Tonys Awards: The Biggest Snubs, Surprises and Takeaways of the 2021 Ceremony

·4 min read

The long-delayed Tony Awards ceremony has happened at last, and much of it played out as expected — see, for instance, the string of wins for “Moulin Rouge!,” which seemed the likely winner going into the evening. But still, there were some shockers. Here are the biggest snubs, surprises and takeaways of the night.

TAKEAWAY: #TonysSoWhite?
There were a number of nominees of color up for this year’s Tonys, but when all the wins were tallied, the trophies went to a pool of winners that was almost as white as the winners of the Emmys just the week before. It was a reminder that despite the lip service paid to equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the ceremony, there’s still work to do.

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SNUB: “Slave Play
In a non-pandemic awards season, the Best Play competition would have been a much-debated horse race between “Slave Play” and “The Inheritance.” But awards chatter this year was muted, and during the shutdown and the racial reckoning that followed, it felt like “Slave Play” had caught the moment and would catch the Tony votes, too. (It also seemed like a strong contender for some of the design kudos.) But as the evening’s outcome reminded us, “Slave Play” was divisive, and not everybody loved it. Instead the epic, economically staged production of “The Inheritance” took not just the top award for play but also trophies for director Stephen Daldry, leading actor Andrew Burnap and featured actress Lois Smith. “Slave Play” came away from the night empty-handed.

SURPRISE: A sweep for “A Christmas Carol”
In the run-up to the awards, no one talked much about “A Christmas Carol” since it didn’t seem to be in the running for the top play award. But the elegantly atmospheric design of “Carol,” incorporating choral singing and carols, proved memorable enough to stick in voters’ minds for the year-and-change that lapsed between seeing the show and voting for it. It scored five trophies — sets, costumes, lights, sound and score — making it the winningest play of the night.

SURPRISE: Some awards were handed out in groups — and it worked
During the first half of the ceremony — which had a hard-stop at 9pm Eastern so that the proceedings could shift to “Broadway’s Back!” on CBS — the evening’s design awards were announced in groupings that played swiftly and smoothly onscreen. Sure, the velocity of it all was helped by the fact that there was a relatively small pool of nominees in the pandemic-shortened season, and by the fact that the entire “Christmas Carol” team didn’t show up to make speeches. But still: It was model of respectful efficiency. Maybe the Emmys and the Oscars should be taking notes.

SURPRISE: Diablo Cody for “Jagged Little Pill”
A big musical winner will often sweep most of the other awards it’s up for, and that was the case for “Moulin Rouge!” — except for book of a musical, which didn’t go to “Moulin Rouge!” writer John Logan or to the writer who seemed his most likely competition, Katori Hall, the Pulitzer winner who penned “Tina.” Instead it went to Diablo Cody for her book to “Jagged Little Pill,” which spins the story of a single family into a multi-faceted look at a broad array of contemporary American struggles.

SURPRISE: The wins for lead actor and actress in a play
Honestly, the leading actress in a play award could easily and deservedly have gone to any of the category’s nominees, but pre-ceremony buzz seemed to suggest that the win would go to either first-time nominee Joaquina Kalukango (“Slave Play”) or to Laura Linney (“My Name Is Lucy Barton”), who’s been nominated five times but never won. Instead it went to Mary-Louise Parker, winning a second Tony for her admired turn in “The Sound Inside.” Meanwhile, the actor in a play award seemed like it was going to either Tom Hiddleston, the biggest star in the well-liked revival of “Betrayal,” or to Blair Underwood for his turn in the winning revival of “A Soldier’s Play.” But instead it went to Andrew Burnap for his volatile and well-received performance in the central role of “The Inheritance.”

TAKEAWAY: The Tonys didn’t shy away from some of the thorny stuff
In the past, the Tonys would probably have ignored or evaded anything even remotely controversial. But this year, the ceremony faced some issues head-on, in sequences including the impassioned combination of spoken word and tap that honored the Broadway Advocacy Coalition’s Tony win. In her acceptance speech, Lauren Patten acknowledged the ongoing outcry and social-media dialogue over the shifting depictions of her character’s “gender journey” in “Jagged Little Pill.” And in a reflection of the recent awareness of working conditions in the theater, orchestrators praised the dedication and talent of pit musicians, and design winners all made a point of thanking the fleets of workers that execute their designs. (“I’m here because of your huge efforts and your long hours,” Justin Townsend told his electricians as he picked up his win for “Moulin Rouge!”)

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