NEW YORK — “The Band’s Visit,” a gentle show about longing, loneliness and the Middle East, triumphed over three much better known productions to win the Tony Award for best new musical Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall.
The victory sent a strong message from Tony voters, who rewarded originality over familiarity in choosing the underdog rather than a blockbuster title — the other contenders were “Mean Girls,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Frozen” — for the most coveted prize.
But the Tonys also honored one of the biggest brands in popular culture, giving “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” an expensive and ambitious sequel to the seven smash-hit novels, the prize for best new play. “Cursed Child” was spared much of the criticism directed at other moneyed ventures because of widespread admiration in the industry for the extraordinarily high level of stagecraft in the show.
“The Band’s Visit,” adapted from a 2007 Israeli film, picked up 10 awards, including key prizes for its stars, Katrina Lenk, playing a sultry Israeli cafe owner, and Tony Shalhoub, playing the commander of an Egyptian police orchestra, as well as for Ari’el Stachel, portraying an amorous Egyptian trumpeter. Among the show’s winners were its director, David Cromer; its composer, David Yazbek; and its book writer, Itamar Moses.
A small musical with little name recognition and no razzle dazzle, “The Band’s Visit” is an achingly delicate 90-minute show about an Egyptian police orchestra that for a single night is stranded in an Israeli desert town. It offers a vision of a world in which people can overcome suspicion and fear to find a common humanity, and its victories at the Tony Awards came during a ceremony at which many prize winners rued the current political climate in the United States.
“Music gives people hope and makes borders disappear,” said the musical’s lead producer, Orin Wolf. “Our show offers a message of unity in a world that more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences.”
Actor Robert De Niro, introducing Bruce Springsteen, slammed President Donald Trump, using an expletive. “It’s no longer down with Trump,” he said, adding profanity for emphasis.
And British actress Glenda Jackson, winning her first Tony at 82, offered a gentler, but still pointed, comment on today’s climate.
“You, as always, are welcoming and kind and generous, and America has never needed that more,” said Jackson, a former member of the British Parliament. “But then, America is always great.”
The ceremony, hosted by singers Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, was filled with emotional moments. A choir of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who had survived a mass shooting in February, sang a moving rendition of “Seasons of Love,” the anthem of survival from “Rent.”
Several performers — John Leguizamo, who was born in Colombia; Ari’el Stachel, whose father came from Yemen, and Lindsay Mendez, whose father is Mexican-American — praised theater for providing a home for Americans of all heritages.
The boy wizard is magical onstage
Harry Potter conquered publishing. He broke box-office records on film. And now he’s a Tony winner.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a magically theatrical two-part drama that is designed as a sequel to the seven books, won the prize for best new play.
The play is unlike any nonmusical event that preceded it, as a spectacle and as an investment. And the theater industry, despite some leeriness about creeping commercialism, has embraced it because of the talent brought to the story and the staging.
The play took five other awards, including for direction by John Tiffany and set design by Christine Jones.
The victory by Harry Potter was perhaps the least surprising outcome of the season, but still a welcome one for the show’s producers, who are hoping the play, running just over five hours and presented in two parts, will run on Broadway for many years. The lead producers are Sonia Friedman, Colin Callender and J.K. Rowling.
The play, an original story set 19 years after the conclusion of the final novel, depicts Harry Potter as a father, struggling with the ordinary challenges of parenting and the extraordinary challenges of doing so as a famous wizard. The original production in London won nine Olivier awards, the most ever won by any show.
The play, written by Jack Thorne based on a story by Tiffany, Thorne, and Rowling, the author of the novels, is still running in London, as well as New York, and a third production is scheduled to open in Melbourne, Australia, next year.
Big victories for ‘Angels in America’
A starry revival of Tony Kushner’s 7 1/2 hour “Angels in America,” which transferred to Broadway from the National Theater in London, was named the best play revival for an acclaimed production that cemented the play’s claim as the best American drama of the late 20th century.
The play’s original production, which opened in two parts, in 1993 and 1994, had won the Pulitzer Prize and two best-play Tony Awards; it was later adapted by Mike Nichols as a miniseries for HBO, and it is regularly studied and staged.
