The best and worst moments from the 2024 Tony Awards

From a disappointing opening number to a therapist shout-out, the Tony Awards brought plenty of Broadway into our home.

On June 16, the 77th annual Tony Awards named the best of the 2023-2024 Broadway season, bringing the pizazz and drama of the Great White Way into our living rooms.

With Merrily We Roll Along and Stereophonic heavily favored, viewers went into the night wondering if it would be a sweep or if there would be some surprises. Either way it was a night designed to celebrate theatrical excellence.

Read on to see the best and worst moments of the night.

Worst: That Disappointing Opening Number

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p>

Theo Wargo/Getty

With the writers back behind the scenes after last year's WGA strike, we hoped for a knockout opening number, but instead we got a generic snooze-fest. It didn’t hold a candle to last year’s frenetic opening, which felt like a live-wire act as host Ariana DeBose performed without a script and backflipped down the stairs. Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) composed a bland tune more akin to a mid-70s cocktail lounge track than a show stopping musical moment. Plus, the choreography and staging felt like they were moving in slow motion. A so-so start to a night honoring a truly spectacular year of theater.

Best: Jeremy Strong celebrates the unsung theater staff

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> Jeremy Strong at the Tony Awards

Theo Wargo/Getty

Jeremy Strong at the Tony Awards

While Jeremy Strong has unfairly earned a reputation as an overly serious Method actor, the Enemy of the People star was nothing but a portrait of warmth and graciousness while accepting his first Tony Award. Strong thanked those who so rarely get any notice — the theater’s ushers and front of house staff. “[They] see me walking in every day looking like I’ve just been run over by a truck and see me walking out looking somehow even worse with bits of pretzels and aquavit in my hair,” he quipped. Pretty much the opposite of a Kendall Roy move.

Best: Will Brill thanks his therapist

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> Will Brill

Theo Wargo/Getty

Will Brill

In Stereophonic, Will Brill portrays bassist Reg, who is attempting to write and record an album while also going through an emotional divorce and struggling with sobriety. Brill has been open about the fact that the show takes a toll on him, due to its parallels to his own struggles with addiction and his own messy divorce. So, it was fitting (and adorable) that he thanked his therapist while accepting the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Though to be honest, we also could’ve just watched him do the houseboat monologue again.

Worst: Jay-Z performs… but not in the room

<p>Kevin Mazur/Getty</p> Jay-Z and Alicia Keys

Kevin Mazur/Getty

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys

Jay-Z, who is not in the cast of Hell’s Kitchen, took over the Tony Awards with Alicia Keys to perform their epic track, "Empire State of Mind," which serves as the finale for the new Broadway musical. Except Jay-Z wasn’t actually in the room, but outside Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater. (The sequence was potentially even pre-taped, though CBS representatives did not immediately respond to EW's inquiries). While the actual stars of Hell’s Kitchen got short shrift in their brief featured solos, the rapper couldn’t even be bothered to show up in the room for his moment in the spotlight that rightfully should’ve gone to the Broadway cast.

Best: "Merrily We Roll Along" performance

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez, and Daniel Radcliffe

Theo Wargo/Getty

Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez, and Daniel Radcliffe

Since this revival premiered on Broadway last fall (after a smash Off Broadway run), it’s been the toast of the town. And the evidence as to why was in abundance during their Tony performance. The entire ensemble (the show’s rock solid foundation) got a brief moment to shine, before the number pivoted to the show’s thesis statement of a song, “Old Friends.” Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez brimmed with the bubbling energy and unique chemistry that makes them such a radiant trio eight times a week in this long-overlooked Stephen Sondheim classic. May the Tony Awards consider this cast “old friends” from now on.

Best: “Water for Elephants” brings the circus to the Tonys

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> The cast of 'Water for Elephants'

Theo Wargo/Getty

The cast of 'Water for Elephants'

Water for Elephants doesn’t have the most memorable score of this season’s new musicals, but they make up for it with their gravity-defying ensemble. They wisely chose to perform the show’s best number, “The Road Don’t Make You Young,” which is both a rip-roaring folksy ensemble number and a showcase for the cast’s incredible circus performers. They climb poles with no hands, do backflips, and perform any number of awe-inducing tricks — and they brought this thrilling experience to the Tonys with all that the words “the greatest show on Earth” imply.

Worst: The Camera Work

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty </p> The cast of 'Stereophonic'

Theo Wargo/Getty

The cast of 'Stereophonic'

Filming live theatrical performance is never an easy task, but the camera work on this year’s broadcast was particularly egregious, robbing some of the biggest shows of the things that make them special. Hell’s Kitchen’s large ensemble piece was shot in a piece-meal fashion, making it feel all over the place and sapping the performance of the high energy that makes the show a big party. The Outsiders rumble lost its scale until they finally cut to a wide shot. Then, Stereophonic, which only nabbed a performance after public outcry, was the victim of both odd camera angles and cuts, as well as lackluster sound mixing that failed to capture the magic of the production and the vitality it injects into the American theater.

