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Best Moments From Past Tony Awards

06.07.20

BY PHEOBE HORIBE

The Tony Awards have been postponed this year and we’re pretty sad about it. This is the biggest night of the year and we always look forward to it. Does anyone else get dressed up and go to Tonys watch parties? No, just me? Okay, cool. 

In lieu of Tonys, CBS decided to show a Grease sing-a-long, and I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole (you can read the article I wrote on it here), but we are not here for that. So, we’ve decided to bring you Tonys coverage with some of the best moments from past Tony Awards.

Turns out there are so many great moments from the past 73 years, we couldn’t possibly name all of them, but we’ve rounded up some of our faves here. If your favorite moment is missing, tell us what it is! For now we’ll get this virtual party started with one of the best moments that happened on March 26th, 1967:

1. The First Televised Tony Awards

This was the day the 21st Tony Awards was televised to the whole nation for the first time. For a long time, theater was only accessible to the wealthy, and sometimes that’s still the case. There have been more and more ways to get discount tickets these days — like Broadway Roulette, of course — but with the Tonys being televised, it opened the Broadway world to people everywhere. Everyone deserves the ability to see a Broadway show. If you’ve got a couple hours, you can watch the whole show.

2. George Abbot’s 107th Birthday

George Abbott was a Broadway writer, producer, and director. His career spanned nine decades, which makes sense when you’ve been alive for almost 11 decades. (His birthday was June 7th, by the way, so Happy Birthday to George!) In 1994, Abbot’s 107th birthday was celebrated at the 48th Tony Awards with him on stage next to two original cast members from Damn Yankees, Gwen Verdon and Jean Stapleton. Abbott wrote the book for and directed the original production of Damn Yankees, and the show was nominated for Best Revival that year. He was also involved with so many Broadway shows like The Pajama Game, On the Town, Once Upon A Mattress, Pal Joey, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum just to name a few.

3. Daisy Eagan Is the Youngest To Win A Tony

In 1991, The Secret Garden actress, Daisy Eagan proved to the world that acting wasn’t just for adults. At just 11 years old, she became the youngest person to win a Tony Award. I think at 11 years old, I was too concerned with not looking ridiculous with my bottle cap glasses and big buck teeth. Not winning awards.

4. Melba Moore’s Memorable Performance

This performance definitely caught me off guard. Melba Moore performed “I Got Love” from the 1970 musical Purlie, and while she starts off soft and child-like, she ends with some powerhouse vocals! Her belting is flawless and even with the low-quality of film back then, you can still hear how incredibly talented she was. I can’t imagine what that sounded like live. It makes sense she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical that night.

5. Audra McDonald Wins Her Sixth Tony Award

Broadway royalty, Audra McDonald, is one amazing actress and it’s no wonder she’s had eight Tony nominations and taken home a whopping six Tony Awards. In 2014, Audra won her sixth award for playing Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill making her the actor with the most Tonys. Plus, not only does she hold the most Tonys in history, but she’s also the only actor to win in all four categories; Best Lead Actress in a Play and Musical, and Best Featured Actress in a Play and Musical. 

6. Bette Midler’s Long Awaited Tony

Okay, so this moment I remember very specifically because I had to go to work very early the next morning and Bette Midler just kept talking and talking, but I love Bette so I decided to be very tired the next day. Bette Midler has been in the Broadway industry for more than 50 years and in 2017, she finally won her first Tony Award for playing Dolly Levi in the latest revival of Hello, Dolly!. How is that possible? I have no idea, but she certainly had more than a few things to say. I mean, who wouldn’t after nearly 50 years in the industry. Then, when the orchestra began to play her off due to time constraints she not only ignored it at first, but then said, “Shut that crap off!” And they did! God, I love Bette Midler.

7. Bernadette Peters’s Takes on Rose’s Turn 

Here we have another Broadway legend who has been in theater since she was three-and-a-half, doing what she does best. When Bernadette Peters was cast as Mama Rose in the revival of Gypsy, she struggled with minor sickness when the show opened in May. Then, a month later, the Tonys came along and she knew the show had to go on. Bernadette does not hold back and still manages to give an incredible and powerful performance. Iconic.

8. You Can’t Have Theater Without Sound

In 2014, the Tony Awards Administration Committee decided that after 34 years, Sound Design was no longer going to be a category. Just like that. They made the argument that they didn’t know how to judge it, so they nixed it altogether. What?! The best part was when the Broadway community came together and got more than 30,000 signatures to bring back the category. 30,000! It was finally reinstated 3 years later for the 2017-2018 Tonys, and we were thankful to “hear” Broadway once again!

10. Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman Share A Kiss Onstage

Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman composed and co-wrote the lyrics of Hairspray which won the Tony for Best Original Score in 2003. At the time, they had been partners for 25 years and have since worked on many musicals together including, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Smash, and Catch Me If You Can.

Back in the day, not too long ago, when same-sex marriage was illegal, Marc Shaiman decided to end his speech saying, “I love this man. We’re not allowed to get married in this world, I don’t know why, but I would like to declare in front of millions of people, I love you and want to live with you for the rest of my life,” and then planted a big kiss on his partner, Scott Whitman. Watching these two at the Tonys was uplifting and inspiring — and I think we could all use a little bit more of both of those sentiments right now.

12. The Producers Wins 12 Tonys 

The Producers holds the highest number of Tony wins ever with 12 awards. Hamilton came close with 11, but fell short by one. There are 15 categories for musicals, one being for a revival, so realistically 14 (plus there was no “Sound Design” category when Hamilton was at the Tonys), but there is still room for a musical to come in and beat 12 Tony Awards. If Hamilton couldn’t do it, I don’t know what will. I am certainly ready for the next big musical, though.

11. When Women Ruled 1998

The 52nd Tony Awards was led by women. Julie Taymor won Best Direction of a Musical for Lion King, and she was the first female to win in this category. Garry Hynes won Best Direction for a Play for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and she was also the first woman to win in this category. Yasmina Reza was the writer of and won Best play for Art, and she was the second female to win in this category. All three women were also the only women in their respective categories. So many women have been involved in Broadway and went unrecognized or were simply discouraged to try, but in 1998, women ruled.

14. Cynthia Erivo Is Here

Cynthia Erivo. What an absolute queen. I could talk about how amazing and talented Cynthia is for hours! Cynthia wasn’t really on the radar at the time, but when the British actress made her Broadway debut in the 2015 production of The Color Purple, her popularity grew. As did the mid-show standing ovations! Her performance at the 2016 Tony Awards was simply incredible, but it left me wanting more from her. She’s gone on to work quite a bit in film lately, but I’m ready for her to be back on Broadway in a musical that shows off her amazing vocal talent. I’m selfish like that.

14. Female-led Fun Home Has First Lesbian Lead

Fun Home was the first musical to have a lesbian lead. It was also the first musical written entirely by a team of women to win Best Musical. How did it take until 2015 for this to happen? History note: 2015 was also the year that same-sex marriage was declared legal in all 50 states. That was only five years ago, people. Crazy. Thank you Fun Home for representing the LGBTQ+ community.

13. Jennifer Holliday Is The Best Thing We’ll Ever Know

I will never get tired of Jennifer Holliday’s performance of “And I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls. Period. Jennifer Holliday is a goddess and if you haven’t watched her jaw-dropping performance yet, do it. Do it now. This is the best Tony Award moment. Ever.

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