The Greek realm of the dead had a banner year at the 2019 Tony Awards. If eight wins for Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown,” a folk retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth wasn’t enough, Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman,” which alludes to Charon, the famed boatman who carried the dead through the River Styx in its title, took home four awards.
“Hadestown” won for Best Musical, Best Original Score for Mitchell, Best Featured Actor in a Musical for André De Shields’ turn as the messenger god Hermes and Best Direction of a Musical for Rachel Chavkin.
In her speech, Chavkin, who is Jewish, made a plea for inclusion on Broadway, saying, “I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season. There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go. And we need to see that racial diversity and that gender diversity reflected in our critical establishment, too.”
Also repping “Hadestown” were Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, who snagged the Tony for Best Orchestrations and, in the design categories, the musical fable walked home with Best Lighting for Bradley King, Best Sound Design of a Musical for Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz and Best Scenic Design for Rachel Hauck.
“The Ferryman,” which tracks a Northern Irish family whose lives are upturned by the IRA, won director Sam Mendes his second Tony Award and his first for Direction of a Play. (Mendes previously won for producing the 2000 revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.”) The drama also won Best Play, Best Scenic Design for Rob Howell’s set and an another for Howell’s costuming. Like “Hadestown,” “The Ferryman” fell short in the major acting categories.
“Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston won a Best Lead Actor in a Play Tony for his role as incensed news anchor Howard Beale in the stage adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network.” While this Tony marks Cranston’s second win in the category, comedian and filmmaker Elaine May who famously played Broadway’s Golden Theatre with comedy partner Mike Nichols in 1960, finally got her due this year, winning for Best Lead Actress in a Play for the revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.”
The 87-year-old May was characteristically pithy and modest in her acceptance speech, saying, “I never won a nomination for acting before, so, I want to tell you how I did it: I got in a play written by Kenneth Lonergan.”
Other acting winners include Santino Fontana of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” fame, who won for “Tootsie,” David Yazbek and Robert Horn’s riff on the 1982 Sydney Pollack comedy (for which May provided uncredited material). Horn also won a Tony for Best Book of a Musical. Stephanie J. Block also welcomed a Tony for her portrayal of Cher in “The Cher Show.”
The nominees for Best Revival of a Musical numbered only two, but Daniel Fish’s bold re-imagining of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” won the day over a more conventional staging of “Kiss Me, Kate.” “The Boys in the Band,” a drama about a group of young gay men in 1960s New York, won the equivalent award for plays, marking a welcome victory for Pride Month.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.