Tony Awards 2017: Oslo Best Play; August Wilson’s Jitney Best Revival

August Wilson’s Jitney, the story of gypsy cab drivers in 1970s Pittsburgh, was named best revival play, and Oslo, a drama about the Oslo Peace Accords, was picked as the best new play at the 2017 Tony Awards.

The smash hit Hello, Dolly! earned best musical revival. The show has earned critical raves for Bette Midler’s star turn as a matchmaker.

Kevin Kline won best actor in a play  for his work as an aging matinee idol in “Present Laughter.” Kline, who has won two previous statues, used his time at the podium to plug the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, two organizations that are facing funding threats from the Trump administration and Republicans in congress.

Politics are looming large at this year’s show, with nominees and presenters wearing ribbons on their lapels in support of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, causes that have become focal points of the ongoing culture wars. It’s also popped up in speeches. Cynthia Nixon, honored as best featured actress in a play for her work as an emotionally abused woman in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” praised people engaged in political resistance. She said the play,  the story of a rapacious and morally bankrupt family trying to get rich, is “eerily prescient.” Without naming him directly, Nixon seemed to be referencing Donald Trump and the new president’s controversial tenure.

 “80 years ago [Hellman] wrote, ‘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,’” said Nixon. “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.”

Rebecca Taichman, who picked up a best play directing award for “Indecent,” Paula Vogel’s look at an obscenity case that led to arrests, also drew parallels with that story and the divisive political moment.

“This is a story about love in perilous times and about speaking out when and making art…when one is at great danger,” said Taichman.

The awards also aired as the Public Theater was being hit with sponsor defections for its Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar.” The show has a Trump-like Caesar being assassinated — a provocative creative decision that led Delta and Bank of America to pull their support.

Laurie Metcalf nabbed best actress in a play for “A Doll’s House, Part 2” after three previous nominations. Best known for her work on “Roseanne,” Metcalf competed against several major stars. The likes of Cate Blanchett (“The Present”), Sally Field (“The Glass Menagerie”), and Laura Linney (“The Little Foxes”) were also nominated in the category.

In a surprise as Michael Aronov won a best featured actor in a play award for his work in “Oslo” over the heavily favored Danny DeVito (“The Price”). Aronov plays an Israeli Foreign Ministry enlisted to help with negotiations with the Palestinians.

Gavin Creel took home his first Tony Award after two previous nominations, picking up best featured actor in a musical for “Hello, Dolly!” Creel plays Cornelius Hackl, a clerk visiting the big city. Rachel Bay Jones picked up a best featured actress in a musical award for “Dear Evan Hansen” and thanked her grandmother for selling her engagement ring to support her dream of moving to New York.

The Tonys Awards are always a niche affair, honoring the newer Broadway shows that haven’t yet had the chance to cultivate a national profile like long runners such as “The Phantom of the Opera” or “Wicked.” This season, with no “Hamilton” to give the proceedings a jolt of pop-culture currency, the telecast’s opening number embraced its inner theater geek with a comic medley of songs drawn from the four new musical nominees, a sequence that recalled the best-picture montages with which Oscar hosts like Billy Crystal have opened that show.

Kevin Spacey71st Annual Tony Awards, Arrivals, New York, USA - 11 Jun 2017

To tunes from musicals including “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Groundhog Day,” emcee Kevin Spacey made an ongoing joke of his last-resort emcee status in a lineup of well-liked Tony hosts that has included Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris and (last year) James Corden. Making a determined effort to show off the actor’s stage chops, the segment had him singing rewritten excerpts from each of the four nominated musicals and, by the end of it, tapdancing in top hat and tails. He used the number to crack jokes about mean tweets and the Tonys’ historically low ratings. There were also cameo appearance from Stephen Colbert, whose late night show airs on CBS, the network broadcasting the awards show, as well as hosting recidivists Whoopi Goldberg and Crystal.

Spacey joked that Broadway’s busy, eclectic 2016-17 season addressed themes like divorce, infidelity, suicide, greed, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  “We are in for such a fun night tonight,” he said.

“Hello Dolly!,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” are among the plays and musicals that are hoping to be crowned winners at the Tony Awards. Unlike last year when “Hamilton” dominated the annual celebration of Broadway’s best, this year’s edition kicks off without a clear front-runner.

“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” leads the pack with 12 Tony nominations, but it is not expected to take home the top prize.

Instead, “Dear Evan Hansen,” a look at the aftermath of a high school suicide, and “Come From Away,” the story of a small town in Newfoundland that welcomed travelers stranded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, are seen as the most likely best musical winners. “Dear Evan Hansen” has nine nominations and “Come From Away” nabbed seven.

“Dear Evan Hansen” won best score for Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the composing team behind “La La Land.” Steven Levenson picked up a statue for best book, continuing the show’s hot run at the Tonys.

The best new play race includes Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” which has a Pulitzer Prize on its mantle, along with J.T. Rogers’ “Oslo,” Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” and Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” Best play revival nominees include “The Little Foxes,” “Jitney,” “Six Degrees of Separation,” and “Present Laughter.”

There are a number of notable actors who will be adding some star power to Sunday’s show. Cate Blanchett, Kevin Kline, Josh Groban, Laura Linney, and Sally Field are among the big names up for Tonys.

The night’s initial performance from a nominated musical — and pride of place in the earliest moments of the show — went to an ensemble number from “Come From Away” that made no secret of the story’s links to the terror attacks of 9/11. As a de-facto national TV ad for the production and its upcoming road tour, it also effectively answered the question of how the show could address the topic sensitively in the context of a feel-good musical.

Next up came a high-drama medley from “Miss Saigon,” a love story set in the Vietnam War, that spotlighted the work of lead actress nominee Eva Noblezada. Representing “Dead Evan Hansen,” Ben Platt sang “Waving Through a Window,” the surprisingly catchy signature number about loneliness and social anxiety.

One of the top questions of the night — when will lead actress in a musical frontrunner Bette Midler show up, and will she end up singing after all? — was answered halfway through the telecast. After David Hyde Pierce performed “Penny in My Pocket” from “Hello, Dolly!,” the nominated musical revival in which he stars with Midler, she emerged to present the lead actress in a play award.

Though musical segments tend to be considered the highlight of the ceremony, the Tonys are always wrestling with the best way to showcase plays — especially so this season, when new plays have proven especially numerous. This year, the Tonys solved the problem by bringing out the nominated playwrights themselves — including Pulitzer winners Nottage and Vogel — to give quick recaps of their shows.