2020 Tony Award winners reactions: Adrienne Warren, Danny Burstein, Matthew Lopez and more
Performers and creative team members in the 2019-2020 Broadway season shows talk about celebrating the roles and the work they left 18 months ago.
“I’m here with my son, and I think we might go to Dave & Buster’s.” That’s how Diablo Cody, who won the Tony Award for best book of a musical for Jagged Little Pill at the 74th annual ceremony on September 26, said she planned to celebrate her prize.
Casual as her reaction may sound, there was no denying that Cody, or any of last night’s Tony winners, felt anything less than immense joy. Not only were they taking home trophies, but they were doing so at a ceremony finally happening after a year-plus delay due to the pandemic. They were celebrating their victories as much as simply gathering in a theatre again.
“What it means for me today is much bigger than me,” said David Alan Grier, who took home his first Tony for best featured actor in a play for A Soldier’s Play. “It means that our industry has a way forward. And I remember getting on the plane on March 16, 2020, and I did not know if I had already done my last performance on Broadway… I lost faith. I gained faith. And finally, there was a path forward, and I’m just happy for everyone in the theatre.”
Of course, beyond Broadway’s return, the Tony had a unique significance for every winner. For Matthew Lopez, who penned the best play (among three other awards) winner The Inheritance, the award was the summit of a yearslong journey with the play that included his own personal journey as a gay man and the resulting desire to reach others with his work.
“I cannot tell you the, not dozens, but tens and hundreds of people who were a part of this play’s journey over the many, many years that we’ve developed it,” Lopez said. He went on to say, “The first Tonys I ever watched was the year my aunt Priscilla [Lopez] won, and it’s important to me now as a theatremaker that I create opportunities for young people to want to come to the theatre.
The 10 wins (including best musical) for Moulin Rouge! The Musical alone included Aaron Tveit securing his first-ever win (as the sole nominee in the best leading actor in a musical category) and best featured actor in a musical winner Danny Burstein finally clinching the award (for playing Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge! The Musical) on his seventh nomination.
“Everywhere I go, people are telling me, ‘Susan Lucci!’ I’m the Susan Lucci of the Tony Awards,” Burstein said with a laugh, referring to the All My Children actress known for her being a perpetual Emmy nominee. “So I was hoping to get the monkey off my back, just a little bit!”
Some wins spoke to something even bigger than the industry. Broadway has not been exempt from the past year’s racial reckoning, and calls for more inclusion and support of theatre professionals of color were a common theme in the night’s acceptance speeches. A majority of the winners this year were white, and Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, which earned a record-breaking 12 nominations and included many people of color among its nominees, surprised audiences when it came away with no trophies. However, certain awards, like the special Tony Award given to the activist organization Broadway Advocacy Coalition, signified steps toward change, according to BAC co-founder Britton Smith.
“I think this award represents that there is willingness to shift, and I’m so proud that I got to represent, in a small way, the shift that’s happening and that will continue to happen,” he said.
Kenny Leon, who directed the best revival winner A Soldier’s Play that featured a cast of Black men, said: “I just think that as artists, our job is still really to impact the world through our storytelling, and like I was saying onstage, the more stories we hear, the clearer we get to truth.”
Adrienne Warren, who won the best leading actress in a musical Tony for her performance as Tina Turner in Tina, reacted similarly to her award: “I am grateful for the opportunity, for the capacity, and for the responsibility of doing everything that I can do better prepare this institution and this space for those that look like me.”
Warren also reflected on winning the award at this juncture, a month before she will depart the role of Tina on October 31. “It’s such an incredible highlight in this journey for me. It feels so special that I could go out like this. This has been a nearly six-year journey, and I didn’t really know that this day would come.”
Mary-Louise Parker sits at a different kind of juncture, having won best leading actress in a play for The Sound Inside last season as she prepares to star on Broadway in How I Learned to Drive later this season.
“It all feels like, in a way, I’ve been waiting such a long time, but also just like a minute has passed because I’m just so ready. I just want to get on a stage right now, I want to be in a dressing room right now, I just want to be in rehearsals right now. It’s especially sweet to have this [award] as a welcome back.”
Photo credit: Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo by Matthew Murphy)