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The Schmooze

All 36 Jewish Things That Happened At The Tony Awards

Mein damen und herren. Citizens of River City. Momsies and popsicles. And all people who want to succeed in business without really trying. Attend this tale — Sunday night was the 72nd annual Tony Awards ceremony.

The Schmooze has carefully tabulated every single Jewish moment that occurred during the three hour awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall and is ready to begin its impression of the dad from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” except instead of believing everything in the world relates back to Greek culture, we’re actually certain that Jews are involved in every part of life. Similar to atoms.

Don your singing kippah and let’s start at the very beginning.

After all, it’s a very good place to start.

Image by Getty Images

1.”The Band’s Visit” Swept, With 10 Awards

Sunday night was dominated by “The Band’s Visit,” a new musical based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name. When an Egyptian band gets lost on the way to an Arab cultural center in Israel (Beit Hatikvah instead of Petakh Tikvah) they find themselves stuck in a tiny Jewish town overnight, totally at the mercy of the locals. What follows is a dreamlike evening of meetings between peoples — groups and individuals — buoyed by glorious music.

The musical adaptation grabbed almost a dozen Tonys in major categories: best new musical, best original score, best book of a musical, best leading actor (for the Egyptian protagonist, played by Tony Shalhoub,) best leading actress (for his Israeli counterpart, played by Katrinka Lenk,) best featured actor, best director, best sound design, best orchestrations, and best lighting design.

Here is The Schmooze’s official take on “The Band’s Visit”:

We have rarely been more bored in our adult lives than we were while watching “The Band’s Visit.” We truly love musical theater in all of its forms, but “The Band’s Visit” is barely a musical. It fails to integrate music with storytelling and treats dance like an option. (Note: Dance is not an option in a musical.) The music, while striking in instrumental breaks, becomes bland and generic in song, paired with painfully dull lyrics. Despite constant praise which would leave you believing that this musical will inspire free elections in Gaza, “The Band’s Visit” does not contribute one original thing to the conversation about Israeli-Arab relations. “The Band’s Visit” may be eligible to make smug comments on the value of “small, human” musicals, but the reality is that it will never join the pantheon of great musicals because audiences still want to hum great tunes with clever lyrics, witness bodies moving in ecstatic dance, and follow as stories unfold.

The great news is that The Schmooze’s opinion doesn’t matter at all, and we’ve never been more delighted to feel irrelevant.

A small, new musical inspired by Israeli film and made by a team of mostly Jews and Arabs is a gift, plain and simple. And the most glorious part is that the world of musical theater is big enough for dissent.

2.Hosts Sara Bareilles (not Jewish) and Josh Groban (Jew-ish) Began With A Song By Shaina Taub

The Schmooze had subterranean hopes for an evening in the hands of two B-list celebrities, neither of whom are known for their comic skills. We were wrong.

Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and crooner Josh Groban were outstanding from beginning to end, especially in an opening number co-written by Jewish artist Shaina Taub. Bareilles and Groban, with zero awards and two Broadway credits between them, made the evening.

3.Andrew Garfield won best leading actor in a play for Pryor Walter in “Angels in America”

Garfield, who is Jewish, received praise for his acceptance speech, in which he said this:

“At a moment in time where maybe the most important thing that we remember right now is the sanctity of the human spirit, it is the profound privilege of my life to play Prior Walter in ‘Angels in America’ because he represents the purest spirit of humanity, and especially that of the LGBTQ community. It is a spirit that says no to oppression. It is a spirit that says no to bigotry, no to shame, no to exclusion. It is a spirit that says we are all made perfectly. And we all belong. So I dedicate this award to the countless LGBTQ people who have fought and died to protect that spirit, to protect that message for the right to live and love as we are created to. We are all sacred and we all belong, so let’s just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked!”

A beautiful sentiment, perfectly worded, and emotionally delivered.

The Schmooze believes this speech was written by Garfield’s publicist.

The actor came under fire last year for comments he made about portraying a gay character as a straight man. This speech seemed calculated to reinstate Garfield as a golden ally and committed heterosexual. It’s just an award show, but it’s a serious thing for great art about a human rights issue to be so associated with pandering. Perhaps Garfield’s speech was genuine. But this all could have been easily avoided by casting a queer actor in such an iconic queer role.

4.The “Mean Girls” musical kept the “Gretchen Weiners” character Jewish

Plus, it’s nice to see representation of a character who is Jewish and a person of color.

I think her father, the inventor of toaster strudel, would be very happy to hear about this.

5.Rachel Bloom emceed from backstage

With the somewhat-painful energy of a middle school tween after too many frappuccinos, Rachel Bloom of “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” provided backstage commentary. In one funny bit, the theater-enthusiast introduced Amy Schumer as “an up-and-coming young comedian.” Bloom, notably, wore a shirt that she commissioned in a tweet, featuring seminal musical theater composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim smoking a joint. CBS censored the shirt.

