People flipping to the Tony Awards on Sunday could be excused if they thought they had tuned in to a rerun — or at least a revival. The show featured stars, clad in their awards show finest, hurling barbs at President Trump.
Political statements have become as common this awards season as celebrity selfies. A Tribe Called Quest made a wall-busting political commentary at the Grammys, and Jimmy Kimmel’s attacks on Trump at the Oscars became more acidic as the show wore on. Broadway delivered a message to then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence and three standing ovations to Hillary Clinton.
On Sunday, it was the Tonys’ turn to show they still had an ax to grind against a president who once planned to gut the National Endowment for the Arts.
Leading the way was Stephen Colbert, the host of “The Late Show” who usually takes Sundays off. Instead, he donned a tux and presented the award for best revival — but spent most of his time opining on political theater instead.
“It’s been a great year for revivals in general, especially that one they revived down in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
“Couple problems. The main character is totally unbelievable, and the hair and makeup, yeesh. No. No. … This D.C. production is supposed to have a four-year run, but reviews have not been kind. Could close early. We don’t know. We don’t know.”
Before he ceded the stage, he took another jab at President Trump. One of the nominees for best revival was “Miss Saigon,” and he said the title character was “the only pageant girl whose dressing room our president hasn’t walked in on.”
Colbert’s criticism was the most overt, but others highlighted the need for the escapist nature of the arts, or the fighting spirit of people who were not on the stage.
Cynthia Nixon, who won best featured actress for her role in “Little Foxes,” chose to comment on “this specific moment in history”:
“There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it, and other people who just stand around and watch them do it. My love, my gratitude and my undying respect go out to all the people in 2017 who are refusing to just stand and watch them do it.”
Kevin Kline, while accepting the award for best performance by an actor in a leading role for “Present Laughter,” pointedly thanked the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, “a couple of organizations without whom probably half of the people in this room would not be here.”
Jill Biden, the former second lady of the United States, emerged as an unlikely star of the show.
Standing O as former VP Joe Biden and wife Jill are introduced in audience pic.twitter.com/9L17SOviGc
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) June 11, 2017
She received a long, standing ovation as she introduced a performance from “Bandstand,” as former vice president Joe Biden beamed from the audience.
But some opined that the thunderous applause wasn’t just for Jill Biden — it was nostalgia for days past.
I think we all know why Dr. Jill Biden is getting a rousing standing ovation for just walking out onto the stage. #tonyawards
— Jonathan Capehart (@CapehartJ) June 12, 2017
Bette Midler hinted at that in her playoff-music-ignoring speech while accepting the award for best lead actress in a musical — even though she limited her allusion to the political climate to just 14 words.
She encouraged people to come see her show, “Hello, Dolly,” because “this thing has the ability to lift your spirits in these terrible, terrible times.”
She got more political afterward, in statements to the media. She concluded: “Bette Midler for president.”