Best: A tribute to Chita Rivera

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> Ariana DeBose on the Tony Awards

Theo Wargo/Getty

Ariana DeBose on the Tony Awards

Broadway lost one of its greatest talents when Chita Rivera passed away back in January. Her legacy is so immense that she needed more than a mere mention in an In Memoriam segment. The Tonys got the memo and offered up a beautiful tribute to her, including nods to some of her most famous roles in Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, Sweet Charity, West Side Story, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Bebe Neuwirth offered stirring spoken tributes while dancers showcased snippets of her most iconic choreography, and Ariana DeBose brought it home sporting the classic purple Anita dress from West Side Story and leading the dance break from “America.”

Worst: The NFL comes to the Tony Awards

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty </p> Solomon Thomas and Nate Burleson

Theo Wargo/Getty

Solomon Thomas and Nate Burleson

Look. I am both a football girlie and a theater nerd. But unless, I’m watching a play or musical about the sport, I do not need those two circles to share any venn diagram space. So when Nate Burleson (who does at least host CBS Mornings) and current New York Jets player Solomon Thomas took the stage to present the nominees for Best Play, it was a truly head-scratching moment. Thankfully, Jeffrey Wright came out to actually present the award, but we’re throwing a flag on this play call.

Best: "Stereophonic" wins Best Play

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty </p> "Stereophonic" accepts Best Play

Theo Wargo/Getty

"Stereophonic" accepts Best Play

Transferring from a hit Off Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons, Stereophonic swept onto the Great White Way to change what’s possible in the American theater. It’s a play; it’s a study of the torture that is the creative process and making art with others; it’s an intense study of how one makes an album. And so much more. To name any other play the winner of this category would have been tantamount to a Broadway crime, so we’re glad that the Tony voters got this right. Playwright David Adjmi gave a heartfelt acceptance speech, including a plea to make our country a place where more people can write plays that will fundamentally change the landscape. “It’s really hard to make a career in the arts,” he said. “We need to fund the arts in America, it is the hallmark of a civilized society. I want to dedicate this to the artists out there. Thank you so much, this is for us.”

Best: “The Outsiders” rumble

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> The cast of "The Outsiders"

Theo Wargo/Getty

The cast of "The Outsiders"

The Outsiders seems an unlikely candidate for a Broadway musical, but it transitions to the form seamlessly, thanks largely to Danya Taymor’s Tony-winning staging. By far the most impactful, awe-inducing sequence of the show is the climactic rumble, staged with balletic violence and flashing lights in the pouring rain. It’s both a staging and technical marvel, so much so that it seemed unlikely they could bring it to the Tony stage. But the Tonys stayed gold and made it happen. If everyone isn’t buying a ticket to the national tour after watching this number, well, what is wrong with you?

Worst: Speech delays

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty; Mary Kouw/CBS </p>

Theo Wargo/Getty; Mary Kouw/CBS

There weren’t teleprompter flubs or wardrobe malfunctions, but getting access to one’s acceptance speech turned out to be the biggest bugaboo of the show. Billy Porter started the trend, forgetting his phone backstage while accepting the Isabelle Stevenson award on the pre-show broadcast on PlutoTV. Audiences sat waiting for his speech until he was able to retrieve it. Then, both of the victorious ladies of Hell’s Kitchen struggled. First, Kecia Lewis could not get her phone unlocked, and then had to wade through a flurry of texts to read her speech. Then, Maleah Joi Moon wrestled with her purse, while wearing stunning full-length gloves, to retrieve her own speech. This is why everyone needs pockets.

Best: “Merrily We Roll Along” is a hit

<p>Theo Wargo/Getty</p> Daniel Radcliffe and Jonathan Groff

Theo Wargo/Getty

Daniel Radcliffe and Jonathan Groff

It only took 40-odd years, but Merrily We Roll Along is, at last, a hit. Or as director Maria Friedman put it, “Steve and George, Merrily’s popular.” The show, long Stephen Sondheim’s most devastating flop, finally received the accolades it’s always deserved on Sunday night, winning Best Revival of a Musical and awards for both its leading men — Jonathan Groff and Daniel Radcliffe. Post Harry Potter, Radcliffe has made Broadway something of a second home, and it was sheer magic to see the giddy delight with which he accepted his award (and celebrated his verklempt costars) for a career-best performance. Then, Groff proved third time’s the charm, finally winning his Tony over 15 years after his first nomination for Spring Awakening. His speech was the perfect, earnest cherry on top of Merrily’s night, celebrating his open-hearted, loving family, his pride in the theatrical community, and his love for his costars. “You are more than old friends, you are soulmates,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to watching each other change for the rest of our lives.” So are we, if we’re honest. Merrily, it is truly your time now.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.