Tony Award Winner Tells Young People to Be Themselves

12 June, 2017

Actor Ben Platt plays a lonely teenager who has trouble "fitting in."

So, when he won the Tony Award Sunday night for best actor in a musical, he urged young people not to give up the qualities that make them special.

"To all young people watching at home, don't waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful."

The Tony Awards honor the best plays and musicals on Broadway. They were given out at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The American television network CBS broadcast the awards show across the country.

Platt plays Evan Hansen, the lead character in the Broadway musical, "Dear Evan Hansen." He plays a lonely boy who writes letters to himself that say "today is going to be a good day." The letters make him feel better about going to school.

Sunday was a really good day for "Dear Evan Hansen." The show won the Tony Award for "best musical," and its writers -- Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson -- all won Tony Awards.

Winner thanks her grandmother

So did actress Rachel Bay Jones, who plays Evan Hansen's mother. In her speech, Jones thanked her "Nana" for selling her engagement ring. That helped Jones pay for her move to New York to follow her dream of becoming an actress.

A "Nana" is a common nickname for a grandmother.

Rachel Bay Jones, left, and Ben Platt, display their Tony Awards.
Rachel Bay Jones, left, and Ben Platt, display their Tony Awards.

Musicals are an American invention. They tell stories through many art forms: spoken words, song, acting and dance. Music can add an important emotional element, making an interesting story even more powerful.

Platt, now 23, said he dreamed of singing in a Broadway musical since he was six years old. As a young boy, Platt said he performed in musicals with other family members in his family's backyard in California.

"It's where I found everything I've ever loved and where I belong, and I've dreamed every day since of being on this stage and being part of this community of artists."

‘No stopping" Bette Midler

"Hello Dolly" won the award for best revival of a musical. Its star, Bette Midler, 71, won the Tony for best actress in a musical. She gave a long speech and thanked many people for her success.

People cheered when she continued her speech even after the orchestra began playing music. The music signals to a speaker that their time is up.

"Hello Dolly" tells the story of Dolly Levi, who tries to find a wife for the unmarried businessman, Horace Vandergelder.

"This thing (musical) has the ability to lift your spirits in these terrible, terrible times," Midler said.

More Tony winners

Also winning a big Tony honor Sunday was "Oslo," a play about the 1993 Middle East peace agreement. It won the award for best new play.

The musical "Come From Away" won three Tony Awards, among them the award for best director of a musical, Christopher Ashley.

"Come From Away" is set in Gander, Newfoundland. The small town became the temporary home for nearly 7,000 people after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In the days after the attacks, the United States closed its air space. International flights heading to the United States landed in Newfoundland and other Canadian airports instead.

Ashley thanked the people of Newfoundland as he accepted his award. He said they were "generous and kind at the very worst moments."

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English, based, in part, on reports by The Associated Press. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on 51VOA.COM. Have you ever seen a play or a musical? If so, did you like it?


Words in This Story

character - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

engagement ring - n. a ring given someone when he or she is being asked to get married

backyard - n. an area in back of a house

stage - n. a raised platform in a theater, auditorium, etc., where the performers stand

revival - n. a production of a show that was performed at an earlier time

orchestra - n. a group of musicians who play usually classical music together and who are led by a conductor

generous - adj. showing kindness and concern for others