“A Strange Loop” and Understudies Get the Spotlight at the 75th Tony Awards

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Photo Source: Marc J. Franklin

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“A Strange Loop” will have to change its tagline to: “Big, Black, queer-ass, Tony-winning American Broadway show.” Michael R. Jackson’s extravaganza about a Black man trying to write a musical about a Black man trying to write a musical took home best musical at the 75th Annual Tony Awards.

Unfortunately, because presenter Chita Rivera announced the award a little after 11pm, the audience didn’t get to hear Jackson’s acceptance speech. Producer Barbara Whitman gave her remarks and stepped aside to let Jackson speak, but the sound was quickly cut off. Luckily, it wasn’t the first time he appeared onstage that night—earlier, accepting the Tony for best book of a musical, the Pulitzer Prize winner quoted actor Jane Wyman, saying, “There’s nothing that can replace quality. Never settle for anything less than the best you can do. Never settle; just do your best.” 

The win for “A Strange Loop” also bestowed EGOT status on producer Jennifer Hudson, who has an Emmy for the animated short “Baba Yaga,” two Grammys, and an Oscar for her role in “Dreamgirls.” 

READ: How Michael R. Jackson Turned His Trauma Into Broadway’s ‘A Strange Loop’

Despite earning the most nominations of the season, “A Strange Loop” only took home two Tonys. The big winner of the night was “The Lehman Trilogy,” a three-hour-plus play about bankers the Lehman Brothers, which won five awards, among them best new play and best leading actor in a play for Simon Russell Beale. “Company” tied “The Lehman Trilogy” at five wins. The well-loved revival of the Stephen Sondheim and George Furth musical snagged best directing for a musical, best musical revival, best scenic design for a musical, and best featured actor and actress in a musical for Matt Doyle and Patti LuPone, respectively. 

During her acceptance speech, LuPone offered “huge gratitude to all of the understudies across all the stages in New York and to all of the COVID safety people.” There were 150 Broadway COVID-19 compliance officers sitting in the mezzanine during the show, wearing masks (which were optional for attendees in the orchestra but required for those in the mezzanines).

A larger theme of the evening was appreciation for the swings and understudies who were particularly busy this Broadway season. The ceremony’s host, Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, gave those actors a special mention during her opening speech, saying, “I want to give a round of applause to the people who played a vital role in keeping Broadway shows open these past few months: the understudies, the swings, and the standbys. And let’s not forget the stage managers and the associates and the dance captains who rehearse them to go on at a moment’s notice.” 

Later, DeBose led a round of applause for Mallory Maedke, who filled in at the last minute for the night’s performance from “Six.” Presenter Samuel L. Jackson got in on the love when he remarked from the stage that, “My first job on Broadway was as an understudy 25 years ago.” Jackson understudied in “The Piano Lesson” by August Wilson, a show he will star in this fall on Broadway in a revival directed by his wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson. 

The 75th Tony Awards also included performances from the nominated musicals. The highlight came from Joaquina Kalukango, who earned a standing ovation when she performed “Let It Burn” from “Paradise Square.” Later, during her acceptance speech for best leading actress in a musical, Kalukango emphasized the importance of community.

 “Thank you to my incredible company,” Kalukango said with tears in her eyes. “This is ours; look at what we have created. We gave ourselves a voice.”

Full Nominations List (Winners in Bold)

Here is the complete list of nominees, with winners in bold.

Best Musical

“Girl From the North Country”
“MJ: The Musical”
“Mr. Saturday Night”
“Paradise Square”
“Six: The Musical”
“A Strange Loop”

Best New Play

“Clyde’s” by Lynn Nottage
“Hangmen” by Martin McDonagh
“The Lehman Trilogy” by Stefano Massini and Ben Power
“The Minutes” by Tracy Letts
“Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morisseau

Best Musical Revival

“Caroline, or Change”
“Company”
“The Music Man”

Best Play Revival

“American Buffalo”
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
“How I Learned to Drive”
“Take Me Out”
“Trouble in Mind” 

Best Leading Actress in a Play

Gabby Beans, “The Skin of Our Teeth”
LaChanze, “Trouble in Mind”
Ruth Negga, “Macbeth”
Deirdre O’Connell, “Dana H.”
Mary-Louise Parker, “How I Learned to Drive”

Deirdre O'Connell in “Dana H.” Deirdre O'Connell in “Dana H.” Credit: Craig Schwartz

Best Leading Actor in a Play

Simon Russell Beale, “The Lehman Trilogy”
Adam Godley, “The Lehman Trilogy”
Adrian Lester, “The Lehman Trilogy”
David Morse, “How I Learned to Drive”
Sam Rockwell, “American Buffalo”
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Lackawanna Blues” 
David Threlfall, “Hangmen”

Best Leading Actress in a Musical

Sharon D. Clarke, “Caroline, or Change”
Carmen Cusack, “Flying Over Sunset”
Sutton Foster, “The Music Man”
Joaquina Kalukango, “Paradise Square”
Mare Winningham, “Girl From the North Country”

