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5 Things to Know About This Year’s Tony Awards: The Audra and Heidi edition

1. Five letters: A-u-d-r-a.

If you have a 559 area code and a Playbill binder within a 10-yard radius, you can’t not watch tonight’s ceremonies (Sunday, Sept. 26). Audra McDonald, Fresno’s beloved Broadway star, co-hosts the Tony Awards this year with Leslie Odom Jr.

Also, for those keeping count, McDonald is up for a record seventh Tony for her role in the revival of the Terrence McNally play “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”

When she reaches No. 8, Fresno should name a freeway after her.

The New York Times has a good interview with McDonald and Odom Jr:

Neither revealed any details about the evening. Will McDonald sing? “It’s post-2020,” she said. “Expect anything at all times.” And Odom? “My first words were use me up,” he said. “However I can help — if it’s a pie to the face, or singing a ‘Hamilton’ tune, whatever is of use, ask and allow me.”

I’m ecstatic that McDonald, a former Good Company Players star, is hosting. It’s about time.

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2. There are two parts and two networks.

From Playbill:

McDonald emcees the awards portion of the evening, streaming on Paramount+ at 7 PM ET, while Odom Jr. hosts the live concert event, Broadway’s Back!, airing at 9 PM on CBS, Paramount+, and the CBS app.

Here’s a recap on “How to Watch the 74th Annual Tony Awards.” The biggest takeaway: You can sign up for a free weekly trial of Paramount+ if you want to watch the McDonald-hosted portion of the evening.

3. These Tonys are unusual.

For one thing, they’re being held in September instead of June. And because of COVID-19, there were far fewer musicals and plays eligible for nomination for this awards cycle — only half as many as in a regular season. Some people, no doubt, will dub these the Tony Awards with an Asterisk.

4. Very, very unusual.

Consider: Aaron Tveit of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is in a one-man race in the leading actor in a musical category, though, as the Times notes, “he could still lose if he fails to convince 60 percent of voters that he deserves a statuette.”

I don’t think that’s very likely. It’s golden-toned, emotional-heavyweight-champ, smoldering-in-“Schmigadoon” Aaron Tveit, for gosh sake.

5. Five more letters: H-e-i-d-i.

If you haven’t yet heard the news, another Fresno homegrown Broadway star is making headlines for a Tony-nominated show. From Variety:

Heidi Blickenstaff will join the cast of “Jagged Little Pill” when the acclaimed musical returns to Broadway this fall. She will play the lead role of Mary Jane Healy, stepping into the part during the maternity leave of Tony-nominated original star Elizabeth Stanley. Stanley will then return to the role of Mary Jane on a limited schedule beginning in November. She will share the role with Blickenstaff thereafter.

I’ve covered Blickenstaff off- and on-Broadway for well, it seems like forever — since “[title of show]”! — and I’m excited for her to step into such a high-profile role.

UPDATE: Hey, I’ve been reminded of another GCP veteran and New York theater pro who is up for a Tony this year! Justin Weatherby is a co-producer of the play “The Inheritance.” Congrats! I’ll be sure to be rooting for him in his category.


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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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