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Broadway honors its best at the 75th Tony Awards


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Judy Woodruff: Broadway attempted to stage a big comeback at last night's 75th annual Tony Awards. There were some very familiar works being honored, as well as innovations showcasing inclusion.

Nicole Ellis has a look for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Person: And the Tony goes to "A Strange Loop."


Nicole Ellis: Taking home the coveted best musical award was "A Strange Loop," Michael R. Jackson's 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical spotlighting the societal judgment and self-doubt of a Black gay writer creating his own musical.

Person: "SIX: The Musical," Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.


Nicole Ellis: Other leading musicals also took home awards. "SIX: The Musical" about Henry VIII's six wives won best original score.

Person: Myles Frost, "M.J."


Nicole Ellis: While "M.J.," about legendary performer Michael Jackson, won best actor with Myles Frost.

Joaquina Kalukango, Actress: Thank you, the Tonys. Thank you, America.

Nicole Ellis: Joaquina Kalukango won leading actress for her performance in "Paradise Square."

Representation seemed to be the theme of the night. Host and recent Oscar winner Ariana DeBose reinforced that sentiment.

Ariana DeBose, Host: And I am so proud that the theater is becoming more reflective of the community who adores it.

Nicole Ellis: Jesse Green is the chief theater critic at The New York Times.

Jesse Green, The New York Times: Broadway has always said it loved diversity, but didn't do very much about it.

In recent years, and especially this year, there has been a notable jump, not just in the number of works by Black authors and other people who formerly couldn't get to Broadway, but also in the casting and staffing and in the naming of new theaters for great Black performers of the past, James Earl Jones and Lena Horne.

And that seems to me to be an actual change, not just lip service. Now, will it continue to build or just stay there as a plateau? It's going to take several years to find the answer to that.

Nicole Ellis: Broadway is still reeling from the pandemic, with attendance at roughly half of what it was in 2019. Green says it will be a long road to recovery.

Jesse Green: It's way too soon to say Broadway got its groove back. Broadway survived a forest fire.

And there are some things that bizarrely turned out to be useful about that forest fire, as there can be in nature too, in allowing new things to grow. And that's part of why we saw such an unusual array of works and artists on Broadway this year that in previous years we wouldn't have seen.

Whether you can count on that to continue when there isn't a forest fire going on, I'm not so sure, but I'm hoping that the movements that have produced these changes will not relax in their requests and requirements of Broadway, and we will continue to see at least a healthy mix of kinds of material and a diversity of artists.

Marianne Elliott, Director: Thank you first and foremost to Stephen Sondheim.

Nicole Ellis: A special tribute honored the famed composer, songwriter and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died in November.

His production company won best revival for a musical. Other highlights of the night included a shout-out to understudies and others not often recognized publicly.

Angela Lansbury received a lifetime achievement award. And Jennifer Hudson's win as producer for "A Strange Loop" propelled her to EGOT status, having now won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

But will the spirit of last nights awards help spur better times on Broadway?

Jesse Green: I'm really interested in maintaining a balance between traditional shows that are enjoyable for everybody and that draw tourists and shows that are more challenging.

I don't think the business works if it's only one or only the other. In one case, it is stagnant with old ideas, and, in the other case, it's bankrupt.

So, you have to find a way in between. But also, stylistically, there were a lot of shows that were that were seen this season, and some of them awarded, that were extremely unusual in terms of style, and it was stunning to see them in these beautiful 19th century theaters and to see them taken up to some extent with praise and awards, to a lesser extent, with money.

Nicole Ellis: For "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nicole Ellis.

Judy Woodruff: What a great thing to think about, those Tonys.

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