ANALYSIS: The 71st annual Tony Awards opened with Kevin Spacey as Evan Hansen in a goofy polo shirt and cast around his left arm. The ceremony ended moments after an acceptance speech by Dear Evan Hansen‘s producer.
In between there was suspense aplenty at Radio City Music Hall. While Dear Evan Hansen, about a socially anxious teenager caught up in web of lies, was methodically collecting awards, including for score and book, Come From Away won for director, Christopher Ashley. That win raised the tantalizing possibility of an upset by the feel-good musical set in a remote Canadian province after 9/11. Ultimately, Evan Hansen prevailed in a historic night.
STACEY MINDICH BLAZES A TRAIL: The last time a Tony Award-winning new musical had a single lead producer? It’s been a few years. And a female single lead producer?
Certainly not in this century. Two experienced female producers we reached out to couldn’t remember any woman being the sole general partner of a Tony-winning new musical.
Mindich, a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, broke into the boys’ club by embracing risk. The show came out of a lunch she had with the lyricist-composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul when they were about 24. She asked them what they wanted to do next.
“And they told me this story about a student in Benj’s high school when he was a senior, in a Quaker school in Philadelphia, who had passed away,” Mindich told Victoria Myers of the web site The Interval in January. “Benj and Justin really were taken by the idea of their generation’s need to belong and need to be part of things, the way their generation looked at grief, and looked at a whole variety of things. It is not what Dear Evan Hansen is exactly today, but it got shaped over the past eight years. It was enough for me to say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
In addition to a creative team led by director Michael Greif, Mindich assembled an ‘A’ team of co-producers, including Roy Furman, John Gore, NBC’s Robert Greenblatt and Bob Boyett. According to one co-producer, she met regularly with all three dozen and solicited their advice.
In the Interval interview, Mindich said she often compares producing to being a magazine editor. Both roles include championing a story, pairing writers with subjects and developing and maintaining an audience. Her journalism background may explain why she gave a shout-out to a reporter in her acceptance speech. “I think Peter Marks [from The Washington Post] tweeted it best: ‘I think Ben Platt is superman,'” Mindich said. (“OK, I admit it. That was pretty neat,” Marks tweeted back Sunday night. Journalists were a leitmotif of the evening. Spacey referenced the New York Post’s Michael Riedel twice in the opening ten minutes.)
NONPROFITS CLEAN UP: Dear Evan Hansen tried out at Arena Stage in Washington and Second Stage. Oslo, the best play winner, is a production of Lincoln Center Theater. Lynne Meadow of Manhattan Theatre Club accepted the best play revival award for Jitney.
“To win a Tony is a huge feather in the cap of a nonprofit,” said Andrew Hamingson, the president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, in an interview earlier on Sunday. Hamingson, who had top jobs at St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Public Theater, the Atlantic and MTC, said Tonys are an asset not only for fundraising but relationships with producers. Mindich, for example, may consider a tryout at Second Stage when developing her next promising musical.
Both Arena and Second Stage receive an undisclosed share of net profits of Evan Hansen, according to financial papers filed with the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Of course, American nonprofits figure prominently at the Tonys most years. The last time they produced or developed winners in three of the four major categories was 2013, which included Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (LCT), Pippin (originally produced at the American Repertory Theatre) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Steppenwolf).
TRUMP REMAINS A FERTILE TARGET: Sally Field, Cynthia Nixon, Kevin Kline and Oslo writer J.T. Rogers were among those who dug into the president, some more explicitly than others. The most memorable line was Stephen Colbert’s. “This DC production was supposed to have a four-year run but reviews have not been kind,” he said. “Could close early, we don’t know, we don’t know. Best of luck to everyone involved.”
OSLO SURVIVES THE RUDIN AD ASSAULT: Scott Rudin appeared to exceed the total annual ad budget of Proctor & Gamble in promoting Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 in recent weeks. While Laurie Metcalf, who plays Nora, won for lead actress, LCT’s lively diplomatic drama won best play and for its formidable featured actor Michael Aronov (The Americans), who portrays an Israeli negotiator with a serious swagger.
CO-PRODUCERS STORM THE STAGE: The new Tony rule prohibiting more than six producers alighting the stage inspired a revolt, as expected. When Hello, Dolly! won for musical revival, Rudin encouraged all 15 co-producers to come up. “It took this many people to do ‘Hello, Dolly! They’ll probably be assembling back here when I’m done.”
As we reported over the weekend, the producers of Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen were watching for whether Rudin declared the rule null and void. After he did, a small village crowded behind Mindich during her Tony triumph.
EDITOR: Alice Scovell. This story was updated this morning.