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'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' Dominated The Tony Awards


After a long delay, the 74th Annual Tony Awards were finally handed out last night. The big winners included "Moulin Rouge!" for best musical, "The Inheritance" for best play and "A Soldier's Play" for best revival. Jeff Lunden covers theater for us. He's here to tell us all about this year's awards. Jeff, before we get to the winners, Broadway's return has been a big story itself lately. What was the vibe at the Tony Awards this year?

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: It was very upbeat, and there were a lot of stars. And they definitely hit that Broadway's-back theme. Here's host Leslie Odom Jr. singing the opening number.


LESLIE ODOM JR: (Singing) Now, we got to ask that you wear that mask until everything feels right 'cause it's no great labor to care about your neighbor when Broadway's back tonight.

LUNDEN: You can hear there it's a celebration of reopening but with a nod to safety.

MARTÍNEZ: Working in wearing masks in a song - that is talent. All right, so big performances, lots of nostalgia - I keep hearing that the Tony Awards are really different this year. Can you explain why?

LUNDEN: Well, when Broadway shut down, there were only 18 shows eligible for nominations, so the pool was only about half its normal size, which made for some unusual choices. Now, none of the three candidates for best musical had an original score. "Jagged Little Pill" uses songs by Alanis Morissette. "Tina" uses songs Tina Turner made famous. And the winner, "Moulin Rouge!" uses over 70 pop songs. But probably the strangest category was best actor in a musical. Aaron Tveit for "Moulin Rouge!" was the only person eligible.

MARTÍNEZ: The only person. So I got to ask - I mean, did he win?

LUNDEN: He did.

MARTÍNEZ: Good, good.


MARTÍNEZ: I mean, could you imagine if he hadn't won? What about some of the other winners?

LUNDEN: The big winner was "Moulin Rouge!" with 10 awards. It's a lavish show based on the Baz Luhrmann film. And in something of an upset, "The Inheritance" - a two-part epic play by Matthew Lopez about two generations of gay men dealing with AIDS - won best play. Lopez noted he was the first Latino to win. Many people were predicting that "Slave Play," Jeremy O. Harris' provocative look at interracial relationships, would win. He was up for a record 12 awards and didn't get a single one. On the other hand, everyone predicted Adrienne Warren would win for best actress in a musical, and she did. She gave a breakout performance as Tina Turner and recreated it for the ceremony.


ADRIENNE WARREN: (Singing) Simply the best, better than all the rest.

MARTÍNEZ: That's pretty close. I mean, if I hadn't had known - that is Tina Turner. My goodness. All right, any other highlights?

LUNDEN: Well, Danny Burstein, on his seventh nomination, finally won for best featured actor in a musical. He's had a terrible year. He was hospitalized with COVID and lost his wife to ALS. Here's a bit of his speech when he won the award.


DANNY BURSTEIN: You all showed up for us. You were there for us. Whether you just sent a note or sent your love, sent your prayers, sent bagels - it meant the world to us.

LUNDEN: And there was a lot of talk about racial justice on Broadway. When "A Soldier's Play" won its Tony, Director Kenny Leon made the point very forcefully.


KENNY LEON: No disrespect to Shakespeare, no diss to Ibsen, to Chekhov - they're all at the table. But the table got to be bigger.

LUNDEN: For me, probably the best moment was Jennifer Holliday recreating her performance from "Dreamgirls." I think we have some of that to play us out.


JENNIFER HOLLIDAY: (Singing) And I am telling you...

MARTÍNEZ: That's reporter Jeff Lunden, who went out and broke a leg for us. Jeff, thanks a lot.

LUNDEN: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.