Best and Worst Moments From the 2024 Tony Awards

Best and Worst Moments From the 2024 Tony Awards

Ariana DeBose ended her third turn as Tonys host with a mic drop. Otherwise, last night’s ceremony offered a first time for everything and very nearly everyone. All eight winners in the acting categories took home their first trophies. (How is it possible that this is Jonathan Groff’s inaugural win?) The playwright David Adjmi, in his Broadway debut, won for “Stereophonic,” as did its director Daniel Aukin, also a Tony-winning newbie. Danya Taymor took home the prize for best direction of a musical for “The Outsiders,” her initial win. (“The Outsiders” also won for best musical.) In a mellow, equitable night, the other awards were spread among many of the nominated shows, with “Stereophonic,” “The Outsiders,” “Appropriate” and an ingeniously reimagined “Merrily We Roll Again” carrying home the top prizes. Here are the highs and lows — and wait, is that Jay-Z on the stairs? — of the ceremony.

The producers and director were the same, but so much about this year’s telecast was a vast improvement on that of previous years. The pacing was swifter: The main broadcast ended on time and the pre-broadcast ended early. The dialogue was more dignified: no brainless chatter or mawkish introductions. The transitions were smoother: Sets were changed live on camera, saving time and showing us how theater actually works. And the investors who used to throng the stage when their shows won awards — not a good look, plus a traffic problem — were sequestered in some alternative universe and beamed in by video. All this allowed the show to deliver better entertainment while leaving room for thoughtfulness and giddiness, and both together. For the first time in a long time, the Broadway on TV felt like the one I know. JESSE GREEN

The Neil Patrick Harris years set an imposing bar for Tony broadcast opening numbers, and this year’s attempt, a strained variety-show knockoff that prematurely promised “this party’s for you,” didn’t end the drought. The Tonys would have done better opening with “Empire State of Mind” from “Hell’s Kitchen” — the night’s highest-wattage (if partially canned) performance, featuring Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Or, better if not bolder: “Willkommen” from “Cabaret,” which was expertly staged for the camera and drenched in Eddie Redmayne’s kooky charisma. SCOTT HELLER

Kara Young, a diminutive performer of supersized talent, is the first Black performer to have been nominated for a Tony in three consecutive years — for “Clyde’s” in 2022, “Cost of Living” in 2023 and “Purlie Victorious” this year. She won a featured actress award for that last one, with her irrepressible turn as Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, a schemer with a heart that stays gold. In her acceptance speech, Young celebrated Lutiebelle as a character who takes a chance on life and wins. “She deserved it,” Young said. “And we all do.” ALEXIS SOLOSKI

Brooke Shields set the bar high when she rolled up to the red carpet outside Lincoln Center in a sunny dress and a matching pair of rubber duck-yellow Crocs. (“The feet pics are about to level up … Double foot toe surgery,” she posted on Instagram the day before.) Then there was the playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a winner for “Appropriate,” rocking a cicada brooch tie, a nod to one of the production’s creepy-crawly motifs. And one can’t forget Hillary Clinton, who wore — a purple pantsuit? Nope: For her appearance to introduce a performance by the “Suffs” cast (Clinton is among the show’s producers), she opted for a white-and-gold caftan. SARAH BAHR

Put theater people in front of a live audience and they will play to the room. That’s just how they’re built. But the cameras at the Tonys appeared oddly unprepared for that. Perfectly able to pick out screen stars in the crowd if someone onstage mentioned them, they seemed oblivious of other important artists who got shout-outs. When Jeremy Strong, named best actor for “An Enemy of the People,” addressed the show’s director, Sam Gold, and adapter, Amy Herzog, in his acceptance speech, it took ages for a camera to show them. When the actor Will Brill asked his six “Stereophonic” castmates to stand in the audience, we somehow saw just four. And when the choreographer Justin Peck thanked the playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, his collaborator on “Illinoise,” there was no reflexive camera flick to her. It came off as clumsy. Worse, it seemed like ignorance of theater itself, which is so much about people together in a room — and, as an insiders’ game, which the Tonys absolutely are, about knowing who all is there. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES

Entertainment awards ceremonies are not usually the occasion for well-written speeches. But during the pre-broadcast part of the show, three savvy showmen spoke meaningfully and movingly about their calling. First, the director George C. Wolfe outlined a vision of art unconstrained by identity politics, saying he learned from his parents that honoring his birth culture didn’t mean failing to connect with others. Then, the director Jack O’Brien told his fellow theater makers that making art is a hard road but a choice: “Did it ever occur to you that no one ever asked us to do this?” And Billy Porter closed out like a preacher, finding in a favorite Bible verse the perfect words for the power of theater to make change: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear,” he said, “but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.” JESSE GREEN

In a season that was packed with an onslaught of openings, it was a challenge to catch everything even once. But sometimes a show resonates with you so deeply that you find a way to see it, well … five times. (And, let’s be honest, counting.) That show for me this year was “Merrily We Roll Along,” and the cast’s emotional performance of “Old Friends” during the broadcast offered a lovely reminder of what kept me coming back: the unmistakable adoration among Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez, and Stephen Sondheim’s rich score, resurrected with such care. NANCY COLEMAN

In honoring Broadway’s best, the Tonys championed playwrights and directors who came of age Off Broadway. The playwright David Adjmi, a winner for “Stereophonic,” has spent decades making gutsy, intrepid work downtown, just the kinds of plays that Daniel Aukin, the director of “Stereophonic,” espoused as the artistic director of Soho Rep. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the author of “Appropriate,” which won for best revival, got his start in the Public Theater’s emerging writers group, while Danya Taymor, a winner for “The Outsiders,” cut her directorial teeth at the Flea. There’s beauty in watching these local heroes move to bigger stages and such pride in seeing them honored. ALEXIS SOLOSKI

Nothing strikes fear in an awards-show watcher like a winner fumbling in a purse or a breast pocket for a half-crumpled, hand-scrawled speech. It seemed to happen again and again last night, but instead of leading to mumbled place-finding and awkward squinting, it provided awardees like Jonathan Groff, Sarah Paulson and Maleah Joi Moon the chance to read beautifully crafted, heartfelt remarks with aplomb. (Footnote: Smartphone readers like Billy Porter and Kecia Lewis killed it, too.) SCOTT HELLER

When Kecia Lewis took the stage after winning for best featured actress in a musical, she was beaming: Her win caps a 40-year career that began with her Broadway debut (at age 18) in the musical “Dreamgirls.” Lewis won for playing an inspiring piano teacher in the Alicia Keys musical, “Hell’s Kitchen,” in which she sings the Act I closer, “Perfect Way to Die,” a showstopping ballad about police brutality and racism against Black people in America. On Sunday night, swatting away a barrage of congratulatory texts on her phone (“People, stop texting me!” she said), she used her speech to offer some poignant advice: “I say to everyone who can hear my voice, don’t give up.” SARAH BAHR

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