ABOVE: Tony Shalhoub and Katrina Lenk, both 2018 Tony winners, in a scene from the winning best musical The Band’s Visit. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

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The Band’s Visit and Harry Potter win big at Broadway’s 2018 honors, respectively outpacing the splashier musicals and the less splashy plays.

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THE MOST MOVING MOMENT of the 2018 Tony awards telecast came about 9:15 Sunday night, when drama students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took the stage to sing about friendship, struggle and life in “Seasons of Love” from Rent. Broadway’s best, dressed to the nines in New York’s Radio City Music Hall, teared up, then gave the group a loud and extended standing ovation.

Moments earlier, their teacher Melody Herzfeld had been recognized with a special Tony for Excellence in Theater Education. She sheltered and saved 65 students on Feb. 14, when a gunman killed 17 and wounded 17 at the school in Parkland, Fla. Since then, the drama kids have led prominent protests and ignited a movement for gun safety all across the country.

The second-biggest talking point in living rooms and on social media? What did Robert De Niro say that got him so very bleeped? De Niro was onstage to introduce a Bruce Springsteen performance but began by connecting a couple of F-bombs to a certain sitting president. The audience roared and applauded raucously. The internet blew up.

Affable hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles.

Sara Bareilles (who wrote the score and eventually joined the cast of Waitress) and Josh Groban (The Great Comet is his only Broadway credit) turned out to be nimble and likable hosts, laughing at themselves, and others, and keeping the three-hour event moving forward.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2, topped all play nominees with six wins (out of 10 nominations), including best play. It’s based on a new Harry Potter story written by Jack Thorne, J. K. Rowling and John Tiffany and is performed in repertory. The story begins 19 years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry is married and has three children, the youngest of which grapples with the family legacy.

The Band’s Visit, a smaller show about an Egyptian police band stranded and taken in by Israeli locals, won 10 of the 11 Tonys for which it was nominated, including best musical. It easily bested its bigger, splashier competitors, all based on Hollywood movies.

Bye, bye, SpongeBob SquarePants, Frozen and Mean Girls, see you all on the road? All three are likely to tour and may show up at the Fox Theatre in the next few years. Look too, perhaps, for the revivals of Carousel and My Fair Lady and, eventually, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  It’s not a musical, but it likely has enough wizardry magic and name recognition to pull in an audience.

By choosing The Band’s Visit, voters might have been sending a message about what’s called the “Disneyfication” of Broadway, the trend toward bigger, fluffier musicals that throw a lot of money and glitter on the stage but lack an emotional core. We’ll see. The most recent Broadway season set box-office records but lacked the cachet of a Hamilton (2016) or the heart of a Fun Home (2015) or Dear Evan Hansen (2017).

From “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”: Adult versions of Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni, left), Harry Potter (Jamie Parker) and Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley). Photo: Manuel Harlan

Tony voters did the same with Fun Home (cast of nine) and Dear Evan Hansen  (cast of eight, with a multitude of prerecorded voices). The Band’s Visit is a 14-actor musical. On the flip side, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a 40-person play, which is quite rare.

A total of 33 productions opened on Broadway in the 2017/18 season, the smallest number in more than a decade, according to Playbill.com, which tracks such things. The Tonys, which recognize excellence on Broadway, began in 1947 and are named for Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing.

A few noncompetitive honorees were announced before the telecast and given the briefest of prerecorded moments: composer/producer Andrew Lloyd Webber and legendary performer Chita Rivera (West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Nine, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) received Lifetime Achievement awards; the Nederlander Organization’s Nick Scandalios received the Volunteerism Award for his work as an advocate for gay parents and their children; and New York Times theater photographer Sara Krulwich, costume beader Bessie Nelson and Ernest Winzer Cleaners, a 100-year-old business that specializes in costume work, were honored for excellence.

Special Tony Award winners: theater photographer Sara Krulwich (from left), Chita Rivera, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Florida teacher Melody Herzfeld. Krulwich photo by Walter McBride / Getty Images.

 La MaMa Etc., the 57-year-old New York-based experimental theater company, won the Regional Tony Award, the same award that Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre won in 2007.

Here are the results of the competitive categories. The winners are highlighted.

Best leading actor / musical

Winner: Tony Shalhoub in The Band’s Visit. His first Tony. He was nominated for Golden Boy in 2013 and Act One in 2014.

Other nominees:

Best featured actor / musical

Winner: Ari’el Stachel in The Band’s Visit. Broadway debut.

Other nominees:

Best direction / play

Winner: John Tiffany for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Other nominees:

  • Marianne Elliott for Angels in America
  • Joe Mantello for Three Tall Women
  • Patrick Marber for Travesties
  • George C. Wolfe for The Iceman Cometh

Best direction / musical

Winner: David Cromer for The Band’s Visit

Other nominees:

  • Michael Arden for Once on This Island
  • Tina Landau for SpongeBob SquarePants
  • Casey Nicholaw for Mean Girls
  • Bartlett Sher for My Fair Lady

Best choreography

Winner: Justin Peck for Carousel in his Broadway debut as a choreographer. Peck, 30, choreographs and dances with New York City Ballet.

Other nominees:

  • Christopher Gattelli for My Fair Lady
  • Christopher Gattelli for SpongeBob SquarePants
  • Steven Hoggett for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  • Casey Nicholaw for Mean Girls

Best lighting design / musical

Winner: Tyler Micoleau for The Band’s Visit. Broadway debut.

Other nominees:

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s editor, is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

View all posts by Kathy Janich