17 Jun 2024, 12:25

'Outsiders,' 'Stereophonic' top Tony Awards

NEW YORK, June 17, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Coming-of-age musical "The Outsiders" and "Stereophonic," a play about a 1970s band putting together an album, earned top honors Sunday at the Tony Awards, the highest accolades in American theater.

The Broadway community celebrated its best and brightest at New York's Lincoln Center, hosted by Oscar winner Ariana DeBose for the third year running.

"The Outsiders," a stage adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel about class conflict between two high school gangs in Oklahoma in the 1960s, took home the award for best musical -- its fourth on the night, after best director, lighting and sound design.

"Society changes but the experience of being an outsider is universal," said one of the show's producers, Angelina Jolie, as she introduced the cast's performance, which includes a gritty fight scene.

"To any young person, any person feeling on the outside, you are not wrong to see what is unfair, you are not wrong to wish to find your own path."

"Stereophonic," written by David Adjmi, took the award for best play. It tells the story of the making of an album by a fictional rock band and features original music from former Arcade Fire member Will Butler.

It won five awards on the night, including best featured actor and best director, after making history as the most nominated play ever with 13 nods.

Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" -- about the complicated relationship of three friends, told in reverse -- was a flop when it originally opened in 1981, but earned redemption by taking four awards including best revival of a musical.

Stars Jonathan Groff and Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" fame earned trophies for their performances in the show.

The best musical win for "The Outsiders" was a bit of an upset over "Hell's Kitchen," a jukebox musical loosely based on the life of pop singer Alicia Keys, which won prizes for lead actress Maleah Joi Moon and featured actress Kecia Lewis.

Keys herself took the stage with the cast to perform her massive hit "Empire State of Mind" -- which featured a surprise cameo from Jay-Z, who rapped his verse from outside the theater, where she joined him to end the song.

Sarah Paulson took the Tony for best lead actress in a play for her work in family drama "Appropriate," which also won the award for best revival of a play.

Jeremy Strong of "Succession" fame was named best lead actor in a play for his turn in the revival of Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People."

- Theater as 'safe place' -

It was a return to form for the Tonys after last year, when the live nationally televised ceremony almost didn't happen due to a strike by the Writers Guild of America. Ultimately, that show went on -- unscripted.

Highlights included a sizzling rendition of "Wilkommen" from "Cabaret" starring Eddie Redmayne and high-flying acrobatics from the cast of circus musical "Water for Elephants."

Broadway luminaries Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Bebe Neuwirth led a special tribute to the late Chita Rivera, who died in January at the age of 91.

DeBose danced a snippet from "West Side Story" playing Anita, the character originated by Rivera and for which DeBose won an Academy Award.

And Pete Townshend, the legendary co-founder of The Who, played the opening notes of the performance from the band's rock opera "Tommy."

The Broadway League, the industry's national trade association, released data last month indicating that theatergoers were still flocking to Manhattan to catch new productions and revivals of time-honored favorites.

During the 2023-24 season, nearly 90 percent of available seats were filled, up slightly from last season, which was the first full one since the pandemic, the league said in a statement. That translated to an attendance of 12.3 million.

"Headlines are frankly terrifying most of the time. But the theater is a safe place for us all," DeBose said in her opening monologue.

"And in the most trying of times, art is imperative because art reflects society and provides context for the very real situations that we find ourselves in today."