The 2023 Tony Awards made a powerful statement against antisemitism with the recognition of two prominent shows tackling the subject: the play “Leopoldstadt” and the musical revival “Parade.” These productions garnered multiple major Tony awards, and their honorees used their platform to highlight the interconnectedness of hatred and discrimination.
“Leopoldstadt,” written by Tom Stoppard, explores the story of a Viennese Jewish family spanning generations before and after the Holocaust. The play received four out of six nominations, including the coveted Best Play award. Brandon Uranowitz, the only member of the cast to receive an acting nomination, won the award for Featured Actor in a Play. In his acceptance speech, Uranowitz expressed gratitude to Stoppard for shedding light on antisemitism and the false promise of assimilation. He shared that members of his own family were victims of the Nazi regime in Poland. Ending his speech, Uranowitz urged parents to believe their children when they express their true identities, drawing attention to the importance of acceptance and support.
“Parade,” which tells the story of the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, an American Jew, won two awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. Alfred Uhry, the book writer for the original 1998 production, wore a Star of David lapel pin while accepting the award for Best Revival. During his speech, Michael Arden, the director of “Parade,” emphasized that the life of Leo Frank was tragically cut short due to the belief that one group of people is more or less valuable than another. He connected this core belief to antisemitism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of intolerance. Arden urged the audience to learn from the lessons of the show to prevent the repetition of historical horrors. He concluded his speech by expressing his support for trans and nonbinary youth, although his expletive was bleeped out during the telecast.
While “Parade” took home the top prize and Best Director of a Musical, its Jewish stars Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond did not win in their respective categories. However, they shared a poignant moment onstage, performing the “Parade” number “This Is Not Over Yet” in character as Leo Frank and his wife, Lucille.
Other Jewish moments during the Tony Awards included non-Jewish actor Sean Hayes winning Best Actor in a Play for his portrayal of Oscar Levant, a Jewish concert pianist and entertainer who struggled with mental illness. The evening also celebrated Jewish Broadway legends John Kander and Joel Grey, who received lifetime achievement awards. Miriam Silverman won the award for Featured Actress in a Play for her role in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” a revival of a Lorraine Hansberry play centered around a Jewish bohemian couple in 1960s Greenwich Village.
The Tony Awards showcased Jewish themes through performances as well. Lea Michele, although ineligible for a Tony, performed a signature tune from the show “Funny Girl,” about the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice. Additionally, the musical “A Beautiful Noise,” a biographical jukebox musical about Jewish pop crooner Neil Diamond, featured a performance of “Sweet Caroline” despite not receiving nominations. The audience enthusiastically sang along.
Lastly, the musical comedy “Shucked,” a show about corn, unexpectedly included a Jewish shoutout during their performance. In a song enumerating the various ways to enjoy corn, one of the lines humorously suggested bringing it to a bris, which garnered a response from the audience.
The 2023 Tony Awards served as a platform for highlighting the importance of combating antisemitism and promoting inclusivity, with Jewish themes and performers making significant contributions throughout the ceremony.
In addition to the powerful statements made about antisemitism and the celebration of Jewish themes and talent, the 2023 Tony Awards also honored other notable achievements in the world of Broadway.
The non-Jewish actor Sean Hayes, who won the Best Actor in a Play award for his portrayal of Oscar Levant in “Good Night, Oscar,” added a touch of humor to his acceptance speech by joking that it was the first time an Oscar had won a Tony. He praised Levant’s wit, irascibility, and virtuosity, highlighting his inspirational and unique qualities.
The evening also marked a significant milestone for Broadway legends John Kander and Joel Grey, who received lifetime achievement awards. Both Kander, at 96 years old, and Grey, at 91 years old, have made remarkable contributions to the world of theater. Grey’s daughter, Jennifer Grey, presented him with the honor, paying tribute to his extraordinary career. The pair’s collaboration on the iconic musical “Cabaret,” set in Weimar-era Germany, and Grey’s involvement in the successful Yiddish-language revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” exemplify their profound influence on Broadway.
Miriam Silverman, who won the Featured Actress in a Play award for her role in the revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” showcased the enduring relevance of Jewish storytelling on stage. The play explores the lives of a Jewish bohemian couple in 1960s Greenwich Village, shedding light on their experiences and challenges during that era.
Lea Michele’s performance of a signature tune from “Funny Girl,” a musical about the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice, added a nostalgic touch to the event. Although she was not eligible for a Tony due to stepping in for Beanie Feldstein, Michele’s rendition of the beloved song paid homage to the Jewish comedic legacy.
The inclusion of “A Beautiful Noise,” a musical centered around the Jewish pop crooner Neil Diamond, showcased the diversity of stories and voices represented on Broadway. Despite not receiving nominations, the production delighted the audience with a performance of the timeless hit “Sweet Caroline,” further highlighting the connection between music and cultural identity.
Even unexpected moments during the Tony Awards managed to incorporate Jewish references. During the performance of the musical comedy “Shucked,” a humorous song instructed viewers on the many ways to enjoy corn. Among the amusing suggestions was the idea of bringing corn to a bris, eliciting laughter from the audience and highlighting the Jewish cultural context within the lyrics.
The 2023 Tony Awards not only acknowledged the importance of addressing antisemitism but also celebrated the richness and diversity of Jewish contributions to Broadway. The recognition of Jewish-themed shows, the honoring of Jewish legends, and the incorporation of Jewish references throughout the ceremony demonstrated the impact of Jewish narratives and talent on the theatrical world.