The Tony Awards bet on the classic 'Company' against the experimental musical 'A Strange Loop'

The 75th edition of the Tony Awards, which highlight the best of Broadway theater, left two big winners last night: the strange and dark experimental musical To Strange Loop, about the alienation of an obese gay black man in a world that is the complete opposite, and the new rerun of Company, Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 classic on loneliness and its remedies. But not all winners here are the same: To Strange Loop, a non-negotiable African-American play that after premiering in Chicago in 2020 had become the first musical in history to win the Pulitzer without going through Broadway (and the tenth to do so overall), was nominated for 11 awards and won two: best musical work and best libretto for a musical. Company, three times re-released on Broadway without this one, opted for nine. It won six (best revival, directing, actor, actress, and scenic design). If a reminder of the difficulties that this community has to get out of its own past and look forward was needed, the gala held at Radio Music Hall in Manhattan offered a crystal clear one.

The third leg of the ceremony, non-musical theater, had an undisputed champion: The Lehman Trilogy, play written by Stefano Massini and Ben Power and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, 1917), which summarizes the 164-year history of Lehman Brothers to explain its collapse in 2008, won eight Tonys, ironically, several of them (play, actor, director, scenic design, of the mythical Es Devlin) in the same categories to which he chose , unsuccessfully, to the Oliviers when it premiered at the National Theater in London in 2019. We must add, in addition to several technicians, best screenplay.

The clash between past and present, to which Broadway often and tenaciously bourgeois returns, was especially inevitable this year. It was the first ceremony after the covid break, which kept the theaters closed until practically last September (the industry has generated profits of 845 million dollars in these months, in the previous season they were 1,800) and the gala had to launch the message that the Broadway of always has resisted the pandemic. They were also the first awards since the death in November of Stephen Sondheim, the groundbreaking composer and lyricist, a loss the community has yet to come to terms with. reward your Company, a work that – like almost all those that bear his signature – has only gained prestige over the years, offered the possibility of a necessary cathartic moment, one last celebration. But that decision left in the shadows the outstanding new talent that could benefit from the visibility that the awards give away. In the category of best supporting actress, for example, a trans woman competed for the first time, L Morgan Lee for A Strange Loop. Won Company: the legendary Patti LuPone, no less, took her third Tony in her 50-year career, the second for a role linked to the master Sondheim (after gypsy in 2008).

Patti LuPone picks up the Tony for Best Supporting Actress for 'Company', at the 75th Tony Awards.
Patti LuPone picks up the Tony for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Company’, at the 75th Tony Awards.BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

The support of establishment a To Strange Loop, a difficult and personal work, financed by non-profit associations and written over 20 years by a composer, Michael R. Jackson, plunged into precariousness, was thus recorded but not secured. It would have been historic that an autobiographical story written by a black man for black viewers, who drinks from the Chitlin’ Circuit (the theaters for African-Americans who couldn’t go to the white ones) and sounds like Joni Mitchell, would have won more awards than two justitos. The production, explicit and with hardly any plot (almost everything happens in the head of the protagonist), explores the infernal loop of living isolated by a racist and homophobic world and how much an individual can hate himself for it.

In the final number, for example, that protagonist raves that his entire homophobic family gets together to sing to him that AIDS is a punishment that God throws at fagots like him. They call him a traitor to his own blackness for seeing with critical eyes works like the color purple either 12 years a slave and deep down he assumes that it is a bit, but because to be honest, the white men in the play, all monstrous, arouse an unhealthy envy in him and, seen through Grindr, even desire. “I wrote it at a time when I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know how I was going to move forward. I felt invisible. Not heard. Misunderstood. I just wanted to create a lifeboat for myself as a black gay man,” Jackson explained as he picked up the award for best screenplay. The orchestra, by the way, interrupted his speech.

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Michael R. Jackson collects the award for best musical for 'A Strange Loop'.
Michael R. Jackson collects the award for best musical for ‘A Strange Loop’. BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

There were, however, notable hints of diversity at the ceremony. The presenter was Ariana DeBose, who won an Oscar for her role as Anita in the West Side Story Spielberg’s first woman queer colored in doing it. “It seems to me that the phrase Great White Way [el Gran Camino Blanco, mote por el que se conoce Broadway] it is becoming obsolete,” he observed. Joaquina Kalukango got the biggest ovation of the night (and the Tony for best actress in a musical) when she sang the anthem Let It Burn, from the musical about the American Civil War Paradise Square. It was undoubtedly the most celebrated moment on social networks, because the tribute to the beloved Angela Lansbury, who received the Tony for her entire career on stage, was not televised. The 92-year-old actress did not attend to collect the award.

In the music category, A Strange Loop beat Six, a work in the form of a concert girl band whose components are the six wives of Enrique VIII; Mr Saturday Night, Billy Crystal’s adaptation of a minor film he directed and released in the 1990s; the aforementioned Paradise Square and the jukebox musicals MJY Girl From North Country, with songs by Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan respectively. The Lehman Trilogy defeated new productions clydes, by Linn Nottage; Hangman, by Martin McDonagh TheMinutes, by Tracy Letts and Skeleton Crew, by Dominique Morrisseau.

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