The Best and Worst of the Tony Awards 2018

Posted June 11, 2018 6:48 p.m. EDT

Here’s a look at the most memorable moments — for better or for worse — of the 2018 Tony Awards, compiled by our chief theater critics, Ben Brantley and Jesse Green; the editor and reporter Joshua Barone; and the theater editor Scott Heller. As Brantley put it on Sunday night, “This is the best advertisement for theater on network television in a long time, if not ever.”

Best: Love for the Losers

The disarming opening number by hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles — in which they joked about never winning awards themselves — beautifully balanced modesty and affection for performing and set the tone for the evening. Their double piano act was a sendup of their own mainstream mellifluousness, self-satirizing and sentimental all at once.

Worst: No Love for the Writers

The people who are actually most fundamental to the creation of the works the Tonys honor were the most ruthlessly sidelined on the broadcast itself. That David Yazbek created the best score of the year for “The Band’s Visit” went unnoticed by television audiences. And Jack Thorne, who wrote “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” never got to speak from the stage. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda noticed, urging “Justice for @JackThorne” on Twitter.

Best: The Personal as Political

The show rose to a strained moment in American history with warmth, grace and a vindication of theater’s special skill for bringing people together.

Ari’el Stachel, a surprise winner as best supporting actor for his performance in “The Band’s Visit,” spoke movingly about the power of living one’s ethnic identity honestly onstage. His castmate Tony Shalhoub, accepting a Tony as best actor in a musical, spoke of his father’s arrival at Ellis Island (from Lebanon) 100 years ago.

The politics were personal, mediated by a love of theater. There was no greater example than watching the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students sing “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.”

Worst? Best? Calling Out the President

The one discordant note was also the note people are still talking about: Robert De Niro’s expletive-dotted castigation of President Donald Trump, delivered before introducing Bruce Springsteen’s performance. Late in the show, it blew the lid off a slowly simmering pot, and brought down the house.

Best: Doing It Her Way (of Course)

Accepting her prize as best actress, the ever-flinty 82-year-old Glenda Jackson referred to her director Joe Mantello as John. She went on to praise him for being a “worthy opponent” in the rehearsal room.

Worst: Doing It His Way (Unapologetically)

The “Cursed Child” director, John Tiffany, asked the whole audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to his boyfriend. Even on television, you could see the birthday boy turn a deep shade of beet. (Tiffany’s postshow defense: “When else am I going to get the chance to get all of Radio City to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my boyfriend? Wouldn’t you do that?”)

Best: Sticking to a Song

It’s good when shows choose to represent themselves for their truest and most important qualities, rather than simply patch together catchy moments. “Carousel” opted not to do a medley or even a well-known song, instead staging the rousing dance number “Blow High, Blow Low.” And “Omar Sharif,” from “The Band’s Visit,” was a gorgeous showing of a gorgeous song, and beautifully shot — with enough close-ups of both performers to get the emotion past the TV screen.

Worst: C’mon, It’s Lifetime Achievement!

When Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep received their lifetime achievement awards at the Golden Globes, they gave long, headline-making speeches. At the Tonys, Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber got a shared montage with three-second snippets of their greatest hits. They deserved more, and better.

Best: The Last Word

Off camera, Rivera’s remarks were delicious, and she ended with a promise: “There’s still some salt left in this shaker!”