New York - The Tony Awards sank deep into underworld Sunday as "Hadestown" took home a leading eight statues and made Broadway history as the first production written and directed by women to win best musical.
"The Ferryman" picked up four awards including best play, but it was Anais Mitchell's folk-operatic reimagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth that led the night. Mitchell took home the Tony for score, while Rachel Chavkin, the lone woman in her category, won for direction of a musical.
"It's about keeping faith when you are made to feel alone, and that is how the power structures try to maintain control - by trying to make you feel like you're walking in the darkness, even when your partner is right behind you," she said, holding back tears. Chavkin called for more inclusion among Broadway's ranks of stage directors and critics, adding: "There are so many women who are ready to go, there are so many artists of color who are ready to go. ... It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job it is to imagine how the world could be."
Ali Stroker made history as the first performer who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony, taking home honors for featured actress in the reimagining of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" - which also took home the prize for musical revival.
"This award is for every kid who is watching tonight, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena," Stroker said after a standing ovation.
Despite speculation that Tonys producers would build a ramp from the Radio City Music Hall audience area to the stage for Stroker, the actress was positioned offstage when her category was announced. She rolled to the stage to give her acceptance speech, then headed to the media room where she said she hoped theater owners and producers would look into making their backstages more accessible for performers with disabilities.
Broadway veteran and sentimental favorite Andre De Shields, 73, won his first Tony for his featured performance in "Hadestown." Channeling his wise and godly character Hermes, the actor shared three pieces of advice in his acceptance speech: "One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing."
"Network" star Bryan Cranston beat Jeff Daniels and Adam Driver, among others, to win lead actor in a play.
"Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!" joked Cranston in his acceptance speech.
He dedicated his win "to all the real journalists around the world, in the print media and also broadcast media, who are actually in the line of fire in pursuit of the truth. The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people."
In the best play race, Jez Butterworth'sIreland-set epic "The Ferryman" beat out Heidi Schreck's dark horse "What the Constitution Means to Me," which ended the night empty-handed.
"The Ferryman" also picked up the award for direction. Sam Mendes, who is filming the next James Bond movie, shared his acceptance remarks via email: "It's a little bit bonkers trying to make theater on Broadway - to be dealing with something so fragile in such a rough-and-tumble environment," he said. "But when it works, it's like nowhere else in the world."
The star-studded staging of "The Boys in the Band," which producer Ryan Murphy is adapting for Netflix, won the award for play revival.
"I remember being a very, very young guy - 6 or 7, seeing 'Boys in the Band' on television - and it was the only thing that I had, the only group of gay men I had ever seen," he told reporters backstage. "I'm just excited about the evolution of that idea and bringing it to a new audience."
Elaine May scored a victory for lead actress for her performance in "The Waverly Garden," beating a packed field that included Annette Bening, Janet McTeer and Laurie Metcalf. "Ink" actor Bertie Carvel and "To Kill a Mockingbird" actress Celia Keenan-Bolger won for their featured performances.
James Corden, hosting the Tonys for the second time, sprinkled in crowd-pleasing pokes at how annoying it is when phones ring during shows, how expensive Broadway tickets have become and how low the industry's paychecks and the CBS telecast's ratings tend to be.
Performances are the center of any Tonys telecast, which doubles as a three-hour commercial for current Broadway offerings. Highlights this year included a hit parade by the cast of the jukebox musical "Ain't Too Proud," who showcased a bit of the Temptations catalog and Sergio Trujillo's Tony-winning choreography; a spirited performance of "Believe" from "The Cher Show," spotlighting a slew of Bob Mackie's Tony-winning costumes; and a "Tootsie" musical performance by lead actor Tony winner Santino Fontana, which featured lines from Robert Horn's Tony-winning book and a skilled quick-change for Fontana into the sparkling red gown made famous from the 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie.
The cast of "The Prom" drove home the show's themes of acceptance and inclusion with a same-sex kiss.
"When you love someone, you kiss them - it's not a big deal," actress Caitlin Kinnunen told the Los Angeles Times before onscreen moment. "Yes, there's always backlash from the people who think it's wrong and unacceptable, but there's also always 10 times the amount of people who say, 'Thank you, we feel seen and represented; this should be the norm.' It's been amazing the amount of love and support we get."