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Night of firsts at Tony Awards as Troubles play set in Armagh wins four gongs

Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony.

Ali Stroker accepts her award at the Tonys in New York last night.
Ali Stroker accepts her award at the Tonys in New York last night.
Image: Charles Sykes/PA Images

HADESTOWN, the brooding musical about the underworld, had a heavenly night at the Tony Awards, winning eight trophies, including best new musical and handing a rare win for a female director of a musical.

English playwright Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, which was set in rural Armagh during The Troubles, was crowned best play. The play also won the award for best direction for Sam Mendes as well as the awards for best costume design and scenic design for a play.  

In the four lead actor and actress categories, Bryan Cranston won his second acting Tony, but theatre veterans Elaine May, Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block each won for the first time.

The crowd at Radio City Music Hall erupted when Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony. Stroker, paralysed from the chest down due to a car crash when she was two, won for featured actress in a musical for her work in a dark revival of Oklahoma!.

“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.”

Rachel Chavkin, the only woman to helm a new Broadway musical this season, won the Tony for best director of a musical for Hadestown. She became only the tenth woman to win as director of either a play or a musical on Broadway and told the crowd she was sorry to be such a rarity.

“There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many people of colour who are ready to go.” A lack of strides in embracing diversity on Broadway, she said, “is not a pipeline issue” but a lack of imagination.

Cranston seemed to tap into the vibe when he won the Tony for best leading man in a play award for his work as newscaster Howard Beale in a stage adaptation of Network.

“Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” he joked. The star, who wore a blue ribbon on his suit to support reproductive rights, also dedicated his award to journalists who are in the line of fire.

“The media is not the enemy of the people,” he said. “Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.”

The respect for women’s work also got a boost when Butterworth, who earlier asked the crowd to give his partner, actress Laura Donnelly, a round of applause for giving birth to their two children while working on the ensemble drama, handed his best play trophy to Donnelly. A Donnelly family story inspired him to write the play.

Fontana won his first Tony as the cross-dressing lead in Tootsie. Fontana, perhaps best known for his singing role as Hans in Frozen, won in an adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film about a struggling actor who impersonated a woman in order to improve his chances of getting a job. It was the only win for Tootsie.

Another first-time winner was Block, who earned her Tony Award for playing a legend — Cher. Block, who has had roles on Homeland and Orange Is the New Black, is one of three actresses to play the title character in the musical The Cher Show. She thanked “the goddess Cher for her life and legacy.”

James Corden, in his second stint as Tony host, was at his fanboy best, whether anxiously hiding in a bathroom with previous hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareillies or trying to provoke a Nicki Minaj-Cardi B-style beef between usually overly polite and supportive Broadway figures (Laura Linney and Audra McDonald finally obliged). He also asked celebrities to sing karaoke during the commercials.

He kicked off the show with a massive, nine-minute opening number that served as a full-throated endorsement of the live experience, with Corden beginning it seated alone on a couch in front of a TV, overwhelmed by his binge options, before taking flight with dozens of glitzy dancers from this season’s shows, all filling the Radio City stage with an unprecedented volume.

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