More than two years after opening on Broadway, Moulin Rouge! won 10 Tony Awards and became the first big-budget best musical winner since 2009. The pandemic-delayed ceremony celebrated the return of the industry and explored its uneven efforts to diversify and become more inclusive.
The $28 million adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 psychedelic movie won for Alex Timbers’ direction, lead actor Aaron Tveit (uncontested in his category), featured actor Danny Burstein, Sonya Tayeh’s choreography and for orchestrations and scenic, costume, lighting and sound design.
The jukebox musical on steroids, with mashups of some 70 pop songs, snapped a decade-long winning streak by more modestly-priced productions, most recently Hadestown, The Band’s Visit, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton and Fun Home.
Billy Elliot, the last huge-budget musical to take the award, was capitalized on Broadway in 2008 for $18 million.
Carmen Pavlovic, the lead producer of Moulin Rouge!, said that every show from the abridged 2019-20 season deserves to be thought of as best after the industry’s devastating shutdown. “Best is what we’ve had to find in ourselves as we’ve walked this unimaginable journey and carried our show across the desert,” she said. “Best is what we know we need to become as we reimagine the Broadway of the future.”
In the 74th annual Tony Awards’ biggest upset, Matthew López’s The Inheritance was named top play, beating the more critically acclaimed Slave Play. The upset didn’t stop Slave Play‘s playwright, Jeremy O. Harris, from announcing after the Tonys a return engagement of his drama, beginning Nov. 23 at the August Wilson Theatre. (Harris Tweeted late Sunday that he hadn’t expected to win.)
López ruefully noted onstage at the Winter Garden Theatre before the masked and vaccinated audience that he was the first Latinx playwright to win in the category. “Let us tell you our stories,” he said. When director Kenny Leon accepted the play revival award for the Roundabout Theatre production of Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play, he said, “When we hear all of the stories, we are better.”
Actor David Alan Grier picked up his first Tony for Soldier’s Play. So did Lois Smith, 90, and Andrew Burnap, 30, for the epic two-part Inheritance, which is about gay men living in New York and inspired by E.M. Forster’s Howards End. (It was also recognized for Stephen Daldry’s direction.) Mary-Louise Parker won her second Tony for Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside.
Just four new musicals were eligible for Tonys due to the sudden shutdown on March 12, 2020, and three were nominated. Jagged Little Pill won for Diablo Cody’s book and featured actress Lauren Patten. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical won for its lead actress, Adrienne Warren, who will return for just three more weeks when the show reopens on Oct. 8 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Warren is a founder of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which won a special Tony Award.
A lavish spectacle set in a 19th-century Paris nightclub, Moulin Rouge! was hit hard by Covid-19, with many cast members afflicted, including Burstein, who wrote eloquently about his near-death experience in The Hollywood Reporter. Burstein lost his wife, the beloved actress Rebecca Luker, to A.L.S in December 2020.
Warren beat Moulin Rouge!’s original female lead, Karen Olivo, who had announced that she would not return to the cast, as a personal protest against what she declared was the Broadway establishment’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it response to the stories about producer Scott Rudin’s bullying treatment of his staff. (In an interview with Ashley Lee in the Los Angeles Times, she also decried the working conditions at the show and the salary she was offered to return.)
ViacomCBS’s Paramount + streamed the first two hours of the ceremony behind a paywall, which included most of the awards and was hosted by Audra McDonald. CBS television aired the final two hours under the title Broadway’s Back, led by Leslie Odom Jr. Despite the intense pressure to sell tickets in a city frazzled by Covid and light on tourists, the show’s producers made the debatable decision to emphasize the past as much as the present.
Interspersed with live and recorded performances by the casts of Moulin Rouge! (which resumed performances on Friday) Tina and Jagged Little Pill (which returns Oct. 21) — were numbers from Hairspray, A Chorus Line, Into the Woods, Godspell, Sunday in the Park with George, Anyone Can Whistle, Rent, Ragtime and Dreamgirls. (Jennifer Holliday’s performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” stopped the show, 39 years after she won a Tony for Dreamgirls.)
Moulin Rouge! should have a cushion to survive Broadway’s gradual restart. It received a large insurance settlement, according to someone familiar with the production. And like many Broadway shows interrupted by the pandemic, it got $10 million from the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. For passing the corresponding legislation, Odom thanked Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who was in the audience wearing a “Save Our Stages” mask.