6.Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban joked about their music playing at Starbucks

Or at “your friend Trish’s wedding.”

7.Laurie Metcalf became first of many to thank producer Scott Rudin

Winning best supporting actress in a play, Metcalf was first of many to thank Scott Rudin, the Jewish mega-producer who was responsible for four nominated productions — “Three Tall Women,” “Carousel,” “Meteor Shower,” and “The Iceman Cometh.” Rudin, significantly, skipped the ceremony.

8.Amy Schumer introduced “My Fair Lady,” a musical about a “man-splaining expert”

“Hello, I’m beautiful theater actress Amy Schumer,” the comedian began her introduction of the nominated “My Fair Lady.”

Schumer went into an earnest diatribe on women’s rights, and while we know we should just be grateful that a major female star who is constantly derided still wants to get up and talk about feminism, we’re ready for Schmuer to take her woke-ness beyond the idea that “women should totally have rights.” Even though they totally should.

9.Billy Joel presented Bruce Springsteen’s special Tony

Joel noted that “Springsteen on Broadway” was originally slated for an 8 week run, and will have played 236 performances by the time it closes in December. “The Boss is workin’ hard,” said Joel.

10.Lindsay Mendez spoke about keeping her last name in spite of racism

In one of the best speeches of the night, the outrageous talent Lindsay Mendez accepted the award for best featured actress in a musical for “Carousel.” Mendez spoke with emotion about choosing to keep her Latina last name. “When I moved to New York, I was told to change my last name from Mendez to Matthews or I wouldn’t work,” she said, eyes shining with tears. “And I just want to say how proud I am to be a part of a community that celebrates diversity and individuality.” No, not directly Jewish, just an American assimilation story we can relate to.

By the way, if you have never heard Lindsay Mendez sing, please, choose life:

11.Ethan Slater, proud Camp Ramah alum, introduced “Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical”

Slater appeared out of nowhere wielding a ukulele, making Jewish camp boys everywhere proud.

12.Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban had another stunning musical-comedy moment with “Eight Times A Week”

It’s a parody of the song “Chandelier” by Sia and it’s an exquisite tribute to Broadway performers.

13.Erich Bergen adorably read his own name off a cue-card

Bergen, the Jewish actor known for “Madam Secretary” who currently stars in “Waitress” on Broadway, announced a category with Katharine McPhee with such earnestness that he accidentally read his own name. Watch McPhee try not to snort.

14.Itamar Moses won for best book of a musical

Moses, the writer of “The Band’s Visit,” spoke endearingly about parental criticism, anxiety, and his own practice of geshrying to his wife. It was, without doubt, the most Ashkenazi moment of the evening.

15.Nathan Lane won best featured actor in a play for Roy Cohn in “Angels in America”

For his third Tony win, Lane gave a tour de force speech. He gave substantial credit to his fellow collaborators and the other men in his category, called Tony Kushner “an adorable genius,” (even his emails are Pulitzer-worthy!”), referenced the current “political insanity,” and made a tremendously romantic tribute to his husband.

16.The Rodgers & Hammerstein “Carousel” revival blew the roof off of Radio City

Judaism tells us that God is everywhere and in all things, and that a divine spark burns within every person. To me, that truth is the most evident when watching things like this number from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” in revival with choreography by Justin Peck.

“Carousel” lost best musical revival in a shocking upset, bested by “Once on this Island,” but that just means there’s more phenomenal theater to love.

17.Ari’el Stachel wins best featured actor in a musical for “The Band’s Visit”

Stachel, an Israeli-American with Yemini and Ashkenazi roots, gave the evening’s outstanding speech. It is completely fruitless to excerpt it. Watch the whole thing.

18.Students from Parkland performed “Seasons of Love”

In a superlatively evocative performance, the drama club from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School performed “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”

The students honored their drama teacher Melody Herzfeld, who sheltered 65 students during the Parkland shooting, eventually leading them to safety. She has continued to work with students to move through their trauma using music and theater. Herzfeld was presented with the 2018 Excellence in Theatre Education Award in thanks for her work.

It’s impossible to overstate the beauty of the Stoneman teens’ brief performance. And we hope it’s not tacky to note that “Seasons of Love” is courtesy of our favorite White Plains Jew Jonathan Larson, who wanted nothing more than for life to be measured in love.

19.With the cast of “Frozen,” Caissie Levy proves she’s one of Broadway’s greatest voices

“Frozen: the Musical” looks frozen stiff, but Levy, the production’s “Elsa,” who attributes some of her theater passion to her years putting on shows at Camp Ramah, is one of the most talented singers alive today.

20.David Cromer wins best direction of a musical for “The Band’s Visit”

Cromer used his speech to give a gorgeously understated appeal for human connection in the wake of rising suicide numbers. True “Band’s Visit” fans (or enemies) will note the subtle allusion to the musical’s lyrics.

