- - Monday, June 12, 2017

The 71st Tony Awards ceremony was predicted to be a horse race in the musical categories, but it turned out to be dominated by “Dear Evan Hanson,” the show about a high school student whose world is turned upside-down in the wake of a classmate’s death. And what seemed like slam dunks in other categories proved to be complete surprises — unlike the “Hamilton” juggernaut sweep of last year.

Host Kevin Spacey kept the show moving at a brisk pace, and offered a self-deprecating poke at being the last choice for the evening’s MC. Mr. Spacey, who plays the sociopathic President Frank Underwood on the District-set Netflix series “House of Cards,” is typically an intense actor on stage and screen, but Sunday night he took himself anything but seriously, integrating himself into numbers from the nominated musicals and ending the evening with a graceful tap dance.

Ben Platt, the winner for best actor in a musical for “Dear Evan Hansen,” didn’t lose the chance to preach to the “Snapchat generation.” “The things that make you strange make you powerful,” Mr. Platt, also a veteran of the “Pitch Perfect” films, said from the dais when presented his trophy.

Family and teachers took center stage in acceptance speeches. Andy Blankenbuehler dedicated his award of best choreography in a musical for “Bandstand” to his grandfather, and proudly displayed his grandfather’s war tags in homage.

Gavin Creel, winner of best featured actor in a musical for “Hello Dolly,” thanked his alma mater, the University of Michigan. His advice to aspiring actors now is to disconnect from phones and social media and learn to be “in the moment.” Mr. Creel said he was honored to come full circle by being presented with his award by Sutton Foster, with whom he starred in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” his Broadway debut.

It was expected that “Come From Away” and “Dear Evan Hansen” would be neck and neck in the main categories, but aside from Christopher Ashley winning best director for “Come From Away,” “Dear Evan Hanson” took home six awards, including best musical and best original score.

“Oslo,” written by J.T. Oslow about the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, took home best play as well as a statue for best supporting actor for Michael Aronov.

Rebecca Taichman was a surprise upset in the best director category, which she won for the show “Indecent.”

“It’s a story about love in a perilous time, and speaking out and making art when one is at great danger,” Ms. Taichman said of her unexpected win, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Laurie Metcalf won best actress for “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” while Oscar-winner Kevin Kline took home a leading actor Tony for “Present Laughter.” “Sex and the City” alumna Cynthia Nixon, who clearly enjoys returning to the theater, won featured actress for “The Little Foxes.” Miss Nixon related how co-star Laura Linney was the one to convince her to switch their roles in the show’s run.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, winners of best score for “Dear Evan Hanson,” find theater to be sacred ground. Coming off their Oscar win for “La La Land,” the duo said they were grateful to be back in the theater community again.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Pasek said the duo both interned for “Avenue Q” composer Jeff Marx at one point.

“He gave us a loan that allowed us to stay in New York,” Mr. Pasek said. “And we promised to pay him back if we ever had a show on Broadway.”

They said their message with “Dear Evan Hanson” is that a sense of isolation is temporary, and people can use that estranged feeling to their advantage and overcome obstacles in life.

For gratitude, no one topped best actress winner Bette Midler, who, at age 70, finally won her first competitive Tony for the revival of “Hello Dolly.”

“You truly do not see shows like this anymore, where there are characters to root for,” Miss Midler said. “Dolly Levi is such a pleasure to play, and Jerry Herman’s songs will live forever.”

Miss Midler dedicated her performance to Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey and all the other “Dollys” who came before her.

But when the orchestra tried to play her off the stage, Miss Midler continued speaking — at one point, even saying “shut that [music] off!” according to The Washington Post — and the audience witnessed an icon do what she does best.

It was her moment.

For the full list of winners, visit TonyAwards.com

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