Best Leading Actor in a Musical

Billy Crystal, “Mr. Saturday Night”
Myles Frost, “MJ: The Musical”
Hugh Jackman, “The Music Man”
Rob McClure, “Mrs. Doubtfire”
Jaquel Spivey, “A Strange Loop”

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Uzo Aduba, “Clyde’s”
Rachel Dratch, “POTUS, or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive”
Kenita R. Miller, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
Phylicia Rashad, “Skeleton Crew”
Julie White, “POTUS, or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive”
Kara Young, “Clyde’s”

Best Featured Actor in a Play

Alfie Allen, “Hangmen”
Chuck Cooper, “Trouble in Mind”
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, “Take Me Out”
Ron Cephas Jones, “Clyde’s”
Michael Oberholtzer, “Take Me Out”
Jesse Williams, “Take Me Out”

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Jeannette Bayardelle, “Girl From the North Country”
Shoshana Bean, “Mr. Saturday Night”
Jayne Houdyshell, “The Music Man”
L Morgan Lee, “A Strange Loop”
Patti LuPone, “Company”
Jennifer Simard, “Company”

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Matt Doyle, “Company”
Sidney DuPont, “Paradise Square”
Jared Grimes, “Funny Girl”
John-Andrew Morrison, “A Strange Loop”
A.J. Shively, “Paradise Square”

Best Original Score

“Flying Over Sunset” (Music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Michael Korie)
“Mr. Saturday Night” (Music by Jason Robert Brown, lyrics by Amanda Green)
“Paradise Square” (Music by Jason Howland and Larry Kirwan, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare)
“Six: The Musical” (Music and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss)
“A Strange Loop” (Music and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson)

Best Book of a Musical

Conor McPherson, “Girl From the North Country”
Lynn Nottage, “MJ: The Musical”
Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babloo Mandel, “Mr. Saturday Night”
Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas, and Larry Kirwan, “Paradise Square”
Michael R. Jackson, “A Strange Loop”

Best Orchestrations

David Cullen, “Company”
Tom Curran, “Six: The Musical”
Simon Hale, “Girl From the North Country”
Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, “MJ: The Musical”
Charlie Rosen, “A Strange Loop”

Best Choreography

Camille A. Brown, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
Warren Carlyle, “The Music Man”
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, “Six: The Musical”
Bill T. Jones, “Paradise Square”
Christopher Wheeldon, “MJ: The Musical”

MJ the Musical“MJ the Musical” Credit: Matthew Murphy

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Brackett, “A Strange Loop”
Marianne Elliott, “Company”
Conor McPherson, “Girl From the North Country”
Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, “Six: The Musical”
Christopher Wheeldon, “MJ: The Musical”

Best Direction of a Play

Lileana Blain-Cruz, “The Skin of Our Teeth”
Camille A. Brown, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
Sam Mendes, “The Lehman Trilogy”
Neil Pepe, “American Buffalo”
Les Waters, “Dana H.”

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Simon Baker, “Girl From the North Country”
Paul Gatehouse, “Six: The Musical”
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, “Company”
Drew Levy, “A Strange Loop”
Gareth Owen, “MJ: The Musical”

Best Sound Design of a Play

Justin Ellington, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
Mikhail Fiksel, “Dana H.”
Palmer Hefferan, “The Skin of Our Teeth”
Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, “The Lehman Trilogy”
Mikaal Sulaiman, “Macbeth”

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Neil Austin, “Company”
Tim Deiling, “Six: The Musical”
Donald Holder, “Paradise Square”
Natasha Katz, “MJ: The Musical”
Bradley King, “Flying Over Sunset”
Jen Schriever, “A Strange Loop”

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Joshua Carr, “Hangmen”
Jiyoun Chang, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
Jon Clark, “The Lehman Trilogy”
Jane Cox, “Macbeth”
Yi Zhao, “The Skin of Our Teeth”

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Fly Davis, “Caroline, or Change”
Toni-Leslie James, “Paradise Square”
William Ivey Long, “Diana: The Musical”
Santo Loquasto, “The Music Man”
Gabriella Slade, “Six: The Musical”
Paul Tazewell, “MJ: The Musical”

Best Costume Design of a Play

Montana Levi Blanco, “The Skin of Our Teeth”
Sarafina Bush, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
Emilio Sosa, “Trouble in Mind”
Jane Greenwood, “Plaza Suite”
Jennifer Moeller, “Clyde’s” 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions, “Flying Over Sunset”
Bunny Christie, “Company”
Arnulfo Maldonado, “A Strange Loop”
Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini, “MJ: The Musical”
Allen Moyer, “Paradise Square”

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Beowulf Boritt, “POTUS, or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive”
Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong, “Skeleton Crew”
Es Devlin, “The Lehman Trilogy”
Anna Fleischle, “Hangmen”
Scott Pask, “American Buffalo”
Adam Rigg, “The Skin of Our Teeth”