One of the things “The Band’s Visit” concerns itself with is people who, due to maybe loneliness, isolation — have started to lose hope. And I wish I had the words or the wisdom to say to the people out there whose despair has overwhelmed their hope to continue looking. To have the patience. To try to find hope. I just have to say, if you are suffering please, please call out. And people who are fortunate to not be suffering so deeply, please answer them.

21.In Memoriam section pays tribute to Michael Friedman

A tribute by the current cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” marked the passing of Broadway greats including Jewish composer Michael Friedman whose brilliant work included the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

22.”Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” swept plays categories, thanks to producer Sonia Friedman

Nothing like a Jewish, female Broadway powerhouse producer to make us forgive the fact that “Harry Potter” fan fiction run amok has swarmed Broadway like a hoard of dementors. For this mostly male-driven, creatively deadly production we can at least thank, in part, producer Sonia Friedman, who collected the award for best play for the two-part, five-hour spectacle.

23.Rachel Bloom and John Leguizamo extolled therapy

Backstage with John Leguizamo, Rachel Bloom was so excited she considered pinching herself to make sure it was all real. “But you know,” reflected Bloom, “I don’t need physical pain to prove to myself that I’m happy. Thanks therapy!” Added Leguizamo, “Therapy pays off.”

24.John Leguizamo monologued about killing Lee Strasburg

In an irreverent taste of his show “Latin History for Morons,” Leguizamo riffed on his time working with Jewish acting luminary Lee Strasburg.

25.”Angels in America” won best revival of a play

The Schmooze felt that this win was deserved. We also feel we are interested to know how “Angels” could win best revival but lose for best director, for which Marianne Elliott was the sole female nominee. The Schmooze immediately went into a rage coma and the rest of this roundup was written by our hospice nurse.

Tony Kushner, accepting the award, noted the upcoming midterm elections as well as Judy Garland’s upcoming birth date.

26.Katrina Lenk from “The Band’s Visit” performed the song “Omar Sharif”

Again, we are happy for the people who inexplicably enjoyed four minutes of an insanely repetitive number in which Katrina Lenk does the most exaggerated Israeli accent since “Don’t Mess With The Zohan.”

27.Marissa Jaret Winokur of “Hairspray” is alive and well and living in Paris (so to speak)

Winokur, who played Tracy Turnblad in the original production of “Hairspray” on Broadway, has taken a career hit and seemingly disappeared from view, reemerging to win the most recent season of Celebrity Big Brother. We were pleased to see her on the Tonys telecast, seeming no worse for the wear with hair pleasantly sprayed.

28.”The Band’s Visit” won best score, but the writers didn’t get to give a speech

This is a disgraceful move on the part of a show that made time for many less relevant moments.

29.”Once On This Island” won best musical revival in major upset

Scott Rudin, eat your heart out. The revival of Jewish writer Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flayerty’s musical snatched the Tony from “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady” and its fabulous Tony performance spawned some excellent footage of Nathan Lane and a goat (see moment 3:40 below.)

30.Tony Shalhoub won best actor in a musical for “The Band’s Visit”

Unfortunately encouraging me to continue my strange erotic interest in the aging, mustachioed actor, the award for best actor in a musical went to Tony Shalhoub for his portrayal of the Egyptian bandleader in the hit musical. Shalhoub gave an overwhelmingly emotional speech about his family’s journey from Lebanon through Ellis Island, and to the stage at Radio City. It’s not a story of Jews, but it’s a story of immigrants who travelled the same path as so many of us.

31.Katrina Lenk won best actress in a musical for “The Band’s Visit”

Lenk, who also starred in Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” on Broadway last year, accepted her first ever Tony award. In her gracious speech, in which she continued her tradition of looking like she is being live-airbrushed, Lenk graciously thanked Ronit Elkabetz, the Israeli actress who originated her “Band’s Visit” role in the movie.

32.Neil Patrick Harris learned a lesson in derech eretz from Rachel Bloom

We have acid reflux just from reading this uncomfortable social exchange.

33.Bernadette Peters.

That’s right: Bernadette Peters. We’re not quite sure what to say about her, except that she’s one of the greatest performers in Broadway history, and she’s 70, and here she is in a gown by Jewish designer Zac Posen.

34.The Band’s Visit” won best musical

We get it, people liked “The Band’s Visit.”

Ani ohev etchem,” said the show’s producer, Orin Wolf, accepting the award. “I love you.”

35.That’s all, folks

As the credits roll, the screen fills with Jewish names, not in the least Glenn Weiss, who directed the show.

36.And finally, the best of Jewish Twitter:

That’s all, folks. See you in one glorious, magical, theatrical year.

Jenny Singer is the deputy Lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny


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