The arty and original Hadestown was leading the Tony Awards with six wins, including a rare win for a woman director of a musical, while Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. 

Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down due to a car crash when she was 2, won for featured actresses in a musical for her work in a dark revival of Oklahoma!

“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,” she said. “You are.”

Rachel Chavkin, the only woman to helm a new Broadway musical this season, won the Tony for best director of a musical for Hadestown. She told the crowd she was sorry to be such a rarity on Broadway.

“There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many people of colour who are ready to go.” A lack of strides in embracing diversity on Broadway, she said, “is not a pipeline issue” but a lack of imagination.

Other winners included the legendary Elaine May, who took home her first ever Tony for best leading actress, playing the Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother in Kenneth Lonergan’s comic drama The Waverly Gallery.

Andre DeShields captured featured actor in a musical for Hadestown, his first Tony at the age of 73. In his speech, he gave “three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity.

Andre De Shields accepts the award for Featured Actor in a Musical for his work in Hadestown. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be, and three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”

James Corden, in his second stint as Tony host, was at his fanboy best, whether anxiously hiding in a bathroom with previous hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareillies or trying to provoke a Nicki Minaj-Cardi B-style beef between usually overly polite and supportive Broadway figures (Laura Linney and Audra McDonald finally obliged). He also asked celebrities to sing karaoke during the commercials.

He kicked off the show with a massive, nine-minute opening number that served as a full-throated endorsement of the live experience, with Corden beginning it seated alone on a couch in front of a TV, overwhelmed by his binge options, before taking flight with dozens of glitzy dancers from this season’s shows, all filling the Radio City stage in New York with an unprecedented volume.

James Corden was back as host of the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

“Live!/We do it live/And every single moment’s unrepeatable,” he sang. “Live!/We do it live/It can’t be hashtagged and it isn’t streamable.” But the song ended with an acknowledgement that appointment TV — Corden mentioned a long list that included Game of ThronesFleabagBlack Mirror and The Walking Dead, among the options — is irresistible. He apologized to TV and blamed McDonald for making him criticize the small screen.

The first acting award went to Celia Keenan-Bolger, who won for best featured actress in a play for her role as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. She noted that her parents read her the book when she was a child in Detroit and had burning crosses put on their lawn because they helped African Americans.

Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for Ink. He said he wished he could be with his mother, hospitalized in London. “I love you, mum,” he said.

Oscar-winning director and producer Sam Mendes has won his first directing Tony Award for guiding The Ferryman.

The Ferryman‘s Rob Howell took home two Tonys — for best play set designs and costumes. Robert Horn won for best book of a musical for Tootsie.

The early Hadestown wins were for scenic design, sound design, lighting design and orchestrations.

Legendary designer Bob Mackie won the Tony for best costume designs for a musical for The Cher Show, getting laughs for saying “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old.”

The Boys in the Band was crowned best play revival.

The cast of Ain’t Too Proud were among the performers at Sunday’s event in New York City. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Hadestown, had a leading 14 Tony nominations, followed by the jukebox musical Ain’t Too Proud, built around songs by The Temptations; it received a dozen nominations. The other best musical nominees are the stage adaptations of the hit movies Tootsie and Beetlejuice, and the giddy, heartwarming The Prom.

Whatever happens Sunday, Broadway is in good shape. The shows this season reported a record $1.8 billion US in sales, up 7.8 per cent from last season. Attendance was 14.8 million — up 7.1 per cent — and has risen steadily for decades.