I watched the Tony Awards for the first time ever this year. In less than a year since I’ve truly developed an interest in Broadway, I’ve become familiar enough with it that I knew about most of the shows nominated this year and many of the actors and actresses there, so I was impressed. I’m glad I had some knowledge going into it, though, because I liked having context for what was going on. Otherwise, I never would’ve appreciated or quite understood the hosting jobs Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban did, and they did well.
Aside from the actual awards portion of the show, many shows made their presences known through the performances they gave, and they did not disappoint. Whether I knew the story of the show or had simply heard of the show a bit, I enjoyed learning more about the featured shows/actors/dancers and what each performance offered.
Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban: “This One’s For You” Opening Number
The opening number sounded classy—just as one would typically expect when hearing either Sara Bareilles or Josh Groban—but was still humorous in a light-hearted manner. Bareilles and Groban acknowledge how they were somehow chosen as hosts despite never actually winning any awards—Tonys and otherwise.
But, as they mention, most people at the Tony Awards don’t win. They get all glammed up but don’t get the fancy hardware, but that’s okay; they all work hard on their crafts and get to be at Radio City Music Hall for Broadway’s biggest night. I enjoyed the message and tone of the opening number, but I loved the inclusion of ensemble members from each nominated show. Ensemble members deserve just as much love as leading members of shows.
Mean Girls: “Where Do You Belong?”/”Meet the Plastics”
I haven’t seen the musical version of Mean Girls in its entirety, but, from what this Tony performance suggests, the musical does the movie justice. This performance portrays Cady’s introduction to the cafeteria and cliques at North Shore High School as told by Damian and Janis. The song and choreography are fun and contain all the humor one expects from a story concerning high school and in Mean Girls. The characters people have come to love because of the movie are all very present in this number. I especially enjoyed the introductions to the Plastics: Taylor Louderman as Regina George, Ashley Park as Gretchen Wieners, and Kate Rockwell as Karen Smith.
The best part, however, is the fact this particular performance was reworked to include everyone in the company, so those members (like swings) who aren’t usually performing in this number got to perform at the Tonys.
(Special shoutouts to ensemble member Ben Cook, whom I absolutely loved in Newsies, and to swing Becca Petersen, who was a swing in Bandstand!)
My Fair Lady: “The Rain in Spain”/“I Could Have Danced All Night”/“Get Me to the Church on Time”
I’m not familiar with My Fair Lady, but I enjoyed that the company performed a medley of songs from the show. The first two numbers focused on the songs themselves and featured Lauren Ambrose in the lead role of Eliza Doolittle. From those, you get a sense of who Eliza Doolittle is as a character and what the show is about. In the final number of the performance, the focus is much more on the performance itself. The music is more upbeat, and the choreography is energetic and entertaining.
(Special shoutout to Keven Quillon, an ensemble member, whom I got to see in Bandstand!)
Awards: “Best Costume Design of a Musical” (Catherine Zuber)
SpongeBob SquarePants: “I’m Not a Loser”
When I first heard there would be a SpongeBob SquarePants musical on Broadway, I was skeptical, because I do not like the show at all. Granted, I’ve only seen one episode, could barely get through it, and didn’t care for it whatsoever. But I’ve heard good things about the musical—even from those who dislike the show—which makes sense considering it was nominated for “Best Musical.”
I’m curious as to why the performance chosen for the Tonys was one that was featured and all about Squidward. I actually wanted to see something that featured Ethan Slater and his portrayal of SpongeBob, because he earned a “Best Actor in a Musical” nomination for it. Even so, “I’m Not a Loser” was a great number that featured Gavin Lee as Squidward.
Lee does a great job embodying Squidward in a fun, uplifting (not exactly words usually associated with Squidward) performance. The Squidward costume is rather strange but accurate, which then makes it awesome. The number featured tap dancing, and I’m a sucker for a tap routine. The music/song didn’t overpower the tapping, which was nice. Even though the performance featured Lee, it was nice to still see plenty of ensemble members accompanying him. They all danced tremendously. Lee, in particular, tapped effortlessly in his Squidward costume, and I can’t imagine that being easy.
Awards: “Best Scenic Design of a Musical” (David Zinn)
Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban: “Eight Times a Week”
Bareilles and Groban parodied Sia’s “Chandelier” to address the eight-performance week shows have on Broadway, and it was HILARIOUS. The tone of “Chandelier” is rather serious, but the change in lyrics provided great comedy that was rather accurate. The only thing that would have made the parody better was if Bareilles and Groban performed it while wearing nude leotards (as suggested by my sister) to mimic Maddie Ziegler in Sia’s music video for it.
Carousel: “Blow High, Blow Low”
Carousel is another show I don’t know much about. In the number that was performed for the Tonys, however, it’s clear that it involves boats, sailors, and going out to sea, and you really get that vibe from the performance. It’s sounds and looks exactly what one thinks of when thinking of sailors and nautical-related events.
The number is very much so a choreographic number in that the song isn’t too present but the music is, giving way for great dancing opportunities. The company utilizes the stage well, as the choreography features a nice variety of moves and skills.
(Special shoutout to So You Think You Can Dance/Newsies alums Jess LeProtto and Ricky Ubeda, both of whom are in the ensemble!)
