NEW YORK -- In between honoring the best of Broadway, the 72nd annual Tony Awards on Sunday was also marked by some powerful political moments.
With a bleep on live television and double fists raised in the air, Robert De Niro got the theater crowd on its feet with a rousing political introduction of his old friend Bruce Springsteen that was focused squarely elsewhere: on President Donald Trump.
De Niro, a staunch Trump opponent, dropped a couple of F-bombs heard clearly by the Radio City Music crowd Sunday night. The CBS television audience heard dead silence instead before he raised his arms - twice - and earned a sustained standing ovation.
The legendary actor urged the audience to vote in November and lauded Springsteen for his own political commitment before the singer sat at a piano for a moving performance based on his "Springsteen on Broadway" show that had him singing his classic hit, "My Hometown."
De Niro said of Springsteen: "Bruce, you can rock the house like nobody else and even more importantly in these perilous times, you rock the vote, always fighting for, in your own words, truth, transparency and integrity in government. Boy, do we need that now."
The anti-Trump sentiment swept backstage as playwright Tony Kushner and others from "Angels in America" spoke to reporters about its three big wins: best play revival and acting trophies for Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane
"I agree," Kushner said when asked about the De Niro moment, dropping an F-bomb of his own in relation to the president.
"I can't believe De Niro did that," Kushner said. "Good for him. I mean, it's Robert De Niro. Who's gonna argue with him?"
Earlier in the evening, Billy Joel presented Springsteen with a special Tony Award in recognition of his sold-out one-man show, "Springsteen on Broadway."
"This is deeply appreciated, and thanks for making me feel so welcome on your block," The Boss said.
The big award winner of the night was "The Band's Visit," which is based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name and centers on members of an Egyptian police orchestra booked to play a concert at an Israeli city who accidentally end up in the wrong town. Its embrace of foreign cultures working together found a sweet spot with Tony voters.
"In 'The Band's Visit,' music gives people hope and makes borders disappear," producer Orin Wolf said upon accepting the best new musical crown, saying it offers a message of unity in a world that "more and more seems bent on amplifying our differences."
Tony Shalhoub, the "Monk" star who won as best leading man in a musical for his work on "The Band's Visit," connected the win to his father's 1920 immigration from Lebanon to New York's Ellis Island at age 8. "Tonight, I celebrate him and all of those in his family who journeyed before him and with him and after him," he said.
The show's Katrina Lenk, who won best actress in a musical, said the production "filled her stupid little heart with so much joy." She dedicated her award in part to the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.
"The Band's Visit" also won statuettes for best direction, orchestration, sound design, best book and score, lighting and featured actor Ari'el Stachel, who gave a heartfelt speech about his past.
"For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person," he said, addressing his parents in the audience. He thanked the creators of the show "for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time that we need that more than ever."
The show's director, David Cromer, said the musical is also about loneliness and despair, and asked everyone to reach out to anyone for whom "despair is overwhelming."
The two-part spectacle "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" captured six Tonys, including best play, book, lighting, sound design, orchestrations and director for John Tiffany, who asked the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" to his boyfriend. They obliged.
A British revival of "Angels in America," Tony Kushner's monumental, two-part drama about AIDS, life and love during the 1980s, grabbed three big awards, including best play revival and acting trophies for Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane.
Kushner took the stage and pointed out there were 21 weeks until the midterm elections in the United States: "Twenty-one weeks to save our democracy, to heal our country and to heal our planet."
Garfield won his first Tony, for best leading actor in a play, and dedicated the win to the LGBTQ community, who he said fought and died for the right to love. He said the play is a rejection of bigotry, shame and oppression.
"We are all sacred and we all belong," Garfield said. He then referenced last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled in favor of a baker's right to deny a gay couple a wedding cake based on his beliefs.
"(Let's) just bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake to be baked," he said, to rousing applause. Lane, who won for best featured actor in a play, said "Angels" still speaks to society in the midst of "political insanity."
In one of the ceremony's most mesmerizing moments, Melody Herzfeld, the heroic drama teacher who nurtured many of the young people demanding change following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was honored from the Tony Award stage.
Herzfeld, the one-woman drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was cheered by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Herzfeld saved 65 lives by barricading students into a small classroom closet on Valentine's Day when police say a former student went on a school rampage, killing 17 people.
She then later encouraged many of her pupils to lead the nationwide movement for gun reform. Members of Herzfeld's drama department took to the Tony stage to serenade her with "Seasons of Love" from the musical "Rent."
In other wins, 82-year-old Glenda Jackson added to her impressive resume with a Tony Award for best actress in a play for her work in a revival of Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women." That show also yielded the featured actress win to "Rosanne" star Laurie Metcalf.
Co-hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, talented and likable if not terribly thrilling, made somewhat subdued hosts, opening the show with a self-parodying duet on piano for all the losers out there - including them. "Let's not forget that 90 percent of us leave empty-handed tonight. So this is for the people who lose," they sang.
They went on to cover Sia's "Chandelier" - substituting her lyrics for ones that complained about singing live eight shows a week - and sang hits from Andrew Lloyd Webber shows and then closed the telecast with a song about Broadway dreamers.
Two of the shows going into the night with most nominations - Tina Fey's "Mean Girls" and "SpongeBob SquarePants," with 12 nods each - found the night tough. "Mean Girls" won nothing and "SpongeBob SquarePants" got only one for best set design.
The revival of "Carousel" won two awards - choreography and for Lindsay Mendez, who won best featured actress in a musical. She accepted in tears, recounting that when she moved to New York, she was told to change her last name to Matthews or she wouldn't work. She said she was happy to be in a production that "celebrates diversity and individuality." To all artists out there, she said: "Just be your true self and the world will take note."
Another show highlight was the lively performance by the cast of "Once on This Island" that included a sand-filled beach, real water and a goat. Onstage guests were volunteers and staffers from three organizations that bring relief to areas impacted by natural disasters. The show went on to win best musical revival, in an upset, beating "My Fair Lady" and "Carousel."
Tony Awards marked by censored political jab from De Niro
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