Stage and screen veteran Lois Smith, a Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member, won her first Tony Award on Sunday for her brief but memorable performance in “The Inheritance.”
At 90, she is the oldest person ever to win a Tony for acting, according to the New York Times.
In “The Inheritance,” Smith plays a major featured role that doesn’t appear onstage until late in the play’s two-show, seven-hour running time. Matthew Lopez’s epic, the winner of the best play Tony, uses “Howards End” as a starting point for a play that looks at gay life in the early 21st century
In her acceptance speech, Smith said, “There’s a famous two-word message from ‘Howards End,’ which is so apt, I think, tonight for all of us who are here celebrating the importance, the functions, of live theater: ‘Only connect.’ ”
“The Inheritance” ran on Broadway from September 2019 and March 2020. Smith played a role originated by Vanessa Redgrave in the show’s premiere in London.
This was Smith’s third Tony nomination. Her first came in 1990 for work as Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath,” an acclaimed production directed by Frank Galati that originated at Steppenwolf in Chicago.
She joined the Steppenwolf ensemble in 1993.
Another Steppenwolf production, of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” earned Smith her second nomination after its Broadway transfer in 1996.
Smith’s movie career dates back to 1955, which she made her film debut in the classic “East of Eden.” Her later credits included “Five Easy Pieces,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Lady Bird.”
Two other artists with local roots were honored for their work on “Jagged Little Pill,” based on Alanis Morissette’s 1995 breakthrough album.
Lauren Patten from Downers Grove won the featured actress in a musical Tony, and Lemont native Diablo Cody was honored for writing the show’s book.
The most lauded show of the evening was “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a jukebox adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s hyperactive 2001 movie, whose 10 awards included best musical and a featured acting Tony for Broadway favorite Danny Burstein.
In a surprise to no one, Aaron Tveit won the award for best leading actor in a musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” That’s because he was the only person nominated in the category. He thanked a long list of people, including his parents, brother, agents, manager and the cast and crew. “We are so privileged to get to do this,” he said, tearing up. “Because what we do changes peoples’ lives.”
Burstein, who won for featured actor in a musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” thanked the Broadway community for supporting him after the death last year of his wife, Rebecca Luker. “A Soldier’s Play” won best play revival, and cast member David Alan Grier won featured actor in a play. “To my other nominees: Tough banana, I won,” he said.
Adrienne Warren won the Tony for best leading actress in a musical for her electric turn as Tina Turner in “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.” Warren, a one-woman fireball of energy and exhilaration, was considered the front-runner. She dedicated the win to three family members she lost while playing Turner — and thanked Turner herself.
Mary-Louise Parker took home her second best actress Tony Award, winning for playing a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with in “The Sound Inside.” She thanked the dog she was walking in the rain when she bumped into Mandy Greenfield from the Williamstown Theatre Festival, who told her about the play.
“A Christmas Carol” cleaned up with five technical awards: scenic design of a play, costumes, lighting, sound design and score. No one from the production was on hand to accept any of the awards.
Stephen Daldry now has a trio of Tonys for directing. He won Sunday for helming “The Inheritance,” and leading man Andrew Burnap also was a winner for his Broadway debut. He thanked his mom and the University of Rhode Island and joked that he felt grateful because “I got to act for seven hours.”