2024 Tony Awards Recap: Sampling Broadway’s Dance Banquet

June 17, 2024

It was another amazing season for dance on Broadway, and last night’s 2024 Tony Awards telecast served up plenty of eye-popping movement from Ariana DeBose, hosting for the third year, and—mostly—from the musical nominees. Yes, it’s always an honor just to be nominated. But the dirty little secret of all awards, in any field, is that some of the time, some of the nominees are there only because a slot needs to be filled. Not the case with this year’s musicals.

In almost any other year, each one of the 2024 nominees for Best Musical—Hell’s Kitchen, with Camille A. Brown’s vibrant, street-smart dances to Alicia Keys’ hit songs; Illinoise, with its poignant and pointed through-danced story by Justin Peck; The Outsiders, with the coiled energy of the Rick and Jeff Kuperman choreography; Suffs, with Mayte Natalio’s simple but brilliantly effective movement for her cast of nondancers; and Water for Elephants, with its explosive acrobatics and subtle evocations of circus animals by Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll—could have legitimately copped the Best Choreography Tony. And that’s not to mention two of the Best Revival entries: Lorin Latarro’s spiky moves for the revival of The Who’s Tommy, and Julia Cheng’s outré take on Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club.

Tony viewers were treated to a generous sampling of dance from all these shows. But most didn’t get to see who took home the choreography prize, because, as in previous years, it was awarded during the first hour, on The Tony Awards: Act One—available only on CBS’s streaming service, Paramount+, or online at the free Pluto TV site.

Peck, wearing a tuxedo, speaks at a microphone onstage, holding his Tony Award.
Justin Peck accepting the Tony Award for Best Choreography for Illinoise. Photo Mary Kouw/CBS.

It was great to see Justin Peck accepting his second Tony (the first was in 2018, for Carousel) back on the stage of Lincoln Center’s Koch Theater, home first to his dancing and then to his choreography for New York City Ballet. It was a reminder of how much nourishment today’s Broadway musicals get from other fields of dance. This year’s Tony-nominated choreographers—Brown, the Kupermans, Peck, Robb and Carroll, and Annie-B Parson, who rearranged her surging choreography for the downtown hit Here Lies Love when it briefly reopened on Broadway—came with experience not just in ballet but in contemporary concert dance, circus arts, and martial arts, all moving Broadway musicals in new directions.

For the old ways, there was the Tonys’ traditional In Memoriam section, accompanied by a mournful rendition of “What I Did for Love,” from A Chorus Line, sung by Nicole Scherzinger (her Olivier-winning performance in Sunset Boulevard arrives on Broadway this fall). Thankfully, the Tony producers ignored the dreadful precedent set by this year’s Oscars broadcast, which featured 20 dancers sweeping across the stage as photos and illegible names flashed on overhead screens—simultaneously insulting both the departed and the dance, neither of which was allowed to actually register. By contrast, the heartfelt tributes to the late, lamented Chita Rivera—from Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bebe Neuwirth, and Audra McDonald—incorporated dance snippets that distilled the essence of her most memorable roles. And when DeBose arrived in a lilac dress to lead the company of dancers in “America,” from West Side Story, you had to wish that the snippets had been longer.

It’s possible that the segment was truncated when the broadcast added a number from Stereophonic to the show. David Adjmi’s play about a 70s rock band recording an album earned a record 13 nominations—aided by the fact that most plays don’t compete in categories like Best Orchestrations and Best Score. When one of the show’s five Tonys went to Adjmi for Best Play, he closed his acceptance speech with a remark that surely resonated with an audience full of art makers. Calling for government funding of the arts, he said, “It’s the hallmark of a civilized society.” Wonder if any candidates were watching.