Jessica Chastain, Jodie Comer and J. Harrison Ghee Partied for the Tonys
NEW YORK — It wasn’t hard to spot J. Harrison Ghee at the official Tony Awards after-party outside the United Palace theater in Washington Heights Sunday night — they towered over much of the crowd in a vibrant blue gown, with a statuette in hand and a trail of well-wishers close behind. After their groundbreaking win for best leading actor in a musical — they became the first out nonbinary performer to win in the category — the gown color, it seemed, was fortuitous.
“I felt like this is such a Cinderella moment,” they said.
Hundreds of the ceremony’s attendees spilled out, shortly after 11 p.m., almost directly into the party: a tented extension of the fuchsia carpet and its lush floral backdrop, with catering that reflected both the culinary traditions of the neighborhood’s surrounding communities (paella, ceviche, mango on sticks) and also the immediate hunger of nominees who had sat snackless for hours. (About 800 hamburgers from Shake Shack were gone within 90 minutes.)
The Tonys, which celebrate Broadway’s best plays and musicals, were held uptown for the first time this year at the United Palace — an ornate movie house at 176th Street in Washington Heights, nearly 8 miles north of Times Square. The theater is tucked within the largely Dominican neighborhood where Lin-Manuel Miranda shot the 2021 film adaptation of his musical “In the Heights.”
“To show off one of the cultural gems of the city to a national audience is super exciting,” Heather Hitchens, the president and CEO of the American Theater Wing, which puts on the Tonys with the Broadway League, said in an interview Saturday.
“The after-party is always important, but to celebrate that we made it through a season and we gave some awards out and actually had a telecast?” she said, continuing, “We haven’t been able to do that for so long.”
Sunday’s ceremony was certainly an unusual one. With the Writers Guild of America still on strike, the show featured unscripted commentary from presenters, abundant musical performances from the year’s productions — plus Lea Michele’s rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from last season’s “Funny Girl” — and a wordless opening dance number by Ariana DeBose, the show’s host.
“Ariana DeBose,” Wayne Brady, who is set to star in the 2024 Broadway revival of “The Wiz,” said later in the evening, shaking his head. “She was tremendous. She can improvise like no one’s business.”
“It went so smoothly,” said Bonnie Milligan, a Tony Award winner for best featured actress in a musical for her performance as a scheming aunt in the offbeat musical “Kimberly Akimbo,” which was the top winner of the night with five trophies overall. “So many people were able to speak in solidarity with the strike.”
With a long list of celebrations still ahead, many of the night’s winners and nominees stayed at the official after-party only briefly before moving on to smaller soirees hosted by individual productions across the city.
Julia Lester, a nominee for her turn as Little Red Riding Hood in the revival of “Into the Woods,” was leaving with her father as many attendees were still arriving. Lester said she was “just seeing where the night takes me.” She wore a voluminous green ballgown, sheer elbow-length gloves, a black choker and a bow in her red curly hair. “I’m wearing a hoop skirt, so I can’t do that much. Sitting down was a nightmare.”
Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, donned a sparkling scarlet outfit meant to elicit, he said, “Big Red Riding Hood.” His after-party plans, he added, would extend “until the hood falls off, which is literally impossible. It’s pinned, glued, sewn — I probably won’t be able to take it off to go to sleep.”
By 12:30 a.m., many had left the official after-party, and most of the nominees began heading to the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, where theater publicist Rick Miramontez — dressed in a white blazer with red-and-white striped shorts — was hosting his famed late-night shindig for several hundred guests with producer John Gore.
“This is the party,” Brady proclaimed from a couch nestled alongside an open bar near the hotel’s entrance.
Kolton Krouse, who starred in a recent revival of “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’” and uses the pronouns they and them, also opted for business-on-top-party-on-the-bottom, sporting a black blazer that barely covered their torso atop gold heels.
“Congratulations!” they said, lunging to stop Jessica Chastain, who was wearing a caped, sunshine-yellow Gucci gown, her long red hair in a high ponytail, as she swept in around 12:30 a.m. — accompanied by her grandmother, Marilyn Herst.
“I bring her with me to all the parties,” said Chastain, who was nominated for best leading actress in a play for her performance as housewife Nora Helmer in Jamie Lloyd’s bare-bones revival of “A Doll’s House.”
English actress Jodie Comer had won the category for her performance as a lawyer who defends men accused of sexual assault in the one-woman show “Prima Facie,” but you would not know it by Chastain’s cadre of photographers, who temporarily clogged the passageway between the upper lounge and a bar area, and a receiving line of those congratulating the actress after the play’s final performance this past weekend.
“I hope it’s not over forever,” Chastain said as shutters clicked away.
Buckets of Moët & Chandon Champagne were placed around the room, while servers in white blazers ferried silver trays of sliders and cartons of french fries around four rooms. On side tables sat slender trays of nuts and chips, which nominees appreciatively munched.
In a backroom alongside a bar, a cabaret singer crooned Frank Sinatra’s “Nice ‘n’ Easy” accompanied by a pianist and a cellist. (Tony-winning soprano Kelli O’Hara, in a feathery white gown, bopped to the music.)
The party began to pick up around 1 a.m. Ben Platt, accompanied by his fiance, Noah Galvin, in a matching black suit, got a hug from Micaela Diamond, his co-star in “Parade,” which won best revival of a musical. Lester — whose night had apparently taken her to the Carlyle — was deep in conversation in a corner with Julie Benko, the “Funny Girl” alternate for Michele’s Fanny Brice.
Attendees discussed the beauty of the United Palace, a dazzling remnant of the golden age of cinema, which many had been inside for the first time that night.
“I am so in love with that house,” Brady said.
Shortly before 3 a.m., many of the performers began heading out, though the party would last until after 4 a.m.
“I’m excited to have a shot at the Tonys next year,” Brady, “The Wiz” star-to-be, said around 2:30 a.m., before heading for the door.
“In the bigger sense, I’m excited about making history with such a melanated cast, a mostly Black creative team.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.