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2020 Tony Award winners speeches roundup

September 27, 2021 by Gillian Russo
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The 74th annual Tony Awards were nothing short of emotional. After 18 months away from Broadway, shows are reopening, and the stars of the 2019-20 season were able to gather again and celebrate their work.

Their words for the Broadway community were joyful, somber, and urgent — sometimes all at once — and we’ve rounded up quotes from some of the most memorable speeches. If you missed the broadcast, you can also check out our roundup of highlights from the ceremony.

Audra McDonald
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Audra McDonald speaks onstage during the 74th Annual Tony Awards at Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Audra McDonald, Tony Awards host

McDonald did not win an award, but her opening speech is worthy of inclusion. “I have always thought of the Tonys as Broadway’s prom night, but tonight feels like homecoming.” She also gave a little Broadway history, recalling the 1975 awards, the last ceremony held in the Winter Garden and the night The Wiz won seven Tonys. “Broadway is back, and it must, and it will, be better.”

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David Alan Grier, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, A Soldier’s Play

“Audra! I finally won one of these too!” Accepting his first Tony 40 years into his career, Grier gave a lighthearted speech, saying to director Kenny Leon: “I don’t know if I was the first called or the last called, brother, but I’m just glad you called!” He then closed out his speech with a joyful joke: “And to the other nominees: Tough bananas, I won!”

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Danny Burstein, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Burstein, also accepting his first Tony Award, gave a tribute to his wife, Rebecca Luker, who died of ALS last year. He thanked the Broadway community at large for their support: “You all showed up for us. You were there for us, whether you just sent a note or sent your love, sent your prayers, sent bagels, it meant the world to us, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

David Byrne
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: David Byrne performs a song from “American Utopia” onstage during the 74th Annual Tony Awards at Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

David Byrne, Special Award, David Byrne’s American Utopia

Byrne’s theatrical concert is unlike most Broadway fare, but he celebrated its unprecedented success, saying bringing the show to Broadway “was a big risk but proved to be a good risk.”

Peter Hylenski
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Peter Hylenski accepts the award for Best Sound Design of a Musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” onstage during the 74th Annual Tony Awards at Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Peter Hylenski, Best Sound Design of a Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Hylenski shared a universal sentiment in his speech, that he never expected to experience a world without theatre, and winning the award reaffirmed how important it is to him. “The past 560 days have been a reminder of how much I cherish this.”

Sonya Tayeh
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Sonya Tayeh accepts the award for Best Choreography for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” onstage during the 74th Annual Tony Awards at Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Sonya Tayeh, Best Choreography, Moulin Rouge! The Musical

“As we study ourselves again, I hope we can remember what art collectively brings us. It welcomes. As a brown, queer, Arab American woman, I wasn’t always welcomed.” While joyous, Tayeh also called for the theatre to welcome even more female artists. “It has been 10 years since a woman won this award,” Tayeh reminded the audience in her speech. “Though I am honored to be a part of this legacy, this legacy is too small.”

Britton Smith
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Britton Smith accepts a Special Tony Award on behalf of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition onstage during the 74th Annual Tony Awards at Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Britton Smith, Special Award, Broadway Advocacy Coalition

“Beyond costumes and glamour and design was pain we are not seeing,” Smith said, speaking to the driving force behind BAC’s work to support people of color working on Broadway. He spoke to the power of not just BAC, but the whole Broadway community gathered at the ceremony, to join in the work: “I’ve been thinking about power and change and where it comes from and it is here, it is in this room right here.”

Stephen Daldry, Best Direction of a Play, The Inheritance

Daldry paid tribute to those lost to the “pandemic that is still with us, AIDS.” He said of them, “I would also just take a moment to thank all of those young men who are ghosts in our play, representing the many tens of thousands of people who died in the city.”

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Aaron Tveit, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Tveit had a speech written out — it’s almost like he knew he’d win or something! He began by wishing a happy birthday to his manager and went on to thank his family and “friends who have come to see me in every show I’ve ever done anywhere.” By the end of his speech, he was choked up thanking Bernie Telsey, Jack O’Brien, Michael Grief, and more: “a group of people who many years ago took a chance on me.”

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Mary-Louise Parker, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, The Sound Inside

Parker teared up before she even began her speech, but not even from winning: “I am still crying from Jennifer,” she began, referring to Jennifer Holliday’s Dreamgirls performance. She went on to give a special thanks to her fellow nominee, Laura Linney: “You’ve been such an incredible friend to me.”

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Adrienne Warren, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

Warren continued the love for Holliday, thanking her for getting Warren her first Equity card. Her speech went from funny to emotional on a dime as she thanked a long list of people, among them her family: “I lost three family members while playing Tina, and I dedicate this to my uncle Charles, my uncle Randall, and my granny. I miss you every day.” She ended with a call for change in the industry: “The world has been screaming for us to change.”

Kenny Leon
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Kenny Leon accepts the award for Best Revival of a Play for “A Soldier’s Play” during the 74th Annual Tony Awards at Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Kenny Leon, Best Direction of a Play, A Soldier’s Play

Leon began his speech somberly, recalling the loss of the past year that coincided with the play. “Breonna Taylor. Breonna Taylor. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. George Floyd. George Floyd. We will never, ever forget you. We opened A Soldier’s Play the same week we lost Kobe Bryant and his beautiful daughter, Gigi. All lives are precious.” He ended on a more hopeful note, encouraging young Black students and speaking to the importance of diverse voices: “When we hear all of the stories, we are better.”

The Inheritance, Best Play

Producer Tom Kirdahy honored those lost to AIDS and Covid-19 as well as his late husband, playwright Terrence McNally, who died of the latter last year. Matthew Lopez, who wrote The Inheritance, then took the mic to pay tribute to Ian Forster; McNally, who he called a “spiritual godfather”; and Miguel Pinero, the first Puerto Rican playwright to be produced on Broadway. “I wouldn’t be standing here tonight if it weren’t for the lives of three queer men.”

Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Best Musical

Producer Carmen Pavlovic said, “On a historic moment, historic night such as this, it feels a little odd to me to be talking about one show as best musical. I feel that every show of last season deserves to be thought of as the best musical. The shows that opened, the shows that closed, not to return, the shows that nearly opened, and of course, the shows that paused and are fortunate enough to be reborn.”