When Rachel Chavkin walked into the Tony Awards media room, she continued the conversation she had started in her acceptance speech for Best Director of a Musical just moments before on the stage at Radio City Music Hall. In her speech, she had made a plea for more representation and diversity on Broadway. “Our field is filled with progressive people, and yet our field is not exemplary of living its politics,” she said. “First and foremost, who is telling these stories and what stories need to be told? There has to be a lot of attention paid to our own backyard.”

She had set the tone for the 2019 Tony Awards. The broadcast, whether intentionally or not, was largely focused on gender parity, representation, and diversity. From the speeches to costume choices, award winners, nominees, and presenters clearly saw the evening as a platform to advocate for the causes and issues they care most about.

Ali Stroker’s win for Best Featured Actress in a Musical made history and provided a dose of true inspiration for people facing adversity. It was the first time the award show has ever embraced an actor in a  wheelchair for her work. The actress, from Broadway’s Oklahoma!, proudly stood on stage, smiling into the camera, and said, “This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You are.”

Chavkin’s show, Hadestown, garnered eight awards at this year’s Tony Awards, including Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Original Score, and Best Lighting Design of a Musical. Bradley King, who won the latter category, told the press room that the industry needs to bring in more designers of color, as well as younger women. “They aren’t given the opportunities for the bigger and bigger shows,” he said. “They’re not in the room to make the connections.” Hadestown actor Andre De Shields won an award after a 50-year career and two Tony nominations.

A number of other women from the creative team of Hadestown scored awards, including Jessica Paz for Best Sound Design of a Musical (alongside her partner Nevin Steinberg), who talked backstage about using her platform to inspire young women to pursue what she sees as a male-dominated field. Rachel Hauck, also from Hadestown, won for Best Set Design of a Musical.

Celia Keenan-Bolger won an acting award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play for To Kill a Mockingbird. Backstage Keenan-Bolger said that the revival of this play is resonating with audiences because of the current political climate. She told reporters that right now “the play is important because of Aaron {Sorkin}’s script which is asking big questions about our country’s relation to race and morality.” Santino Fontana was awarded best performance for Leading Actor in a Musical for playing a woman in Tootsie, and Stephanie J. Block won her first Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for The Cher Show.

Playwright Mart Crowley won for Best Revival of a Play for The Boys in the Band, a play that revolves around a group of gay men who gather for a birthday party in New York City and was ground-breaking for its portrayal of gay life. Robin De Jesús, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, was nominated for that show as Best Featured Actor in a Play.  Bertie Carvel won in that category for the play Ink.

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo won for Best Choreography in a Musical for Ain’t Too Proud. “I’m so lucky, so much love in my life, so many people out here who I love and adore and have supported me throughout my career,” he said. He thanked the Ain’t Too Proud cast, his colleagues, his husband Jack Noseworthy, and his Colombian family, “who taught me to love music and dance since I was a little boy. I arrived in New York City over thirty years ago as an illegal immigrant, and I stand here as proof for all those Dreamers… as proof that the American dream is still alive. You just have to keep on fighting, because change will come!”

Many presenters and nominees wore their passion on their sleeve, quite literally. Billy Porter wore a “gender-fluid evening suit” made of red velvet, created by New York label Celestino Couture as a salute to women’s reproductive rights. According to The Hollywood Reporter, attendees wore ACLU and Planned Parenthood ribbons attached to their clothing – everyone from Rachel Chavkin to Bryan Cranston to Brandon Uranowitz to Todd Sickafoose to Rachel Hauck to playwright Terrence McNally was spotted wearing one.

Bryan Cranston used his platform when he won for Lead Actor in a Play in Network to declare that the media “is not the enemy of the people.” He also alluded to gender parity in his speech opener: “Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” Backstage he elaborated on that statement, adding, “Who wants to keep working with old white men? That’s boring. And the stories are old and stale to me.” Referencing the diverse winners of the night, he added, “I embrace and rejoice in what’s happening here.”

That’s a good way to sum up the night, as everyone in the theater seemed to feel the same way.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.