NEW YORK — The American, grown-up musical “The Band’s Visit” outmuscled the acclaimed and sprawling British import “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” for the most Tony Awards on Sunday, capturing 10 statuettes, including best musical.
Based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name about an Egyptian band that goes to the wrong Israeli town, it won the prestigious best new musical trophy, and among its other winners were two Chicago area natives: director David Cromer and lead actress Katrina Lenk.
It was the first nomination for Cromer, who grew up in Skokie and won acclaim and multiple local awards during his long run working in local theater.
A key character is haunted by a loved one’s suicide, and Cromer used his speech to make a plea to those whose “despair is overwhelming their hope.” Acknowledging that he lacked “the words or the wisdom” to fully address the issue, he spoke out nonetheless.
“If you are suffering, please, please call out,” Cromer said. “For those of us fortunate enough not be be suffering so deeply, please be sure we answer them.”
Lenk, who plays the Israeli town’s cafe owner, was born in Chicago and is a Northwestern University grad.
“Every moment of work on ‘The Band’s Visit’ is a privilege and a thrill, and it fills my stupid little heart with so much joy,” Lenk said. “And this moment ain’t so bad either.”
Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Laurie Metcalf, who last year won the first Tony Award of her three-decade-plus career in theater, won another on Sunday as featured actress in a play for her work in a revival of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.”
In a brief acceptance speech focused solely on the play and her fellow nominees, Metcalf dedicated the prize to “Women” director Joe Mantello, who “figured out what the script was in the rehearsal room and then taught it to me.”
“Three Tall Women” co-star Glenda Jackson added to her impressive resume with a Tony Award for best actress in a play.
“The Band’s Visit” also won statuettes for leading man Tony Shalhoub, orchestration, sound design, best book and score, lighting and featured actor Ari’el Stachel, who gave a heartfelt speech about his past.
“For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person,” he said, addressing his parents in the audience. He thanked the creators of the show “for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time that we need that more than ever.”
The two-part spectacle “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” captured six awards, including best play, book, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and director for John Tiffany, who asked the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to his boyfriend. They obliged.
Though “SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical” and “Mean Girls” had topped all rivals with 12 nominations each, “SpongeBob” (which had its pre-Broadway premiere in Chicago last summer) came away with only an award for scenic design. “Mean Girls,” written by Second City alum Tina Fey and based on her 2004 movie set in Evanston, was totally shut out.
A British revival of “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s monumental, two-part drama about AIDS, life and love during the 1980s, grabbed three big awards, including best play revival and acting trophies for Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane.
Kushner took the stage and pointed out there were 21 weeks until the midterm elections in the United States: “Twenty-one weeks to save our democracy, to heal our country and to heal our planet.”
Garfield won his first Tony, for best leading actor in a play, dedicating the win to the LGBTQ community, who he said fought and died for the right to love. He said the play is a rejection of bigotry, shame and oppression.
“We are all sacred and we all belong,” Garfield said. He then referenced last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled in favor of a baker’s right to deny a gay couple a wedding cake based on his beliefs.
“[Let’s] just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked,” he said, to rousing applause. Lane, who won for best featured actor in a play, said “Angels” still speaks to society in the midst of “political insanity.”
In one of the ceremony’s most mesmerizing moments, Melody Herzfeld, the heroic drama teacher who nurtured many of the young people demanding change following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was honored from the Tony Award stage.
Herzfeld, the one-woman drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was cheered by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Herzfeld saved 65 lives by barricading students into a small classroom closet on Valentine’s Day when police say a former student went on a school rampage, killing 17 people.
She then later encouraged many of her pupils to lead the nationwide movement for gun reform. Members of Herzfeld’s drama department took the Tony stage to serenade her with “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”
Billy Joel gave his friend Bruce Springsteen a special Tony Award. “This is deeply appreciated, and thanks for making me feel so welcome on your block,” The Boss said. Later, Springsteen performed “My Hometown” on the piano from his sold-out one-man show, “Springsteen on Broadway.” (De Niro, who took the stage to introduce Springsteen’s performance, started off with an expletive directed at President Donald Trump, which garnered him a sustained standing ovation from the crowd.)
Co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles kicked the show off with a self-parodying duet on piano for all the losers out there — including them.
Neither Bareilles nor Groban have won a Grammy or a Tony despite selling millions of albums and appearing on Broadway. They turned that into a playful song. “Let’s not forget that 90 percent of us leave empty-handed tonight. So this is for the people who lose/Most of us have been in your shoes,” they sang in the upbeat opening number.
The revival of “Carousel” won two awards — choreography and for Lindsay Mendez, who won best featured actress in a musical. She accepted in tears, recounting that when she moved to New York, she was told to change her last name to Matthews or she wouldn’t work. She said she was happy to be in a production that “celebrates diversity and individuality.” To all artists out there, she said: “Just be your true self and the world will take note.”
One of the show highlights was the lively performance by the cast of “Once on This Island” that included a sand-filled beach, real water and a goat. Onstage guests were volunteers and staffers from three organizations that bring relief to areas impacted by natural disasters. The show went on to win best musical revival, beating “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel.”
Contributing: Darel Jevens