The just-happy-to-be-here, can’t-we-all-get-along vibe was set by the opening song, a celebration of the ceremony’s also-rans — “This one’s for the loser inside of you” — sung by the hosts, Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, and a chorus made up of ensemble members from every Broadway musical. It was a charming, if not particularly memorable, number.
That could also describe the performances of Ms. Bareilles and Mr. Groban, who were a likable and entertaining pair, particularly in a song celebrating the eight-shows-a-week stamina of Broadway performers. (In that number they even managed to overcome their atrocious costumes, matching beaded gold jumpsuits, presumably meant to evoke the spangled outfits of chorus members.) The show as a whole ran like clockwork, without any significant gaffes but also no particularly memorable outbreaks of emotion or eccentricity.
The broadcast had some negative associations to overcome. Last year’s ceremony was hosted by Kevin Spacey just a few months before a series of accusations of sexual harassment and assault derailed his career. And it was one of the lowest-rated Tony broadcasts ever, down a precipitous 31 percent from 2016, which benefited from the excitement over “Hamilton.”
In response, the show doubled down on nostalgia and theater-world insularity. Some of this had to do with the success in the musical categories of “The Band’s Visit,” keeping pop extravaganzas like “Mean Girls,” “Frozen” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” offstage.
But the night still would have been dominated by venerable figures like Mr. Springsteen, Mr. Lane, Glenda Jackson, the lifetime-achievement winners Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and, in spirit, Donna Summer. One production number after another, from “My Fair Lady” to “Carousel” (with Justin Peck’s choreography) to “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” tapped that current.
Mr. De Niro’s remarks may have been the night’s most forceful, but the tone was typified by Mr. Springsteen singing the prophetic, gently bitter but ultimately resigned words of “My Hometown.”