Yale News

At this year’s Tony Awards, five Yale Alumni took home an award. 

The Tony Awards — which aired on Sept. 26 — have been held annually since 1947, and actors, directors and others involved in the theater community recognize the year’s best work in live Broadway theatre. This year’s ceremony was held in the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City with hosts Leslie Odom Jr. — known for his role in the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and “Respect” actress Audra McDonald. There were many nominations, including familiar names such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Jane Alexander. Among the winners were five Yale Alumni from the David Geffen School of Drama, or YSD: Derek McLane DRA ’84, Andrew Burnap DRA ‘16, David Alan Grier DRA ’81, Alex Timbers DRA ’01 and Catherine Zuber DRA ’84.

“I am thrilled that so many of this year’s nominees and winners are current faculty and alumni who attended the School decades apart,” YSD professor James Bundy said. “Because of COVID-19, they waited a long time for such deserved recognition, and their creativity is inspiring to our community and the field.”

The awards consist of a variety of prize categories, separated into 26 competitive awards and four special discretionary awards. The competitive awards include Best Play, Best Musical, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Director of a Play and Best Performance of a Leading Actress in a Play. The special discretionary awards specifically commemorate a longstanding commitment to the theater world. 

McLane, who won an award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical for “Moulin Rouge/The Musical,” talked about the “joyous” feeling of winning, particularly after experiencing the setbacks in the theater world due to COVID-19. He explained that at the start of the pandemic, artists did not expect live performances to be shut down for more than a month. When performance venues remained closed for over 18 months, they began facing financial difficulties.

“It really becomes an existential crisis after a while — somebody like myself who spent 40 years working in this business wonders, is it over? Do I need to find a new profession?” McLane said.

According to McLane, the timing of the Tonys was “particularly sweet.” Since the Tony Awards took place two days after Moulin Rouge’s reopening performance on Sept. 24, the production team felt both the joys of reopening the show after 18 months and being honored with 10 Tony awards, including Best Musical.

“For me, that was the biggest treat of all.” McLane said. “It wasn’t just for me — it was all of my colleagues on the show. And that was such a joyous night.”

“Moulin Rouge” follows the suspenseful love story between a young Englishman and a singer at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris. McLane’s set is both large and grand, defining a different theme for every scene. The opening stage is fit with a giant heart — a detail meant to make the audience feel like they are transported to the heart of Paris, France, which is also known as the “City of Love.”

Burnap, who won Best Actor in Leading Role in a Play for “The Inheritance,” took home his first Tony Award this year.

“The Inheritance” follows the story of a multi-generational group of gay men whose stories become intertwined. The play is separated into two parts, each of which are approximately three hours long. The play follows themes of sexuality, the effects of the AIDS crisis, companionship and love. Burnap plays writer Tony Darling.

“Tony Darling is a lot of things, and boring is not one of them,” Burnap said. “[Performing] ranged from being the most thrilling experience to unbearably frustrating. Doing the play for almost three years, eight times a week was the most physically and emotionally demanding thing I have ever experienced. I didn’t have much of a personal life outside of [performing] every night. But the reward of meeting audience members and hearing their stories made everything worth it. I will never forget them.”

Many other nominees were once students at the drama school, including Jeremy O’ Harris DRA ‘19 for Best Play for “Slave Play”, and Emily Rebholz DRA ‘06 for Best Costume Design of a Musical for “Jagged Little Pill.” 

Grace Zandarski, an assistant professor adjunct of acting who has been teaching at Yale since 2002, said that the faculty feels sincere pride in having taught such talented members of the theater community.

“This year’s awards were a reminder of the last time audiences were able to come together to share air and experience complex stories of the human condition before pandemic isolation limited us to the small screen,” Zandarski said. “The David Geffen School of Drama’s mission is ‘to train and advance leaders in the practice of every theatrical discipline making art to inspire joy, empathy and understanding in the world.’ To see so many Yale alums across our programs nominated and awarded Tonys was also a celebration of the strength, depth and breadth of our training, our community and the stories these artists want to tell.”

The Tony Awards can be watched virtually on Paramount +.

Ruth Lee covers Film and Literature for the Arts Desk, as well as writes for the Weekend and records for the Podcask Desk. From New York City, Ruth is a freshman in Timothy Dwight college, majoring in History and English.