdest production of Side Show ever:

6. Michael Greif can't catch a break: 
The most surprising award of the night, and the only one that can be called an upset, was Ashley's victory as Best Director of a Musical. In retrospect, it makes sense: In a category filled with strong work, this was an opportunity for voters to give something to Come from Away, which owes a lot of its success to Ashley's strong coordination of an ensemble cast playing multiple roles. But it meant that Michael Greif was left out of the Dear Evan Hansen wave. It's rare enough for a director to win for a show that does not win Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical; it's only happened twice in the 21st century. But it's especially harsh for Grief, who was similarly overlooked for his work on Rent in 1996. One day, the Tonys will come to Greif.

7. They've finally figured out how to handle Best Play: Longtime Tony viewers know how the telecast has struggled to represent the nominees for Best Play, whether through live scenes (stagey, awkward), filmed segments (perfunctory), executive summaries (brief and impersonal) or high concepts that seemed to have been conceived when someone was high. This year's solution—having the playwrights themselves discuss their work—was an excellent idea, both in how well it represented the nominated plays and how seriously it treated the writers.

8. Best speech of the night: Midler's is the one people will talk about, but we'll take Best Featured Actress in a Musical winner Rachel Bay Jones remembering how her Nana sold her engagement ring so that Jones could pursue an acting career.

9. Best line of the night: "The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful"—Ben Platt

10. Second weirdest production of Side Show ever:

That's all for now, folks! Tomorrow, we can all start predicting the 2018 Tony Awards.

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