Washington Heights, a neighborhood in northern Manhattan that’s best known to theater lovers as the setting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit show, played host to thousands in the Broadway community on Sunday night. The 76th annualmoved uptown to the United Palace Theater, the third venue change in three years for Broadway’s biggest night. This one surprised even Miranda, who excitedly dolled out high-fives to those camped outside the venue as he walked to the red carpet.
Once he was inside the lavishly decorated theater (“It looks like Beyonce’s screening room,” Nathan Lane later observed while presenting an award with his “Producers” partner-in-crime Matthew Broderick), Miranda jokingly thanked everyone for coming all the way to 176th Street. “Never in my wildest dreams…” he said before presenting a life achievement award to “Cabaret” composer John Kander during the non-televised portion of the Tonys.
The new location was the least of the grand changes for the Tony Awards, which were script-less in solidarity with the WGA strike. Nobody at the United Palace Theater seemed to miss the stale banter and boring bits that are a staple of awards shows. As one Tony-goer put it: “There’s no script, so there’s just going to be a shitload of performances. It’s way better!” And it’s true: The crowd was loving the on-the-fly hosting duties of Ariana DeBose and the many musical numbers, particularly the ones from “& Juliet,” “Shucked” and “Funny Girl.”
Viewers at home were treated to meaningful speeches and rousing musical numbers (many of which were actually plagued by mic issues in the room). But there’s plenty that didn’t make the broadcast. Here’s what you didn’t see on TV at the Tony Awards, where “Kimberly Akimbo” won best musical and performers Alex Newell (“Shucked”) and J. Harrison Ghee (“Some Like It Hot”) made history.
Michael Arden reclaims homophobic slur, gets bleeped by CBS
Those watching on TV were able to hear Arden, who won best director for “Parade,” as he spoke emotionally about the hate he faced as a young gay man. “I was called the F-word more times than I can remember,” he said. But CBS bleeped the next part of his speech, in which he reclaimed the homophobic slur: “Now, I’m a faggot with a Tony,” he told the room to raucous applause and excited gasps. Not since Robert De Niro took the stage, using a different F-word, had the telecast’s censors been working in such overdrive.
“Some Like It Hot,” but not like that
The organizers of the Tonys took the name of this year’s most-nominated show, “Some Like It Hot,” a little too literally. There was hardly any air conditioning in the 3,300-seat venue. Not great for New York City in June! During commercial breaks, Alex Newell was fanning themself with their hand, while Lea Michele used her Playbill to get the air flow circulating. By 8:45 p.m., everyone in the orchestra was doing the same. A sweaty Newell even referenced the heat in their best supporting actor speech, saying, “I’m not gonna hold y’all because it’s hot in here.” Before DeBose presented the final award of the night, she used the envelope for best musical as a fan and mouthed “it’s so hot” to the front row.
A mess to get inside — and out of — the theater
The show was technically on Broadway, but it was over 100 blocks removed from the theaters that regularly house the nominated shows. Some of the growing pains that came with the new venue were so drastic, it would have been believable that the Tonys were the first time the United Palace Theater had ever hosted an event to capacity. The mad scramble to find seats (ushers were too swarmed to walk everyone to their row and had to pass out Playbills once people were situated) was rivaled only by the bottleneck to get out of the theater. But what a star-studded logjam! Audra McDonald, a nominee for “Ohio State Murders,” and her husband Will Swenson, whose rendition of “Sweet Caroline” brought the crowd to its feet earlier in the night, were among the huddled masses yearning to be free, or at least trying to push through to the exit. “This is problematic,” Swenson whispered to his wife of the potential fire hazard.
Mad-dash to get your drink on
During Act One, which isn’t televised live on CBS, the wait for the bar was longer than a “Hamilton” rush ticket line in 2015. But as the clock neared 7:15 p.m. (the main show began at 8 p.m.) ushers began to plead with people to return to their seats. They were clearing the lobby so that DeBose was free to sashay, leap and twirl through throughout the two-story venue to open the Tonys in her rousing, word-less musical number. The bar reopened after the telecast began, but by 9 p.m. (a whole two hours before curtain call) the bartenders announced they were out of wine and champagne. Guess the $25 price tag for one glass of cheap bubbly wasn’t holding many people back.
Much love as Ariana did “The Thing”
Maybe sensing the challenge at hand, everyone in the United Palace Theater was loudly on DeBose’s side. One person even bellowed “Go Ariana!” as the countdown clock to the show began to tick closer and closer to zero. (And yes, the entire auditorium collectively shrieked when she began the dance by diving off the stairs and into the arms of one strong dancer.) Sara Bareilles mouthed “yes!” as DeBose made her way onto the stage.
“It’s not easy to host a three-hour show,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, said during a lengthy break between Acts One and Two. “We have the right woman to take us through the next three years — hours,” she said, correcting her Freudian slip. “Sometimes, it does feel that way.”
Mingling during commercial breaks
When audience members weren’t fanning themselves for dear life, they were mixing and mingling with fellow nominees and friends during the four-hour-long evening. Miranda, who had a prime seat in the front row, high-fived presenter Utkarsh Ambudkar, who played Aaron Burr in early readings of “Hamilton” and made his Broadway debut in Miranda’s other other show “Freestyle Love Supreme.” Later, DeBose was swarmed by producers as she said “hello” to Miranda in between outfit changes. Julia Lester, a nominee for “Into the Woods,” used the time to make sure her dress stayed in the confines of her seat. You see, it had so much tulle that it was spilling into the aisle. “Ain’t No Mo’” playwright Jordan E. Cooper gave a kiss on the cheek to Newell. Ben Platt and fiancé Noah Galvin chatted amongst themselves and looked at something on Platt’s phone (maybeto promote their upcoming movie “Theater Camp,” which went live mid-show).
Shake Shack and Uber woes
When guests emerged from the theater and went into the afterparty, which was held in a tent outside the venue, they were greeted with an even longer line — a food truck for Shake Shack burgers. (“This is the coolest event I’ve ever worked,” said the man who was in charge of passing out burgers to the throngs of hungry talent.) Using the glow of the truck’s fluorescent lights, Rachel Brosnahan and TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney posed for a picture. Elsewhere, newly minted Tony winner J. Harrison Ghee roamed the party with their trophy proudly in hand. Once the burgers, signature cocktails and churros were starting to dwindle, there was one last obstacle. Wilson Cruz approached a friendly woman about finding his Uber. Turns out, she didn’t work at the event– she was a guest as well. Lupita Nyong’o, too, couldn’t find her ride share of choice. “OK, we’ll come to you,” she told a driver on the phone as she hurried to the other side of the United Palace Theater. Stars, they are just like us.