To call Ariana DeBose a triple threat—theater lingo for someone who can sing, dance, and act—is beginning to sound like an undercount. Last night, the performer added Tony Awards host to her résumé, bringing an effusive mix of Broadway razzle and cast-party inclusivity to Radio City Music Hall. If the opening medley was a mash note to classic musicals, it came studded with nods to DeBose’s own Broadway trajectory. That cheerleader-style lift harked back to her 2012 debut in Bring It On. The Hamilton reference was a wink to her sly, portentous role as The Bullet in the original cast. There was disco swagger, in homage to her Tony-nominated turn as Donna Summers. And the glimpse of mambo? That of course comes from Anita, the powerhouse character from Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (itself born of the stage), for which DeBose earned a best supporting actress Oscar in March. Just about the only musical that didn’t get airtime was The Sound of Music—no matter, DeBose already spoofed it alongside Kate McKinnon while hosting SNL earlier this year.
From her first turn on the pre-show red carpet—wearing a black sequined dress by Boss, like an embodiment of jazz hands—DeBose demonstrated that she understood the assignment. Her version of hosting radiated the pomp and showmanship of the institution that is Broadway, complete with a meta number about performers venturing into the audience. (Andrew Garfield squirmed in his chair before she upped the bit by sitting squarely in his lap.) She also led the evening in celebrating everyone who makes the theater tick, front of house and backstage and in her very own Tony Awards green room.
“It’s all love. Ari’s so appreciative of everyone on the team,” makeup artist Andréa Tiller says by phone, minutes after leaving her touchup station offstage. She has been working with DeBose since last July—a busy year that has seen the actor through a movie premiere, a high-profile awards season, and a pending slate that includes her Marvel debut in Kraven the Hunter. That mutual trust means there was little by way of discussion ahead of Sunday’s event. “The only direction that she gave us was, ‘I want to keep it easy, so there’s no fuss throughout the night,’” Tiller explains. In other words, the makeup had to look as good, last as long, and perform as well as DeBose herself.
Given the stack of wardrobe changes and full-out dance numbers, Tiller kept the look versatile yet “very sultry,” with a “midnight smoky eye” and neutral lip—Lancôme’s gloss in Nuit & Jour. (Keen observers might have noticed a mid-show switch to a brighter pink.) The goal was a makeup moment that played well on the red carpet and hi-def television while also projecting to the enthusiastic balcony attendees, who joined the Yiddish scat call-and-response with Billy Crystal.