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Top moments from the 2020 Tony Awards

September 27, 2021 by Gillian Russo
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The 2020 Tony Awards made history before they even began for actually taking place in 2021. When the pandemic cut the 2019-20 Broadway season short, Broadway’s biggest night was delayed, but in the midst of Broadway’s return, the Tony Awards ceremony finally took place on September 26 at the Winter Garden Theatre.

There was no shortage of celebration, singing, and outfits worthy of the Broadway stage. In case you missed the broadcast, read below about some of the night’s best moments, including performances, speeches, and more, and check out our roundup of the best speeches of the night.

Hairspray
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: (L-R) Darlene Love, Matthew Morrison, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Chester Gregory, and Kerry Butler perform 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)

The ceremony opened with “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

The original cast of Hairspray reminded us right away that Broadway can’t be stopped. Marissa Janet Winokur, Matthew Morrison, Kerry Butler, Chester Gregory, and Mary Bond Davis, kicked off the night with a nostalgic performance from the 2002 musical. Throwbacks were a theme of the night — Ali Stroker later performed “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line, and Jennifer Nettles (who is soon to star in Waitress) sang the title song from Anyone Can Whistle. The Hairspray number, though, got a timely update in the face of the nationwide racial reckoning, with one of the lyrics changed to “Tomorrow is a brand new day, and it sees both white and Black.”

Sheryl Lee Ralph
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Sheryl Lee Ralph 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)

The nostalgia continued with Dreamgirls.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, who originated the role of Deena Jones in the musical, acknowledged the 40th anniversary of Dreamgirls. She gave an extended speech about how the musical’s trailblazing legacy, as it featured three young Black female leads. Following her, her costar Jennifer Holliday stepped onstage, put her entire heart, body, and soul into what has become her signature song, “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,” and got a standing ovation for it. We are going to love, you, ladies, always and forever.

Danny Burstein
Danny Burstein in Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Danny Burstein won his first Tony.

Seventh time’s a charm! After being nominated six previous times, Burstein won his first Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance as Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. In a post-victory interview, he joked, “Everywhere I go, people are telling me, ‘Susan Lucci!’ I’m the Susan Lucci of the Tony Awards!'” At least it only took him 7 nominations to win and not 19. He was one of multiple long-career nominees winning for the first time, in addition to David Alan Grier (best featured actor in a play for A Soldier’s Play) and Lois Smith (Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Inheritance.)

Aaron Tveit
Aaron Tveit (left) in Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Aaron Tveit won unopposed.

Multiple first-time nominees, including Andrew Burnap and Lauren Patten, also became first-time winners at the 2020 awards. (Burnap and Patten won Best Leading Actor in a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Musical, respectively, for The Inheritance and Jagged Little Pill.) But perhaps the least surprising win is that of Tveit, the only nominee in the Best Leading Actor in a Musical category for playing Christian in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Sure, there was always a chance he wouldn’t get the votes … but truth, beauty, freedom, and love were on his side.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Moulin Rouge! The Musical was the biggest winner of the night.

The musical took home 10 awards, including Best Musical. Besides individual awards for Tveit and Burstein, the show also nearly swept the creative categories, winning for the costume, scenic, and lighting design as well as the orchestrations that made the “spectacular spectacular” so … well, spectacular!

Ruthie Ann Miles
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Ruthie Ann Miles 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)

Ruthie Ann Miles danced the polka.

She tweeted later in the night, “I want it known that @AudraEqualityMc DARED ME (and now owes me #fifty bucks) for doing THE #POLKA onto the stage.”

Lois Smith
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Lois Smith accepts the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for “The Inheritance” 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)

Lois Smith set a Tony Awards record.

She’s still got it! Smith played Margaret in The Inheritance and won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her efforts. She made her Broadway debut in 1952 as Joan in Time Out for Ginger, and nearly 70 years later, at 90 years old, she just became the oldest person to win a Tony for acting.

Lauren Patten
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Lauren Patten accepts the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for “Jagged Little Pill” 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)

The specter of Beetlejuice was present in the Winter Garden.

That is, sartorially. Best Featured Actress winner Lauren Patten donned a black-and-white-striped skirt, tie, and blazer that bore a striking resemblance to Alex Brightman’s stage costume. Diablo Cody’s black dress, hair, and eyeliner together evoked Lydia. And McDonald started the night in a white gown, later changing to a black ensemble, and then showing off a black AND white dress at the very end of the night. Perhaps future Tony ceremonies should be like the Met Gala, where there’s a yearly show-inspired theme that everyone must follow.

Lynn Nottage
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Lynn Nottage 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)

Lynn Nottage introduced the Broadway Advocacy Coalition.

Her scarlet ensemble, complete with matching headpiece, gave major Asaka from Once on This Island vibes. But more importantly, she presented a special Tony Award to the BAC, an organization of theatre professionals founded in 2016 to fight racism in the industry and create opportunities for people of color. Nottage spoke to the work BAC has done this past year fighting racism and police brutality in the public eye, and her introduction was followed by an inspiring and urgent speech on the issue by BAC co-founder Britton Smith.

Cyndi Lauper
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Wayne Brady and Cyndi Lauper speak 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)

Cyndi Lauper co-presented the Best Choreography award with Wayne Brady.

It’s the Kinky Boots reunion we never knew we needed!

Broadways Back
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Chita Rivera and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber speak 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)

Just, the entire Broadway’s Back! concert.

The concert, an event that set this year’s Tonys apart from any other featured a star-studded lineup of every kind of Broadway performance you can think of: solos to group numbers, classical to contemporary musicals, jubilant numbers to tender ballads. Storied talent like Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber were all under one roof.

Daniel J Watts
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Daniel J. Watts performs 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)

Daniel J. Watts led a spoken word performance.

In perhaps the most unique performance of the night, Watts delivered a monologue about the fight for change set to tap dancing. It was quietly powerful, with the most striking line being, “Tell me: what does your silence sound like?”

The “in memoriam” section was particularly poignant. The pandemic and the extra year between ceremonies meant that there were more people to honor in this section than usual. Harold Prince, Cicely Tyson, Nick Cordero, Jerry Herman, Terrence McNally, Adam Schlesinger, and Rebecca Luker were just some of the people Broadway remembered at the ceremony, underscored by ballads sung by Brian Stokes Mitchell, Norm Lewis, and Kelli O’Hara.

Audra McDonald
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell perform 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 knows she’s a star.

As the main ceremony was about to end and the Broadway’s Back! concert was about to begin, McDonald introduced the concert by teasing performances by “iconic duos from Wicked, Rent … and Ragtime.” McDonald herself starred in Ragtime alongside Brian Stokes Mitchell, and it was previously announced that they would perform a number from the show. And you know, when you’ve won more Tony Awards than any other actor, you deserve to call yourself iconic.

Wicked
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 26: Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel perform 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)

And yes, those duos were as iconic as advertised.

In the last few minutes of the joyous event, said duos came onstage to make everyone cry. Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel donned Wicked-esque pink and black dresses, respectively, for a “For Good” rendition. Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp kept the waterworks going with “What You Own” from Rent. McDonald and Mitchell closed out the night with “Wheels of a Dream,” a torch song of hope that tied together all the winners’, presenters’, and performers’ calls for a Broadway that’s better and brighter than ever.