Christopher Ashley paid tribute to the people of Newfoundland as he accepted his Tony for best director of a musical for “Come From Away.”
The play is set in Gander, N.L., in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The remote East Coast town saw its population double in size as it sheltered 6,579 passengers and crew from planes diverted when U.S. air space was closed.
“Most of all, I’d like to accept this on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and all of the first responders and their families in New York … who gave their lives,” Ashley said in his acceptance speech.
“The people who extended their hearts and their homes and were generous and kind at the very worst moments, to all of you, thank you.”
Ashley also acknowledged the “extraordinary” “Come From Away” Canadian co-creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein who he said told the show’s story “with so much grace and heart.”
And he thanked his “theatrical home,” California’s La Jolla Playhouse, where “Come From Away” was staged several years ago on its lengthy journey to Broadway.
This is Ashley’s first Tony win following previous nominations for “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Memphis.”
Heading into Sunday’s awards, “Come From Away” was up for seven Tonys, including best musical.
“Dear Evan Hansen” captured the Tonys for best score and best book of a musical, beating Sankoff and Hein.
“Come From Away” star Jenn Colella lost the best featured actress in a musical Tony to Rachel Bay Jones of “Dear Evan Hansen,” while choreographer Kelly Devine lost to Andy Blankenbuehler for “Bandstand.”
The show also lost out on the best lighting design of a musical award to Bradley King of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”
Tonys host Kevin Spacey kicked off the telecast with a comedic medley of the best musical nominees – including Canadian show “Come From Away.”
“The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg joined Spacey onstage to offer him advice about helming the show, and the duo engaged in tongue-in-cheek banter with a nod to Newfoundland.
“If you want to learn, you’ve got to go to where some of the greatest hosts of all time have gotten their start. Carson, Crystal, Letterman. You’ve got to go to the Rock,” Goldberg said.
“What? All the way to Newfoundland?” Spacey replied.
Soon after, cast members from “Come From Away” went onstage linked arm-in-arm with dancers and performed a snippet of “Welcome to the Rock” from the hit musical.
The hospitality shown by the people of Gander was highlighted by fellow Canadian Ron Duguay, who introduced a full performance of “Welcome to the Rock” a few minutes after the opening teaser.
“I’ve been there, I know the people, I know the heart of these people,” said the former New York Ranger. “And while there was darkness happening on 9/11 in New York, there was a light in Gander, Newfoundland.”
“With their hearts they took these people in, made them feel comfortable,” he continued. “People from all over the world. They didn’t judge ’em, they just took ’em and they’re really good at happy hour. So they had happy hour every night for five nights and through that we have this wonderful play.”