NEW YORK, NY.-
The Broadway season that just ended, the first since the pandemic shutdown, will be remembered for many reasons the persistence of COVID, the death of Stephen Sondheim, the dwindled tourism and the indispensable understudies. It was a season for renewed appreciation: of song and storytelling and shared experiences, of a beloved art form and a rebounding industry. And it was a season that featured an extraordinary volume of work by Black artists, catalyzed by the social unrest of 2020. The 2022 Tony Awards, which take place Sunday, offer an opportunity to honor some of Broadways best work; in anticipation of that event, we photographed and interviewed many of the performers, and a few of the writers, directors and choreographers, nominated for awards.
Ruth Negga: Ive always wanted to be an actress, since I was a really young kid. I just love stories in all shape and form. And for me, theres a whole different draw: Theres an aspect of the performer, the peacock something kind of lovely about being looked at; at the same time Im quite shy in my normal life, so thats an interesting dichotomy.
Rachel Dratch: People really, really want to laugh. The laughs are like hyperlaughs. Maybe thats pandemic-flavored. Obviously, Ive done a lot of comedies, but this one you can just feel the cackles coming off the audience. I think its because people have been shut in for so long.
Julie White: All the lady shows were all keeping our clothes on. Its the boys that are taking them off. I feel like thats a step in the right direction.
TAKE ME OUT
Jesse Williams: Im making discoveries every day. Its really liberating. Its incredibly stressful. And its a lot of pressure.
Michael Oberholtzer: This is something that I never really thought about, and its kind of all I ever thought about at the same time. Not so much the Tonys, but to be in a position to have an opportunity to be in a play, in a production that is seen by people, that excites people, thats talked about.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I decided at the age of 5 I was going to become an actor or a baker or a zookeeper. My dad reminded me that zookeepers were going to have to pick up lots of poop, and so then I narrowed it down to the baker and the actor, and the acting just seemed more fun. So it was a very early decision, and Im glad it panned out.
Alfie Allen: I was going to be a snowboard instructor at one point if the acting didnt work out. Came back from getting that qualification, and then I got a part in a film.
Joaquina Kalukango: Theres hope in community. Theres hope in love. Theres hope for this country. And I think the more we see the things that are alike within us, the less we see the differences.
A.J. Shively: Theres 40 of us in this cast. To sing in a big group like that, which has been unsafe for a long time, it feels wonderful. That first rehearsal back when we all sang together, we were all just crying.
Sidney DuPont: Im hoping that by me being in this space and by doing what Im doing, that I can inspire young Black boys and men and inspire young hearing-impaired people to believe that they can do it that theres nothing, nothing that can get in your way as long as you push for it.
Deirdre OConnell: Because everything had stopped so radically, it felt like there was a real wide-open spirit to the way people were going to the theater.
Jared Grimes: I started dancing in the subways. We would set up the board, and we would just dance.
Patti LuPone on Sondheim: To experience any of Steves work is to realize what a human is capable of. He is complex, deeply human, nuanced and daring. He dares to write about every aspect of the human condition with a deeply beating heart.
Jennifer Simard: Thank God Stephen actually came to the first preview. It was like a rock concert. He adored it, and he laughed from his head to his toes.
Matt Doyle: The first preview back was just so magnificent and overwhelming. And to have Stephen Sondheim sitting there with us, its a night that I will never forget.
THE MUSIC MAN
Hugh Jackman: I get bored of myself. I think thats why I like acting. With acting, you get to have complete freedom to do all sorts of things.
Sutton Foster: The pandemic was crazy. I remember when the theater shut down, and all of a sudden you realize, Wait a minute, what I do for a living just doesnt exist right now. I dont think anyone plans for that.
Jayne Houdyshell: It feels like a big privilege to be part of the group of people that have come together to make Broadway reopen and do it as safely as possible.
FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/ WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF
Camille A. Brown (nominated as director and choreographer): I didnt grow up during the internet, so we went to the library, and we got videos of our favorite musicals, and we would watch them over and over again and the dance sequences, and I would learn them.
Kenita R. Miller: I get this tribe of sisters that have shown me what it really means to be a sister.
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE
Mary-Louise Parker: We all have darkness. We all have things we need to be forgiven for. And I think that is something kind of important to remember.
