In a world that is frequently ravaged by tragedy and hate, it’s delightful to celebrate creativity and imagination at grand scale. This is precisely why so many of us watch awards shows like the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and Grammys: We want to see beauty and talent succeed, and when they do, life feels a little less hopeless.
Such catharsis was in high demand at last night’s Tony Awards, following a tragic week in which beloved icons Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain both died by suicide, and in which even America’s stalwart diplomatic relations with Canada seemed to go off the rails. And the Tonys delivered.
Held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the awards, celebrating excellence in Broadway theater, offered hope on several levels. The Band’s Visit, a small, lovely musical about a stranded group of Egyptians developing friendships with the locals in a remote Israeli town, swept the awards, beating out the highly nominated SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical in several big categories. And in the evening’s most cry-worthy moment, the drama club from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of one of America’s worst school shootings, performed Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” earning a three-minute standing ovation.
But of all last night’s performances, perhaps none was more unique or held more universal appeal than the opening number performed by the 2018 Tonys hosts, Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban. Both are chart-topping singers, songwriters, and Broadway performers, but neither has ever won at any of the major awards shows. Their experience as perennial losers inspired an upbeat song crafted just for this occasion.
A song for failing
Bareilles has been nominated for, and lost out on, six Grammy awards for her pop music. In 2016, Waitress, the hit musical she wrote and starred in, was nominated for and lost four Tony Awards, including for best musical and best original score. The show has remained on Broadway for nearly three years, and recouped its $12 million investment just 10 months after opening, placing Bareilles among an exclusive club of profitable Broadway composers. Groban has been nominated for four Grammys and one Tony, with no hardware to show for it.
Whether you love or hate musical theatre, this piano duet is a must-watch. It reminds us that deep down, more of us are united by failure than by success—a reality that’s worth celebrating. Plus, it’s a surprisingly good song (watch here):
“So let’s take a moment for all of us before all our winners shine bright,” they sang in sweet harmony, “lest you forget about 90% of us leave empty-handed tonight.” Then the trumpets and drums came in, adding a bombastic and humorous note to the otherwise somber message. “So this is for the people who lose, ’cause both of us have been in your shoes. This one is for the loser inside of you.”
The audience laughed, because that’s what we do when we know something that makes us uncomfortable is true. Barielles and Groban went on, reminding the crowd of the list of shows that have topped box offices for decades, without ever taking home a single Tony for best musical, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Dream Girls, Hair, Into the Woods, and Chicago.
Barielles and Groban’s conclusion: “These shows help us open our hearts and they heal,” they sang. “In a world that’s scary and hard to endure, if you make art at all you’re a part of the cure. So whether you close in a week or 10 years, Antoinette honors everyone here.”
Hackneyed as it may feel to preach the merits of failure, Barielles and Groban’s song is more about finding humility and levity in unrequited hopes. It’s an important message, because regardless of your chosen career or your passions, statistics prove it’s far more likely you’ll fail, by traditional standards of success, than hit the jackpot—be that jackpot a Tony, a Nobel Prize, a startup investment, a research grant, or even just a shoutout in your weekly all-hands meeting. Feeling the sting of losing? It may just be the most common (and inevitable) emotion for people who dream enough to take a risk.