The 2021 Tony Awards kicked off Sunday night with an epic throwback.
Actors Kerry Butler, Chester Gregory, Darlene Love, Matthew Morrison and Marissa Jaret Winokur began the truncated, much-delayed ceremony with a performance of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from the smash musical “Hairspray.”
It was a fitting song choice. When “Hairspray” opened in 2002, it was interpreted as a celebratory rebound for Broadway following the Sept. 11 attacks, after which performances were suspended for two days.
Nineteen years later, all 41 of the Great White Way’s theaters are once again reopening ― this time after an unprecedented 18-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tonys, held at New York’s Winter Garden Theater, looked considerably different than last week’s Emmy Awards and other recent ceremonies.
Not only were all of the night’s attendees required to be fully vaccinated, they also had to wear face masks during the ceremony unless they were performing or presenting.
In her opening remarks, host Audra McDonald quipped that it was wonderful to see “half of everyone’s faces.”
McDonald, a six-time Tony winner, said she hoped to see Broadway artists work to make live theater more equitable after being knocked out by COVID-19 for 560 nights ― a reference to the ongoing push to feature more creators and performers of color on New York’s stages.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.