Andrew Garfield, who on the red carpet described the play as about “the agony and the ecstasy of living and dying,” was honored as best leading actor in a play for his all-out performance as Prior Walter, a gay man whose battle with AIDS brings him prophetic powers and an encounter with the celestial. And Lane won as best featured actor for his portrayal of a raging Roy Cohn, the right-wing lawyer who secretly had sex with men and also had AIDS.
Garfield, winning for the first time, dedicated his award “to the countless LGBTQ people who have fought and died for the right to live and love” and took a shot at the Supreme Court decision last week affirming a Colorado baker’s refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
“We are all sacred, and we all belong, so let’s just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked,” he said.
‘Once on this Island’ is a surprise
The biggest upset of the night was in the category of musical revival, which was won by “Once on This Island,” beating out two better known shows with bigger box office grosses and wealthier producers, “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel.”
The revival of “Once on This Island,” a tragic fairy tale musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty about a poor young woman’s doomed love for a wealthy man on the Caribbean island where they both live, was staged in the round, with a set that resembled the aftermath of a hurricane and a cast that included chickens and a goat.
Among the other prize recipients: Laurie Metcalf was honored as best featured actress in a play for Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” And costume designer Catherine Zuber won her seventh Tony, for a revival of “My Fair Lady.”
Glenda Jackson’s Tony was notable because she had been nominated for four Tonys before taking a 23-year break from acting to serve in the British Parliament. She was honored for her performance as an enfeebled but tyrannical mother in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.”
Born to win
Bruce Springsteen got a special Tony Award in recognition of his ecstatically reviewed show, “Springsteen on Broadway,” during which he sings stripped-down versions of some of his best-known songs and tells stories from his memoir.
John Leguizamo, the actor, writer and comedian, also received a special Tony “for his body of work and for his commitment to the theater, bringing diverse stories and audiences to Broadway for three decades.” This past season, Leguizamo appeared in “Latin History for Morons,” his fourth solo show on Broadway.
“I just want to say: I’m an immigrant, and I’m not an animal,” Leguizamo said, alluding to a comment by Trump about some unauthorized immigrants, and tearing up as he paid tribute to victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico. “My hope is that someday our stories won’t be the exception, but the rule.”
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber received a lifetime achievement award, as did Chita Rivera, a revered Broadway dancer and actor whose credits include originating the role of Anita in “West Side Story.”
A moment for Parkland
An especially poignant award this year: Melody Herzfeld, a drama teacher at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was given an award for excellence in theater education. Herzfeld hid 65 students during the mass shooting at her school on Feb. 14, and then later helped some of them use theater and song to express some of their feelings; it was some of those students who performed during the broadcast.
“All the goodness and tragedy that has brought me to this point will never be erased,” she said. “I remember on Feb. 7, in a circle with my students, encouraging them to be good to each other. And I remember only a week later, on Feb. 14, a perfect day, where all these lessons in my life and in their short lives would be called into action.”
Tony Award winners
Best play: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”
Best musical: “The Band’s Visit”
Best book of a musical: “The Band’s Visit,” Itamar Moses
Best original score (music and/or lyrics) written for the theater: “The Band’s Visit,” music and lyrics: David Yazbek
Best revival of a play: “Angels in America”
Best revival of a musical: “Once on This Island”
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play: Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play: Glenda Jackson, Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women”
Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical: Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”
Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical: Katrina Lenk, “The Band’s Visit”
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play: Nathan Lane, “Angels in America”
Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play: Laurie Metcalf, Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women”
Best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical: Ari’el Stachel, “The Band’s Visit”
Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical: Lindsay Mendez, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel”
Best scenic design of a play: Christine Jones, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”
Best scenic design of a musical: David Zinn, “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical”
Best costume design of a play: Katrina Lindsay, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”
Best costume design of a musical: Catherine Zuber, “My Fair Lady”
Best lighting design of a play: Neil Austin, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”
Best lighting design of a musical: Tyler Micoleau, “The Band’s Visit”
Best sound design of a play: Gareth Fry, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”
Best sound design of a musical: Kai Harada, “The Band’s Visit”
Best direction of a play: John Tiffany, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”
Best direction of a musical: David Cromer, “The Band’s Visit”
Best choreography: Justin Peck, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel”
Best orchestrations: Jamshied Sharifi, “The Band’s Visit”