NEW YORK – Broadway’s biggest night returned with starry tributes, teary speeches and plenty of love to go around.
After a scaled-down show last year due to COVID-19, the Tony Awards came home to Radio City Music Hall Sunday with a joyous ceremony hosted by theater veteran-turned-Oscar winner Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”).
Stephen Sondheim’s gender-swapped “Company” and Stefano Massini’s financial epic “The Lehman Trilogy” led the prizes with five Tonys apiece. Meanwhile, Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Strange Loop,” about a young Black gay playwright, picked up awards for best music and best book.
Jennifer Hudson is a producer on “Loop” and achieved EGOT status with the show’s best musical trophy, having now won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
Bernadette Peters brought viewers to tears with her moving performance honoring late composer Sondheim, singing his song “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.” And the original Broadway cast of “Spring Awakening,” which includes Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, nearly stole the show with their stirring rendition of “Touch Me” from the provocative hit musical.
Here are more highlights from the night:
2022 Tony Awards full list of winners: ‘A Strange Loop,’ ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ take Broadway’s top honors
Ariana DeBose on hosting the Tony Awards, why she won’t use her Oscar as a toilet paper holder
Billy Crystal charms singing Yiddish with Samuel L. Jackson
A number of musicals delivered standout performances that are guaranteed to sell tickets: Joaquina Kalukango, a newly crowned Tony winner for best actress in a musical, blew the roof off Radio City with her ferociously emotional “Let It Burn” from “Paradise Square,” which got an immediate standing ovation from the audience. “MJ” and “Girl from the North Country” also wowed with reworked takes on popular Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan songs, respectively.
Crystal, too, made the most of his time onstage performing “A Little Joy” from his musical “Mr. Saturday Night,” in which he plays a washed-up standup comedian named Buddy Young Jr. At one point, Crystal called on the audience to jokingly scat-sing in Yiddish with him: walking over to Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda, both of whom gamely sang and laughed along.
“If you liked me, I’m Buddy Young Jr.” Crystal said at the end of the performance. “If you’re not so sure, I’m Hugh Jackman!”
Laurence Fishburne stuns with random Daffy Duck impression
In between awards, DeBose wandered into the audience for some genuinely amusing banter with presenters and nominees: sitting on Andrew Garfield’s lap while he hugged her, and doing the “Rich Man’s Frug” dance from the 1969 musical “Sweet Charity” with Sam Rockwell.
But most memorable of all was when she walked over to Fishburne, who stars in “American Buffalo” on Broadway and was seated with his teenage daughter, Delilah.
“Laurence Fishburne, he does an incredible Daffy Duck,” DeBose said, putting a microphone up to the actor’s face.
“Well, thank you and welcome to the Tony Awards,” Fishburne replied, doing a pitch-perfect voice of the Looney Tunes character as his horrified daughter looked on. “And thank you for your contribution to the American theater.”
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His daughter’s hilarious reaction was an instant hit on social media. “Special award to Laurence Fishburne’s embarrassed daughter,” Twitter user @PaulArtSmith joked. “I need someone to do a post-show interview with (her),” @jessemermell added.
Myles Frost tearfully honors his mom and the late Michael Jackson
Frost moon-walked away with the Tony for best leading actor in a musical, besting famous fellow nominees Hugh Jackman (“The Music Man”) and Billy Crystal (“Mr. Saturday Night”) for his spot-on portrayal of pop icon Michael Jackson.
“Ma, I made it,” said the 22-year-old newcomer, who danced up to the stage and broke out singing Jackson 5’s “Blame It On the Boogie” midway through his speech. “I really gotta pee right now, so I’ll keep it quick: Mom, I love you so, so much. Without you, there would be no me. You taught and showed me what a strong Black woman is and what it means to raise a strong Black man. I just pray I made you proud. ”
He closed his speech with a tribute to Jackson himself, saying, “I love you all and as Michael would say: With love, heal the world.”
Digging deeper:We may never resolve our conflicted feelings about Michael Jackson
Talking to journalists backstage, Frost reflected on Jackson’s impact on pop culture, saying, “Black music culture is music culture, period. Michael has been one of the pioneers for that, if not the biggest pioneer. ” He was also asked what he’d say to Jackson if he had the chance.
“I would ask him,‘ How’d I do? And what can I do better? ‘ “Frost said. “I’m very hard on myself – that’s just how my mentality is.”
Jesse Tyler Ferguson addresses co-star’s nude leak backstage
The “Modern Family” favorite earned his first Tony for best featured actor in a play for “Take Me Out,” which also won best play revival. Ferguson, who plays the gay business manager of a newly out baseball player in the show, recalled his early days working in a theater gift shop in Times Square while accepting the award.
“I would sit in there and I would be folding my ‘Phantom of the Opera’ T-shirts, watching actors walk by the windows, and I thought, ‘Oh God, I hope that’s me someday,'” Ferguson said in his speech , before thanking his parents and husband, actor / producer Justin Mikita.
Backstage, Ferguson was asked whether he worries about having his privacy invaded by theatergoers in the future, after his co-star Jesse Williams (“Grey’s Anatomy”) was illegally filmed by an audience member during a nude scene. The footage was later leaked online last month.
“‘Take Me Out’ is a very unique play with shower scenes and celebrities. I don’t think those match up too often on stage,” Ferguson told reporters. “Maybe we’ll see a surge now of those plays, who knows? But no. … I think that was an isolated event, and I love and trust all of my theatergoing fans just as much as I did before this.”
Jesse Tyler Ferguson says he’s ‘appalled’ by leak of Jesse Williams nude in ‘Take Me Out’
‘Consent is important’:Jesse Williams addresses leak of Broadway nude scene
Patti LuPone revives viral meme while accepting third Tony
The Broadway legend picked up every third Tony Sunday for best featured actress in a musical for “Company,” following past wins for playing Eva Peron in “Evita” and Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” In “Company,” she portrays the vodka-slinging Joanne, who belts out the Sondheim musical’s signature song “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
In her speech, a visibly emotional LuPone, 73, paid tribute to “all of the understudies across all of the stage in New York,” as well as “all of the COVID safety people.” She also made a playful nod to a viral video last month, in which she berated a “Company” audience member for not wearing a mask, who then claimed to pay the actress’ salary. (“Chris Harper pays my salary!” LuPone retorted, name-dropping one of the show’s producers.)
“Chris Harper, who pays my salary, you are my one and last producer,” LuPone said as she closed out her Tonys speech.
‘Who do you think you are?’:Patti LuPone claps back at Broadway theatergoer for not wearing mask
“I’ll just say, you don’t see that coming, do you?” Harper said of the viral phenomenon, with theater fans printing his name on T-shirts in weeks since. “The great thing about Patti is that you never know what’s gonna happen. I love her so deeply. She’s hilarious.”
2022 Tony Awards: Broadway’s biggest night in photos