The 2016 Tony Awards
There has been much anticipation surrounding this year’s Tony Awards. This gathering of Broadway’s finest is the biggest night in American theatre and is known for it’s jubilant and celebratory tone. However, at the very beginning of the 70th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday night, before the theatre community could unite in celebration, we united to acknowledge the loss suffered in Orlando early that same morning. The host for the evening, James Corden, began the night by giving a short speech and telling those effected that “Theatre is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win… Tonight’s show stands as a symbol of that principle. This is the Tony Awards.” Then, as everyone cheered and brushed away tears, the Tonys resumed with their trademark celebratory glamour.
James Corden’s opening number featured the cast of Hamilton singing a parody of their own opening number to introduce him. Corden made several jokes in his opening monologue (including: “Think of tonight as the Oscars, but with diversity!”) that let everyone know right away that he was going to do a dynamite job at hosting the Tonys with his tasteful wit and showmanship.
After his monologue, the opening musical number continued and Corden told his personal narrative about how he fell in love with theatre. Repeatedly singing “That could be me up there”, Corden took us through iconic moments in theatre and referenced several shows. In the final verse, Corden addressed every theatre kid sitting at home watching the Tonys by singing, “To every Broadway would-be… Don’t wonder if this could be you, it absolutely could be!” and proceeded to bring out all the musical acting nominees for the big finish.
After thunderous applause, the presentation of the awards began, with the first Tony of the night (for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play) going to Jayne Houdyshell for her work in The Humans.
The first musical performance from a nominated show came from School of Rock, featuring Alex Brightman and the cast of kid actors performing “You’re in The Band”. They played their instruments live on stage and truly set the bar for the rest of the performers that performed after that.
Corden then introduced the special outdoor performances that would be taking place in front of the theatre. Throughout the night, nominees performed short musical numbers on a small stage outside the Beacon Theatre to commemorate the milestone 70th Annual Tony Awards.
The next award of the night (Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical) went to Renee Elise Goldsberry for her work in Hamilton. Her win was the start of Hamilton’s winning streak and was the beginning of the history making moment when all four awards for Musical Acting went to black actors. Later in the evening Daveed Diggs of Hamilton went on to win Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical. Cynthia Erivo of The Color Purple won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical and Leslie Odom Jr., also of Hamilton, won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.
Stand out performances by the nominees included the cast of Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. The cast gave a dynamic and energized performance with spellbinding choreography. The next nominee performance, given by the cast of She Loves Me, was equally captivating, especially when Laura Benanti closed the show’s number with a glorious high note. Singer Josh Groban introduced Fiddler on the Roof, calling the show “a beacon of love, life and tolerance.” The cast went on to give a jubilant and celebratory performance, fitting right in with the tone of the night. The next show stopping performance came from the cast of The Color Purple, who brought the house down as they showcased their moving and inspirational story. Cynthia Erivo brought the audience to their feet as she belted out “I’m Here” and wrapped up The Color Purple’s performance. The ensemble of the revival of Spring Awakening gave an electrifying performance of “Mamma Who Bore Me” and “The Bitch of Living” using American Sign Language in their choreography and featuring deaf actors and the first actress in a wheelchair to ever appear on Broadway. The cast of Hamilton took the stage to perform their show stopping number “Yorktown” which recounts the American victory against England in the Revolutionary War. This performance was made even more poignant by the decision of drop the prop muskets normally used in the choreography in honor of the Orlando tragedy. The final nominee performance that stood out was given by the cast of Waitress and the show’s composer Sara Bareilles who energetically performed “Opening Up” followed by “She Used to Be Mine”, the show’s anthem. Tony nominee Jessie Mueller had the audience in tears with her emotional and passionate performance.
Stand out moments regarding acceptance speeches came when Lin-Manuel Miranda won Best Score for Hamilton and gave an emotionally charged acceptance speech in the form of a love sonnet which he used to acknowledge his wife and pay homage to the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack. He collapsed in tears as he proclaimed “love is love is love is love” and reminded us all why we were gathered together to celebrate love, acceptance, passion and beauty. There was also the impeccable Frank Langella, who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, used his time on stage to acknowledge the tragedy in Orlando and proclaim that the theatre community stood in solidarity with those effected. Leslie Odom Jr. used his speech as an opportunity to thank his cast mates and his wife saying “I could hang this entire performance on love.” Cynthia Ervio wept with joy throughout her speech and thanked her family, her cast and everyone involved with The Color Purple. When producer Jeffery Seller accepted the Best Musical Tony for Hamilton he gave an eloquent speech thanking the dreamers and innovators who built our nation and who helped build Hamilton.
All-in-all, the Tony Awards were electrifying and unifying, giving the theatre community a way to come together to take solace in the beauty of art and celebrate the joy that we can find in turning to the people and things that we love. It was a celebration of one of the most diverse seasons in Broadway history. Hamilton walked away being the clear winner with 11 Tony awards, including, no surprise, Best Musical, out of a record-breaking 16 nominations. However, the night was clearly not all about Hamilton. Every actor, actress, director, designer, friend, family member and theatre lover in that theatre and sitting at home was united in the celebration of something bigger. Yes even bigger than Hamilton… Love. Nearly everyone in attendance donned a silver ribbon pin as a way to pay tribute to the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack. At the beginning of the night, James Corden proclaimed that “hate will never win” and the events that followed proved that that was undoubtedly correct.