Darren Criss and Julianne Hough kicked off the four-hour Tony Award celebrations at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night, handing out mostly design awards exclusively on the streaming Paramount+.
Criss opened the telecast with the original song, "Set the Stage," as he and Hough energetically danced up ladders, on laundry hampers and in sliding theater seats to celebrate the artists who keep theater alive.
The first award of the night — for best score — went to "Six: The Musical," with music and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Marlow is the first out nonbinary composer-lyricist to win a Tony.
Criss and Hough have an hour to hand out a total of eight technical awards for things such as best lighting and sound design, along with best score, orchestrations and choreography. They will then pass hosting duties to Ariana DeBose for the main three-hour telecast on CBS and Paramount+ from the same stage, live coast to coast for the first time.
The season — with 34 new productions — represents a full return to theaters after nearly two years of a pandemic-mandated shutdown. At the last Tonys nine months ago, the winners were pulled from just 18 eligible plays and musicals, and many of the competitive categories were depleted.
DeBose, the Tony-nominated theater veteran and freshly minted Oscar winner for "West Side Story," said Broadway is due for a party.
"I feel like if there was ever the time, the time is now," she said. "I think it's a triumph to have simply made it to this point, to have made art and to have a show."
The telecast will have performances from this year's Tony Award-nominated musicals, including "A Strange Loop," "Company," "Girl from the North Country," "MJ," "Mr. Saturday Night," "Music Man," "Paradise Square" and "Six." The original cast members of the 2007 Tony-winning musical "Spring Awakening" will also reteam and perform.
"A Strange Loop," a theater meta-journey about a playwright writing a musical, goes into the show with a leading 11 Tony nominations. Right behind with 10 nominations each is "MJ," a bio musical of the King of Pop stuffed with his biggest hits, and "Paradise Square," a musical about Irish immigrants and Black Americans jostling to survive in New York City around the time of the Civil War.
Front-runners for best actress in a musical are Sharon D Clarke from the revival of "Caroline, or Change" and Joaquina Kalukango of "Paradise Square." The best actor in a musical may come down to Jaquel Spivey from "A Strange Loop" versus Myles Frost as the King of Pop in "MJ the Musical."
"The Lehman Trilogy," Stefano Massini's play spanning 150 years about what led to the collapse of financial giant Lehman Brothers, is the leading best new play contender, while David Morse in a revival of Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive" is the leading contender as best actor in a play. His co-star, Mary-Louise Parker, could become the first actor to receive consecutive Tonys for best actress in a play.