Jewish stars and directors dominate key categories at 2019 Tony Awards
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Jewish stars and directors dominate key categories at 2019 Tony Awards

‘Hadestown’ wins best musical and ‘The Ferryman’ takes best play award, as do their Jewish directors, Rachel Chavkin — only the 4th woman to win in that category — and Sam Mendes

Rachel Chavkin poses in the press room with the award for best direction of a musical for "Hadestown" at the 73rd annual Tony Awards on June 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Rachel Chavkin poses in the press room with the award for best direction of a musical for "Hadestown" at the 73rd annual Tony Awards on June 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The key prizes in the roster of Sunday’s Tony Awards were dominated by Jewish directors and actors, including the directors of both the best play and the best musical, and the best actor and best actress in a play.

“Hadestown,” a brooding musical about the underworld, had a heavenly night and won eight trophies including best new musical, and handed a rare win to a female director of a musical.

Rachel Chavkin, the daughter of two Jewish civil rights lawyers and the only woman to helm a new Broadway musical this season, won the Tony for best director of a musical for “Hadestown.” She became only the tenth woman to win as director of either a play or a musical on Broadway and told the crowd she was sorry to be such a rarity.

“There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many people of color who are ready to go.” A lack of strides in embracing diversity on Broadway, she said, “is not a pipeline issue” but a lack of imagination.

Sam Mendes poses for photographers upon arrival at the Olivier Awards in London, April 8, 2018. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

Playwright Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” was crowned best play. Its Jewish director, Oscar-winning Sam Mendes — known for his work on the James Bond films “Skyfall” and “Spectre” and Academy Award win for directing “American Beauty” — won his first directing Tony Award. The play earned Rob Howell two Tonys — for best play set designs and costumes.

In the four lead actor and actress categories, Bryan Cranston won his second acting Tony, but theater veterans Elaine May, Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block each won for the first time.

Cranston, whose father is of Austrian Jewish descent, won the Tony for best leading man in a play award for his work as newscaster Howard Beale in a stage adaptation of “Network.”

“Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” he joked. The star, who wore a blue ribbon on his suit to support reproductive rights, also dedicated his award to journalists who are in the line of fire. “The media is not the enemy of the people,” he said. “Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”

Bryan Cranston accepts the award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play for “Network” at the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The legendary May, 87, stars as the Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother in Jewish playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” his semi-autobiographical play about a family dealing with the declining health of its matriarch. May launched her career performing with her father in a Yiddish theater company, and has gone on to a storied career as a comedian, director and screenwriter — notably forming a famous comedy duo with the late Mike Nichols.

Elaine May accepts the best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play for “The Waverly Gallery” at the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Another Jewish winner was sound designer Nevin Steinberg, who was honored along with Jessica Paz for their work on “Hadestown.”

The crowd at Radio City Music Hall erupted when Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony. Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down due to a car crash when she was 2 years old, won for featured actresses in a musical for her work in a dark revival of “Oklahoma!”

“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.”

Ali Stroker accepts the award for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical for “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!”at the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The respect for women’s work also got a boost when Butterworth, who earlier asked the crowd to give his partner, actress Laura Donnelly, a round of applause for giving birth to their two children while working on the ensemble drama, handed his best play trophy to Donnelly. A Donnelly family story inspired him to write the play.

Fontana won his first Tony as the cross-dressing lead in “Tootsie.” Fontana, perhaps best known for his singing role as Hans in “Frozen,” won for an adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film about a struggling actor who impersonated a woman in order to improve his chances of getting a job.

Another first-time winner was Block, who earned her Tony Award for playing a legend — Cher. Block, who has had roles on “Homeland” and “Orange Is the New Black,” is one of three actresses to play the title character in the musical “The Cher Show.” She thanked “the goddess Cher for her life and legacy.”

Andre DeShields captured featured actor in a musical for “Hadestown,” his first Tony at the age of 73. In his speech, he gave “three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity.

“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be, and three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”

James Corden, in his second stint as Tony host, was at his fanboy best, whether anxiously hiding in a bathroom with previous hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareillies or trying to provoke a Nicki Minaj-Cardi B-style beef between usually overly polite and supportive Broadway figures (Laura Linney and Audra McDonald finally obliged). He also asked celebrities to sing karaoke during the commercials.

He kicked off the show with a massive, nine-minute opening number that served as a full-throated endorsement of the live experience, with Corden beginning it seated alone on a couch in front of a TV, overwhelmed by his binge options, before taking flight with dozens of glitzy dancers from this season’s shows, all filling the Radio City stage with an unprecedented volume.

Celia Keenan-Bolger poses with the award for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play for “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the press room at the 73rd annual Tony Awards on June 9, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The first acting award went to Celia Keenan-Bolger, who won for best featured actress in a play for her role as Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She noted that her parents read her the book when she was a child in Detroit and her grandparents had a burning cross put on their lawn because they helped African Americans.

Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for “Ink.” He said he wished he could be with his mother, hospitalized in London: “I love you, mum.”

Robert Horn won for best book of a musical for “Tootsie.”

The other wins of “Hadestown” were for scenic design, sound design, lighting design and orchestrations. It also went on to earn singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell a Tony for best score — beating out Jewish nominees David Yazbek for “Tootsie” and Adam Guettel for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Legendary designer Bob Mackie won the Tony for best costume designs for a musical for “The Cher Show,” getting laughs for saying “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old.”

The dark retelling of “Oklahoma!” beat the lush and playful revival of the rival Golden Age musical “Kiss Me, Kate” to the Tony for best musical revival. “The Boys in the Band” was crowned best play revival.

Sergio Trujillo won the best choreography prize for “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” saying in his speech that he arrived in New York decades ago without legal permission. “I’m here to tell you the American dream is alive,” he said. It was the only win for the musical, which had 12 nominations, second only to “Hadestown.”

The awards cap a season that showed Broadway is in good shape. The shows this season reported a record $1.8 billion in sales, up 7.8 percent from last season. Attendance was 14.8 million — up 7.1 percent — and has risen steadily for decades.

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