For lovers of theater, there is no bigger night during the year than the Tonys, which celebrated their 72nd annual ceremony at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall on Sunday. Among others, Denzel Washington, Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry, previous Tony winner (for The Color Purple) LaChanze and director George C. Wolfe were all up for awards. And while the black nominees unfortunately went home empty-handed (save for a Regional Theatre award given to the black female-founded La Mama Experimental Theatre Club), there was one major win to celebrate.
It’s no big secret that we here at The Root are big fans of the recent Broadway revival of the musical Once on This Island; multiple members of our team have seen it and loved it. So it was pretty thrilling Sunday night to see the predominantly black production take home the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
Its star, 19-year-old newcomer Hailey Kilgore, was nominated for best actress in a musical in her first Broadway production, and stepped onto the red carpet looking every bit the ingenue in a romantic, floral-embroidered Zac Posen with a full skirt she couldn’t seem to resist showing off. Kilgore topped the look with a cornrowed updo, which we loved.
Although there were many performances Sunday night, some of the most exciting drama was on the red carpet, and there were a few major standouts. Presenter Kerry Washington stepped out in a fairly spectacular silvery jumpsuit (with train!) by Atelier Versace, while best actress nominee Condola Rashad donned a red off-the-shoulder ball gown by Carolina Herrera. First-time nominee (and actress) Lauren Ridloff also dazzled in red, wearing a graceful gown by Jason Wu.
Remarkably, Ridloff, who is deaf, was a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom with no professional theater experience before being cast in the leading role of Sarah in the Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God. Originally acting as consultant to director Kenny Leon on deaf culture, Leon asked her to audition, sparking what might be one of the most inspiring stories in Broadway history. As Ridloff told CBS News:
One day, out of the blue, he reached out to me and asked me to meet with the casting director. And I’d never once thought about me. I thought that he was looking for a white woman, not a woman of color, not a woman who’s a mother of two young boys. That thought never entered my head.
While Ridloff didn’t win her category Sunday night, the experience of acting has ignited a new career for her: “I feel like I’ve discovered my passion for doing this,” she said.
In other inspiring moments at Sunday’s awards, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School show choir sang Rent’s theme song, “Seasons of Love.” And upon winning the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for The Band’s Visit, Middle Eastern-American actor Ari’el Stachel used his moment at the podium to honor his parents and heritage:
Both of my parents are here tonight—and I have avoided so many events with them because for so many years of my life, I pretended that I was not a Middle Eastern person. ... After 9/11, it was very, very difficult for me. And so I concealed and I missed so many special events with them. And they’re looking at me right now, and I can’t believe it.
The black nominees for the 72nd annual Tony Awards included the following:
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:
LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical:
Joshua Henry, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Condola Rashad, Saint Joan
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical:
Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play:
Noma Dumezweni for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two