Paula Vogel (nominated as playwright): I didnt think the play would ever be produced. I didnt think Id ever find actors who could do it. I thought I was going to be judged and condemned for writing it. I realized I shouldnt be afraid of telling the truth.
David Morse: Just living in a world right now where judgment of other people comes quickly, and its severe. And what Paula wrote, it doesnt allow you to do that. It just opens you up.
A STRANGE LOOP
Michael R. Jackson (nominated as book and score writer): Im a writer because I have questions, and I have things that scare me, and the only way for me to get over my fears is to confront them directly.
Jaquel Spivey: I grew up watching movie musicals. I was obsessed with them. Dreamgirls, the movie: As soon as I saw Jennifer Hudson singing, I thought I want to do that!
L Morgan Lee: In many ways, I feel like it took the world to turn upside down for me to start to find some sense of visibility.
John-Andrew Morrison: When I first moved to this city, and I would be auditioning, I would hear things like Oh, your pearls are falling out of your mouth, or Youre not thug enough. So to be able to be in a show where I can be as queer and as flamboyant and as gay and as big as I possibly can be, and its not only needed but celebrated, is amazing.
MR. SATURDAY NIGHT
Billy Crystal: People are starved for entertainment, and you look out, and theyre all masked, and yet theyre laughing as hard as they can, and were getting the same energy we would get. Its so important that people get entertained and we get some sort of semblance of normal life. This show has been very healing for all of us in a lot of different ways.
Shoshana Bean: The first night that we had an audience and heard that laughter en masse: Its a drug. Its crazy.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson: There was a lot of trepidation and a lot of second-guessing. I wasnt sure if one person would show up. But one of the things I discovered is people need theater as bad as we need people to need theater. Human beings need to do what is innate in us, and thats to be social creatures and to have shared experiences with one another.
Myles Frost: What I cherish the absolute most is getting here the journey that it took even before I hit the stage the first time, and learning myself, learning more about Michael, meeting my castmates for the first time. Its little moments like that that stick out to me the most.
Christopher Wheeldon (nominated as director and choreographer): The last few months have been filled with highs and lows and a lot of fear, just around whether we could actually get up and get running, keep our cast on the stage, get our audiences in the door. I have learned a lot about my capacity to handle fear as an artist, and also, like the rest of the world, as a human being, and actually to find the best ways that I can to turn that fear into some positive and creative energy.
Uzo Aduba: Its exciting to be a part of the thing that people are craving, which is community. Theater has always served as something that is more than just entertainment, but in this time, even more than in the past, it feels like a healing. Some days, when the curtain will come up, Im not even sure theyre applauding the show. A layer of this feels like its for another need.
Kara Young: I have to admit that I really was very eager to work. And because this was the cards that were dealt, I really hugged this moment with all of myself.
CLYDES and MJ
Lynn Nottage (nominated as playwright for Clydes and book writer for MJ): I feel very proud to be part of a season in which weve had more representation by Black writers than in the history of, probably, Broadway in its entirety.
Phylicia Rashad: Theater is always bumpy. That is nothing new. But it was great to be back in the theater.
Sam Rockwell: Its come back in such a big, big way. And we were shut down two years ago. I think thats why its really exciting.
TROUBLE IN MIND
LaChanze: We need more stories that are showing the diversity in our community, not just the broad strokes.
Chuck Cooper: I just hope that those who made it into our little theater and were able to go on our journey with us, I hope that they left the theater moved and thinking and curious.
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY
Mare Winningham: Ive learned that marinating in a role is really good.
Rob McClure: When I was 15, I saw a community theater production of Sweeney Todd that changed me, and by that, I mean my DNA. I went into that theater as one person, and I left that theater a different person. It was a magic trick that I didnt know existed. And then I discovered that I could provide that magic trick for other people. And thats why I act.
THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH
Lileana Blain-Cruz (nominated as director): When a piece of theater is good and I feel like everybody is struggling and reaching for that you walk out of the theater feeling more alive. And for me, wrestling with what it means to be alive is the eternal question.
Gabby Beans: This character is completely free. She has no boundaries or self-consciousness. So I feel like inhabiting that energy has made me just expand as a person.
Tracy Letts (nominated as a playwright): Ive never felt more camaraderie with my fellow theater artists. This does not feel like a competition to me, these Tony Awards. It feels like a celebration getting to return to our art form.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times