Hamilton is so 2016. This year’s Tony Awards was dominated by a high school senior named Evan Hansen, a Great Comet, and a stage and screen legend winning her first Tony. But enough about Laurie Metcalf; Bette Midler also nabbed her first competitive statue (she was previously awarded a special Tony in 1974) for the revival of Hello, Dolly, making tickets for this blockbuster show even scarcer. And although she didn’t perform at the Tonys, the Beaches star scored a showstopping moment when she stared down an orchestra that tried, and failed, to play her off. That one moment probably scored more cheers and applause than any of the comedy bits that host Kevin Spacey contributed. Here’s Yahoo TV’s look back at the highs and lows of the 71st Annual Tony Awards.
Best: Kevin Spacey’s Opening Number
The House of Cards star knew he wasn’t the first choice to host this year’s ceremony. (The actual first choice? Tina Fey, per backstage scuttlebutt, who watched her replacement from the audience.) Still, Spacey took his also-ran status in stride, making it the subject of an amusing kick-off production number that incorporated medleys from all four Tony-nominated musicals and ended with a big dance routine that left Spacey winded, but smiling. While he may not have James Corden’s range or stamina, he’d be a solid understudy for Dear Evan Hansen‘s Ben Platt.
Worst: Kevin Spacey’s Host Patter
Unfortunately, that opening medley seemed to sap Spacey’s energy for the rest of the night. Most of his between-segments bits — like trotting out his Johnny Carson impression or riffing with Chazz Palminteri about a Usual Suspects musical — fell flat, and it was genuinely uncomfortable watching him crack “But her emails!” jokes as Bill Clinton. The only gag that connected came at the very end of the evening, when he trotted out as Frank Underwood, with a silent Robin Wright and Michael Kelly in tow.
Best: Rachel Bloom, Backstage Reporter
If Spacey had a little bit of trouble feigning enthusiasm onstage, off in the wings, Rachel Bloom was clearly having the time of her life cracking jokes about tiny hats and chatting with Tony winners as they passed by her. Next year, let’s just go ahead and make the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star, who writes and performs Broadway-level tunes week in and week out on her brilliant CW musical comedy series (both seasons are streaming on Netflix, people — watch it already!), the evening’s host.
Best: No Do-Overs
With the memory of Oscar night’s “It’s La La Land, no it’s Moonlight” fiasco still fresh in everyone’s heads, each presenter seemed to take a pronounced pause before reading the winner’s name off the card they’d been handed lest they pull a Dunaway. And you can bet that the Grant Thornton accountants backstage were on a strictly enforced Twitter blackout.
Worst: Abbreviating James Earl Jones
Why would we need to hear Lifetime Achievement in the Theater recipient James Earl Jones’s acceptance speech in full? I mean, c’mon — he’s only a two-time Tony winner who has also voiced some of the most memorable characters in moviedom, from Darth Vader to Mufasa. Look, obviously the Tony producers have to make hard choices about what makes the live telecast, but I think we can all collectively agree that we would have easily traded Spacey’s Johnny Carson impression for the opportunity to hear Jones’s entire speech.
Best: Let’s Hear It for (and Hear From) the Playwrights
Taking advantage of the fact that each of the nominees for Best Play was written by a playwright making his or her Broadway debut, the telecast’s producers invited each writer to briefly discuss their work with the audience. It was a vital reminder that all great works of drama begin with a writer staring at a blank page.
Hello, Dolly was the night’s big winner among musical revivals, but in terms of televised production numbers, Falsettos provided the best showcase for its terrific cast. Of course, Dolly was hampered by Bette Midler’s apparent decision to not perform, requiring co-star David Hyde Pierce to ably anchor an enjoyable but not transporting solo number.
Worst: Groundhog Day
The Groundhog Day musical is, of course, based on a beloved Bill Murray comedy, but you’d never guess that based on the maudlin, not at all funny song the cast chose to perform. Worse still, that number appeared to be one of the last songs in the show, giving viewers at home little incentive to seek out a story they already know the ending of thanks to the movie, and now the Tonys as well.
Best: Nick Kroll and John Mulaney
The Oh, Hello duo may have appeared sans old-age makeup to introduce a randomly integrated Rockettes performance, but they still brought their comedy A-game and had the audience cracking up. Remind us, why didn’t they get the call about the hosting gig after Tina Fey turned it down?
Worst: Too Little Diversity
Helped in large part by Hamilton, last year’s Tonys became one for the history books when all four musical acting awards went to performers of color. This year, though, every acting award — in both the musical and play categories — was handed to a white actor. Lin-Manuel Miranda can’t do this all by himself, folks.
Best: Stephen Colbert Stays On Message
Most of the evening’s presenters and winners chose to take the high road when it came to political messaging, making their feelings clear by endorsing arts organizations and expressing sentiments of acceptance rather than calling out a certain president by name. So it fell to reigning late-night champ Stephen Colbert to explicitly invoke the T word when he took the stage, indulging in some of the crowd-pleasing political commentary that’s made his Late Show a resurgent hit.
Worst: Too Little Great Comet Love
With 12 nominations to its (lengthy) name, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 was the most-lauded show of the Tonys heading into the ceremony. Unfortunately, it ended the night with only two statues, for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design. On the other hand, The Great Comet‘s raucous ensemble performance — which spilled over into the audience — proved to be one of the show’s musical highlights, which can only help boost ticket sales to meteoric heights.
Best: Nobody Puts Bette Midler in a Corner
Only an Oscar shy of EGOT status, Midler lived up to her larger-than-life offstage persona when she dueled with the orchestra playing the “get off the stage” music … and won. The Hello, Dolly star kept right on thanking people right through the play-off music, until the conductor finally just gave up and let her finish speaking. From a distance, it sure looked like she was having a grand old time.
Best: Dear Evan Hansen
It became pretty clear, pretty early on in the night that the Tony-mentum was with Pasek & Paul’s acclaimed musical about a high school student wrestling with his social-anxiety disorder. The rousing musical performance, coupled with star Ben Platt’s charming acceptance speech for Best Actor, only served to illustrate why this show has become a genuine Broadway phenomenon.