There’s cause for celebration in Bet Hatikva and Petah Tikva.
The Band’s Visit, a drama about acceptance, missed connections and the romance and ennui of everyday life, won 10 Tony Awards, including best musical. The triumph raises the profile of the quiet show about an Egyptian police band marooned in a sleepy Israeli town, who’d intended to go to a cosmopolitan city with a similar-sounding name.
Some takeaways from the CBS telecast:
The Independent Producer Stays in the Picture: Despite handwringing about blockbusters and corporations on Broadway, musicals led by independent producers have now won the best new musical Tony for the past nine years. And most were small-scale, capitalized at less than $10 million, and first presented at nonprofit theaters. Band’s Visit, led by Orin Wolf, cost $8.75 million and premiered off-Broadway at the Atlantic.
Wolf first saw the 2007 Israeli film of the same name at the JCC on the Upper West Side and spent a year and a half acquiring the rights. The movie isn’t a household name. It grossed just $3 million in the U.S.
Although a Disney or Nickelodeon or Warner Bros. can finance a show more easily than most independent producers, no one has a lock on creativity. And a wholly original musical or one based on a little-known property, which a risk-averse corporation would shun, can potentially surprise audiences more than a familiar title.
Among other categories, the best play winner, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, a subsidiary of the Ambassador Theatre Group. Angels in America, the best play revival, is presented by the National Theatre in North America and Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which has five Broadway houses.
Band’s Visit was scarcely mentioned in the Tony’s first 50 minutes, as Andrew Garfield collected his award for Angels, Tina Fey introduced a Mean Girls selection, My Fair Lady presented a medley and Billy Joel handed a special Tony to Bruce Springsteen. But starting with Itamar Moses’ statue for the Band’s Visit book, it made up for lost time. Katrina Lenk performed the sultry show-stopper Omar Sharif alongside Tony Shalhoub, both of whom won Tonys.
“In the end, we are all far more alike than different,” Wolf said about his musical, which depicts Israelis and Arabs interacting peacefully. Newcomer Ari’el Stachel, named best featured actor for his portrayal of the Chet-Baker-admiring Haled, movingly spoke about once hiding his Middle Eastern heritage. “I want any kid who is watching to know that your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose.”
Playing Nice with Mean Girls: Giving Tina Fey’s musical prime real estate at the top of the Tonys might have helped retain viewers. But featuring the best book award during the broadcast — for which she was a contender — while relegating best score to the pre-game “Creative Arts” awards, which isn’t broadcast, was a glaring inconsistency. (Composer-lyricist David Yazbek won for, natch, Band’s Visit.) A Tony Award spokeswoman, Shawn Purdy, didn’t immediately return an email for comment.
Band’s Visit‘s sweep didn’t leave much for anyone else. SpongeBob SquarePants won only for David Zinn’s scenic design. Mean Girls was shut out, as was Frozen, although its mini-medley of For the First Time in Forever and Let it Go should sell some tickets.
Ending Lincoln Center Theater’s Hot Streak: André Bishop & Bartlett Sher seemed poised to enjoy their third Tony for musical revival in a decade, after South Pacific and King & I. Instead, Ken Davenport’s production of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Once on this Island, as staged in the round by Michael Arden, was the third commercially-produced musical revival winner in three years. Scott Rudin presented Hello, Dolly! last season and Scott Sanders’ The Color Purple won in 2016.
Sara & Josh Won: Hosts Bareilles and Groban opened with a snappy new Bareilles tune, This is for the People Who Lose. Not much subversiveness from the first-time hosts, but their musical chops, humor and warmth went down easy.