A Commentary on The 68th Annual Tony Awards: Broadway's Brightest, Best and Bunny-hoppers Alike

By Philippe Bowgen
June 8, 2014

The 68th Annual Tony Awards to celebrate excellence in the Broadway theatre were held June 8 at Radio City Music Hall.



Host Hugh Jackman bunny-hopped up the aisle (and all throughout the theatre), tapped with the cast of After Midnight and verbally tussled with Neil Patrick Harris, all while presenting the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards June 8.

Among enthralling performances from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical to Aladdin to Bullets Over Broadway and even rappers LL Cool J and T.I., Jackman hosted the premiere awards event of the American theatre community and presented Broadway's best and brightest with the highest form of recognition in the nation.

The first award of the evening was presented to Mark Rylance for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for his performance as the countess Olivia in Shakspeare's classic comedy in Twelfth Night. The award marks Rylance's third Tony. Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Play was presented to a shocked Sophie Okonedo, who credited Lorraine Hansberry's words as healing and thanked the Broadway community for welcoming her to their stages.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical winner Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) credited Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell for the original story that "changed [her] life back in 1999." The Tony Awards performance she shared with castmate (and fellow Tony winner for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical) Neil Patrick Harris truly rocked Radio City Music Hall's rafters. Hall and Harris gleefully jammed, jumped and seduced their peers in the Broadway community and broadcast audiences alike. 

Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical was presented to an ecstatic James Monroe Iglehart for his hilarious performance as the Genie in Aladdin, and he made sure audiences would remember it by spicing it up with an effervescent "praise shout" in celebration.

Darko Tresnjak, in an emotional speech where he thanked his mother, husband and artistic home Hartford Stage, was presented with Best Direction of a Musical for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder by Clint Eastwood. Kenny Leon received the award for Best Direction of a Play for A Raisin in the Sun and declared, as he concluded, "I'm looking for an America where every child can have a little piece of theatre in their education."

Audra McDonald took home her sixth Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play for her performance in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill – McDonald has now received a Tony Award in each applicable category for an actress. Through tears, she thanked "all the shoulders of the strong, and brave and courageous women I am standing on," and dedicated the award to Billie Holiday. Bryan Cranston, in his acclaimed performance as Lyndon Baines Johnson in Broadway's All the Way received the Tony Award for the Best Leading Actor in a Play. 

With a standing ovation from the audience and a marvelous joint performance with Carole King herself, Best Leading Actress in a Musical went to the ever-joyful Jessie Mueller for her portrayal of the powerhouse songstress and her life story in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Mueller laughed, giggled and thanked God for her time with Beautiful. She was previously nominated in 2012 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. This marks her first win.

Kenneth Branagh presented the Best Play trophy to the widely talked-about Robert Schenkkan's All The Way; the playwright decried, "What a thrill to bring this story, our story to the American stage." The production originated at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival after transferring to the American Repertory Theatre in Boston before its Broadway engagement.

Best Revival of a Play was presented to Kenny Leon's production of A Raisin in the Sun amidst an incredibly strong group of nominees, including the critically acclaimed The Glass Menagerie, which has since closed and walked away from the evening nearly empty-handed. Best Revival of a Musical was awarded to the spirited and irreverent production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the broadcast even included a shy smile from creator John Cameron Mitchell standing quietly amidst the producers.

Best Score and Best Orchestrations both went to Jason Robert Brown for The Bridges of Madison County, which recently ended a too-short run, and Best Book of a Musical went to Robert L. Freedman for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. Best Choreography went to Warren Carlyle for After Midnight. The Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre was presented to the Signature Theatre in New York.

The design awards were presented off air, but follow: Best Costume Design of a Play was presented to Jenny Tiramani for Twelfth Night, for a musical to Linda Cho for A Gentleman's Guide. Scenic Design awards were presented to Beowulf Boritt for Act One and to Christopher Barreca for his design in the musical Rocky. Lighting design awards were presented to Natasha Katz for The Glass Menagerie and for the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch to designer Kevin Adams. Sound design awards were presented to Steven Canyon Kennedy for Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill and for the musical category, Brian Ronan for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

At 11:04 PM, slightly over time, the most anticipated award of the night, Best Musical, was presented with fanfare and shouts to A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder with the entire creative team, castand production history present. Lead producer Joey Parnes gave a rousing speech saying, "This award belongs to him [Lutvak] and Robert Freedman....Darko Tresnjak whose vision is seen every night on stage...the whole cast and crew on stage." Parnes sealed the speech and the evening by crying to the rafters, "The little engine that could, DID!"

Other notable moments from the evening included a sneak peek at Sting's Broadway-bound The Last Ship, Jennifer Hudson singing "Neverland" from the upcoming Broadway production of Finding Neverland, the very first higher education partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the Tony Awards for Excellence in Theatre Education and a tenth anniversary performance of Wicked's "For Good."

Renaissance-man host Jackman concluded the evening with a large-scale dance number bringing all the Tony Award winners to the Radio City Music Hall stage as the Broadway community clapped, danced and sang their way first to the after parties, and then onwards to the new Broadway season ahead.