Awards: “Best Featured Actress in a Musical” (Lindsay Mendez), “Best Choreography” (Justin Peck)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Students: “Seasons of Love” from Rent
I’m not sure anyone could watch the Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama department’s performance without, at least, tearing up. The students from Parkland, Florida, performed after Melody Herzfeld, Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama teacher, was recognized as the recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award. It was such a heartwarming, powerful performance, and the students all seemed to love being up on that stage. Those kids have been through a lot, so it was wonderful to see them get to perform on such a grand stage and be celebrated.
Frozen: “For the First Time in Forever”/“Let It Go”
For the most part, “For the First Time in Forever” is the same as it is in the movie. Anna, played by Patti Murin, is just as excited about the gates being opened and getting to see and interact with people, and Elsa, played by Caissie Levy, is just as anxious about opening the gates and having to see and interact with people given her lack of control over her powers and emotions.
“Let It Go” was especially cool, though, because you got to see how such a magical scene has been taken from the animation studio to a stage. Anyone who enjoys Frozen as a movie would enjoy Frozen’s Tonys performance.
In Memoriam: “For Forever” from Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen premiered during the 2016-17 Broadway season, performed at last year’s Tony Awards, and won the 2017 Tony for “Best Musical.” When it was announced Dear Evan Hansen would perform at this year’s Tony Awards, I wasn’t sure whether that meant the performance would be something straight from the musical. But it wasn’t.
I’ve listened to the Dear Evan Hansen cast recording numerous times, so I’m familiar with the show. “For Forever” was a great choice as a song to accompany the “In Memoriam” segment of the Tony Awards. The cast members were appropriately dressed in black and sang beautifully. It wasn’t much, as they didn’t sing the full song, but the orchestrations and lyrics they covered were perfect.
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical: “Last Dance”
Donna Summer is played by three different actresses in this musical, as each one portrays Summer at a different age, and it’s cool to see three different takes on one person in one number. As is required with any disco song/performance, it was a high-energy routine filled with groovy choreography—including great partner work! It definitely made me want to watch old disco routines from So You Think You Can Dance.
Once On This Island: “One Small Girl”/“Mama Will Provide”
Once On This Island performs at the Circle in the Square Theatre. It’s a theatre in the round, meaning the stage is surrounded by the audience. When Once On This Island’s performance first started, I saw the theatre in the round setup and thought, “Oh, they’re doing their performance from their theater?” Come the end of the performance the camera zooms out enough to show that the performance did indeed happen in Radio City Music Hall; they simply brought the theatre in the round experience to the stage, and I found that to be admirable and awesome.
I was hoping Once On This Island’s performance would showcase fellow Filipina Lea Salonga, who plays the goddess Erzulie, but it didn’t. However, I still liked it and the fun, tropical vibes it gave off. I also enjoyed how it really featured Alex Newell—who plays Asaka, Mother of the Earth, and is known from Glee—and 19-year-old(!) Hailey Kilgore, who plays Ti Moune. They have such powerful voices and use them well. The storytelling at the start of the performance is cool, too.
Awards: “Best Revival of a Musical”
Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban: Lifetime Achievement Medley
This medley did a great job highlighting the best of what Broadway greats actress Chita Rivera and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber have done. I’m familiar with more of their stuff than I thought, which was a pleasant surprise. Bareilles and Groban included just enough song excerpts in the mash-up without doing too much. A little more West Side Story would have been nice, but that’s just a personal preference considering I enjoy the music in it a lot.
Awards: 2018 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement (Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber)
The Band’s Visit: “Omar Sharif”
The Band’s Visit’s performance really stood out among the rest of the performances in that it was one of the lone ones which wasn’t the typical fun, energetic number one would expect in musical theatre. Rather, “Omar Sharif” offers simplicity in a beautiful, calm, and focused manner. Katrina Lenk, who portrays Dina, is so invested in this song and the storytelling aspect of it, and she really invites you to enjoy the story.
Awards: “Best Musical,” “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” (Katrina Lenk), “Best Leading Actor in a Musical” (Tony Shalhoub), “Best Original Score” (David Yazbek), “Best Direction of a Musical” (David Cromer), “Best Sound Design of a Musical” (Kai Harada), “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” (Ari’el Stachel), “Best Lighting Design of a Musical” (Tyler Micoleau), “Best Book of a Musical” (Itamar Moses), “Best Orchestrations” (Jamshied Sharifi)
Springsteen on Broadway: “My Hometown”
I remember hearing about Springsteen on Broadway and thinking, “What does that show even entail?” I knew it wasn’t a biographical musical and that it actually featured Bruce Springsteen himself but surely couldn’t be a straight-up concert in a Broadway theater. But I never bothered to look into it more, so I didn’t know what to expect out of his performance. I ended up really liking it, though.
Springsteen begins by playing the piano and then telling a story through spoken word, and I was rather interested in what he had to say. I was especially fond of the line, “I never cared for coffee, but I loved that smell,” because I relate to it greatly.
The music complemented the spoken word well even though it wasn’t singing, and the spoken word transitioned well into the song. Springsteen has such a way with storytelling, and I never would have expected it. He does a tremendous job of detailing his hometown and what it was like to be a part of that community.
Awards: 2018 Special Tony Award
Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban: “This One’s For You” (Reprise) Closing Number
I like how the closing number was a reprise of the opening number, drawing a parallel and making the show come full circle. The message of the number was great, too. Throughout the show, viewers were encouraged to share photos of themselves in theatre productions when they were younger and tag them with “#TonyDreaming”, so it was neat to see that the closing number was an encouraging message for today’s youth who aspire to be in theatre and hope to one day be at the Tonys.
Image via Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions