June 16, 2019

‘Oslo,’ Bette Midler and Ben Platt take Tony Awards

Local talent Ben Platt was among the big winners this year at the 71st annual Tony Awards, taking home the prize for actor in a leading role in a musical for his performance in “Dear Evan Hansen,” about a boy who gets caught up in a lie after the death of a classmate.

The musical led the way on June 11 with six Tony winners, including Rachel Bay Jones for actress in a featured role in a musical. Benj Pasek, who is Jewish, and Justin Paul won for best original score. The show also took home trophies for best book of a musical and best orchestrations. Pasek and Paul won Academy Awards earlier this year for co-writing, with Justin Hurwitz, the song “City of Stars” from “La La Land.”

While there were plenty of other big-name winners of Jewish interest — including Bette Midler and a play about the 1993 Oslo Accord — for many in Los Angeles, the night belonged to Platt, the son of Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated producer Marc Platt and his wife, Julie Platt, chair of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, a longtime friend of the Platts, said, “Ben is a loving, large-spirited and gifted young man from a loving, large-spirited and gifted family. When we announced [that he won the Tony] at the Sinai dinner dance, the room erupted in cheers. The entire Jewish world should celebrate.”

Ted Walch, a longtime drama director at Harvard-Westlake, the high school Platt attended, said in an email that he was ecstatic at the young man’s accomplishment, but not surprised.

“Given the skill of what Ben accomplished, it seemed inevitable that he would and should win,” he said. “The [acceptance] speech was vintage Ben, talking faster than most of us think, and centering it, as he should have, on two families: the family that made ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ happen, and his own family (parents, siblings, nephews). Ben is, I repeat, one of the nicest, sweetest, most talented kids I’ve ever taught.”

During his speech at the ceremony at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Platt, 23, recalled the early days of his acting career.

“When I was 6 years old, I was the prince in ‘Cinderella,’ in a blue sequin vest, at the Adderley School in the Palisades in California, and I’ve spent every single day of my life since then just madly in love with musical theater,” he said. “It’s where I’ve found everything I’ve ever loved and where I belonged. … I’ve dreamed every day since of being on this stage and part of this community of artists.”

He also gave a shout out to his parents, ending with a message to his father, producer of such films as “Legally Blonde” and “La La Land.”

“Dad, you’re my hero. You taught me that you have to be a decent human being to be a decent artist, and I love you for it.

“And finally,” he said, “to all the young people watching at home: Don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody else but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”

In other categories, “Oslo,” by J.T. Rogers, about the Oslo Accord, won the Tony for best play after receiving rave reviews for turning a complicated piece of history into a fast-paced, entertaining three hours. Its Jewish lead actor, Michael Aronov, won for his portrayal of Uri Savir, an Israeli negotiator in the 1990s talks.

Midler, the veteran Jewish actress and singer, won for actress in a leading role in a musical for “Hello, Dolly!” which also won the award for revival of a musical.

And Rebecca Taichman won for her direction of “Indecent” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, which recounts the bumpy journey to Broadway of Sholem Asch’s controversial Yiddish play “God of Vengeance.”