From De Niro's F-bomb to Rachel Bloom vs. Neil Patrick Harris: Highs and lows of the 2018 Tony Awards

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Bruce Springsteen performs at the 72nd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in New York City. (Photo: Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)

The Band’s Visit, the Boy Who Lived (aka Harry Potter), and Bruce Springsteen were the big winners at the 72nd annual Tony Awards, the annual celebration of Broadway’s best and brightest musicals and plays. But real life trumped art when school shooting survivors honored their teacher with a moving performance from Rent, and Robert De Niro took the stage with a headline-generating message for Donald Trump. Here are some of the highs and lows from this year’s ceremony.

High: Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban > Kevin Spacey
Last year, Tony producers reportedly struggled to book a host, winding up with Kevin Spacey at the 11th hour — a choice everyone involved would now prefer to forget … and not just because the deposed House of Cards star and stage veteran earned withering reviews. This time around, they smartly tapped a pair of theater/awards show novices whose likability factor (and stellar voices) more than compensated for their lack of extensive Broadway experience. Opening the show with a witty duet about “the people who lose,” Bareilles and Groban kept the jokes — and tunes — flowing all night long. They didn’t get to take a trophy home either, but as far as we’re concerned, they’ve earned a repeat hosting gig whenever they want it.

Co-hosts Sara Bareilles, left, and Josh Groban at the 2018 Tony Awards. (Photo: AP)

High: Robert De Niro drops the f-bomb
Never one to mince words, the legendary Taxi Driver star prefaced his Springsteen introduction with a profane message directed at the current POTUS. Although his statement was bleeped by CBS, the sentiment behind it came through loud and clear. Not surprisingly, he earned some of his best reviews since Silver Linings Playbook.

High: The Boss abides
Lavish production numbers are the Tonys’ bread and butter, but this year’s most anticipated performance was one dude alone at his piano. But that’s to be expected when the dude is Springsteen. The star of the Great White Way’s hottest ticket, Springsteen on Broadway, lived up to his rock icon reputation, telling a story about his much-mythologized early years before breaking into a spellbinding rendition of “My Hometown.” It was, in a word, totally boss.

Low: These Mean Girls wasn’t so fetch
Tina Fey’s adaptation of her own 2004 feature film finished the night with a big “L” on its forehead, going home without a single win among its 12 nominations. And based on the peppy, but underwhelming musical number we saw performed, we can’t say we’re entirely surprised by the shutout. Better luck with the inevitable Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt musical, Tina!

High: Love for Rent
High school theater can be a steppingstone to the Tonys, but a group of fortunate students didn’t have to wait to live out their Broadway dreams. After Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama teacher, Melody Herzfeld, was honored with a theater education prize for sheltering pupils during the tragic shooting that terrorized her Parkland, Fla., school, she was serenaded by some of those same kids. Performing “Seasons of Love” from the 1996 musical Rent, the teenagers brought the house down, winning an honor even greater than a Tony: a head nod from Springsteen.

High: Rachel Bloom schools Neil Patrick Harris via Twitter
As the Tony Awards designated backstage reporter, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star — and musical theater wunderkind — Bloom was having a grand old time in the Radio City wings, wearing a series of funny hats and chatting up Broadway’s finest. Apparently, she was having too grand a time for former Tony host, Neil Patrick Harris. Midway through the show, the actor tweeted: “Who is the woman in the top hat backstage at @TheTonyAwards?” Bloom wasted little time telling him exactly who she was. “We’ve met numerous times,” she replied on Twitter, pointing out that her husband, Dan Gregor, wrote several episodes of Harris’s long-running sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. It’s an online clapback that’s already legen — wait for it — dary.

Harris didn’t stop his Twitter trolling there, aiming another barb at none other than the Boss. The actor speculated why Springsteen received a Tony despite using a Teleprompter for his shows, when former Glee star Alex Newell Āoncè–currently playing Asaka in Once on this Island, which emerged as the surprise, but well-deserving victor in the Best Revival of a Musical category–didn’t even merit a nomination.

Another theater fan explained that Springsteen’s award was a special statue and took a moment to harrumph about the use of microphones in contemporary Broadway shows. Rather than backing down, Harris doubled down on his critique of Springsteen.

Guess NPH isn’t planning on scoring house seats to Springsteen on Broadway anytime soon.

Low: Stop this Carousel, we want to get off
A trio of powerhouse women — Jesse Mueller, Renée Fleming, and Lindsay Mendez — headline the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical, all three of whom received Tony nominations, with Mendez winning a statue for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. So why did they choose to perform a musical number that featured precisely none of those actresses? Instead, we were treated to the male-dominated seafaring song, “Blow High, Blow Low,” one of the show’s least interesting numbers.

High: Laurie Metcalf makes up for her Lady Bird loss
In what must have been a photo finish, Lady Bird scene-stealer Laurie Metcalf lost the Best Supporting Actress statue at this year’s Oscars to I, Tonya powerhouse, Allison Janney. Broadway voters clapped back at their big-screen brethren, handing the actress her second consecutive Tony for her featured role in Three Tall Women. Consider it hazard pay for surviving the solitary season of the now-canceled Roseanne.

Laurie Metcalf, left, kisses presenter Carey Mulligan as she accepts the award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Edward Albee ‘s Three Tall Women at the 72nd annual Tony Awards. (Photo: Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)

High: Soaring with the Angels in America
The acclaimed revival of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking play regularly leaves audiences in tears, and star Nathan Lane couldn’t hold back the waterworks either. Accepting his statue for Best Featured Actor in a Play, the actor broke down while thanking his husband, Devlin Elliott, and how being part of Angels in America allowed him to reinvent his career. Earlier in the evening, Lane’s co-star (and former Spider-Man), Andrew Garfield, shared equally moving sentiments after winning the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Play. Dedicating his awards to the “countless LGBTQ people who have fought and died,” Garfield connected the play to real-world headlines: “Let’s just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked.”

Low: He got played (off)
Where’s a Time-Turner when you need one? While celebrating their victory for Best Play, the producers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — which took home six Tonys overall — tried to give playwright Jack Thorne his moment in the spotlight, mentioning how he became a father during the course of penning the play. But just as Thorne made his way to the microphone, the orchestra started to play and the cameras panned away, signifying that his moment had already passed. Was a Dementor in charge of the show or something?

High: A musical that’s not so square
It’s easy to roll your eyes at the notion of a SpongeBob SquarePants musical, with flesh-and-blood actors standing in for the show’s animated aquatic creatures. But if the waves of stellar reviews didn’t already convince you otherwise, Team SpongeBob proved themselves to be more than a cash grab in their showcase number: a catchy song-and-dance routine that proved four legs are better than two.

High: And the band played on
Like the 2007 film that inspired it, The Band’s Visit — the story of an Arab musical ensemble temporarily stranded in an Israeli desert town — proved to be the little musical that could, winning 10 Tonys, including Best Musical, as well as statues for its stars, Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub. Accepting his award, the Lebanese-American actor spoke movingly of his family’s own immigrant experience in the early 20th century, noting their “aspirations and their courage.” Earlier in the evening, Shaloub’s co-star, Ari’el Stachel, also got personal while accepting his statue for Featured Actor in a Musical, revealing that he used to hide his Middle Eastern heritage for fear of prejudice. Meanwhile, Lenk’s performance of the musical’s standout song “Omar Sharif” rivaled Springsteen’s in its haunting beauty.

Watch: How Itamar Moses brought the script of The Band’s Visit to life: