She may not have performed, but she managed to steal the show anyway.
If there’s anything to be learned from the 71st Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, it’s that Bette Midler will have the last word; she will get off the stage when she’s good and ready and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The 71-year-old actress and Twitter champion effectively talked—and then talked some more —over the exit music while accepting her very first Tony for Lead Actress in a Musical for “Hello, Dolly!” which picked up four total awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. Orchestra, be damned.
“I just want to say that revival is an interesting word…it means that something was near death and was brought back to life,” Midler said in her acceptance speech, which ran well over four minutes. “But Hello, Dolly! has never been away. It has been here all along. It’s in our DNA. It’s optimism, it’s democracy, it’s color, it’s hilarity, it’s love of life…It has the ability to lift your spirits in these terrible, terrible times.”
Seeing as the Trump administration’s 2018 federal budget has proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts—which has nurtured arts and culture in the U.S. for over 50 years, shaping the theater landscape as we know it—the evening was not without political jabs. Host Kevin Spacey and presenter Stephen Colbert pulled no punches, while Kevin Kline, Cynthia Nixon and Sally Field, who sported a Planned Parenthood pin on her gown, threw subtler varieties of shade in their rousing speeches. Former Second Lady Jill Biden, meanwhile, received a standing ovation when she introduced a performance from Bandstand.
“Anytime a society is in a state of anxiety, the arts are more intense and vivid than ever because you see everything through the stories that are being told,” John Lithgow told W before the ceremony. Plugging his latest film, the politically-charged _Beatriz at Dinne_r, in which he stars across Salma Hayek, the 71-year-old actor is no stranger to the Tonys, himself a two-time winner and four-time nominee. “It’s a film thats uncannily of the moment,” he said. “We made it before November 8th, but I’ve never been in anything that’s ever been so coincidentally to the point.”
Elsewhere on the red carpet, Miss Saigon star Eva Noblezada radiated in a curve-hugging Jonathan Simkhai dress, doing her best exaggerated catwalk strut for an Instagram video. Supermodel trio Alek Wek, Candice Swanepoel, and Caroline Murphy turned up the glamour in looks by Oscar de la Renta, Prabal Gurung and Michael Kors, respectively, while Zac Posen and Liu Wen strutted arm-in-arm. “Liu got off the plane from China today, so that’s serious supermodel commitment,” Posen said.
With its themes of depression, bullying and belonging, the much-buzzed about Dear Evan Hansen edged out Come Here Away in the prestigious Best Musical category, taking home six total awards by the end of the night.. “I think a lot of people feel very isolated and alone, and they feel alone in their aloneness,” playwright Steven Levenson, who scooped the Tony for Best Book of a Musical, said “And there’s something about all art, and especially theater, where we see ourselves on stage and we think, ‘Oh, there are other people like me. I’m not the only one.’ That’s a really powerful thing.”
Broadway’s breakout star Ben Platt, who plays the title character, echoed the sentiment in his tearjerker of an acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Musical: “Don’t waste any time being anyone but yourself because the things that you make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”
Brandon Uranowitz, who was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for his role in Falsettos, walked the red carpet in an ACLU ribbon and Christian Louboutin loafers that spelled out the word L-O-V-E. “I think people take for granted how important the arts are and how much of an effect the arts have had on their lives,” he said. “But that’s the great thing about art: it happens to you subconsciously and consciously. It shapes who you are as a person whether you know it or not. And it’s not all about money. For me, tonight is about loving each other, loving what we do and acknowledging the necessity for it.”
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