Maybe “heal” is too soon to call, but I’m confident that when we look back on the reactions of people, nationally and internationally, to the horrific shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, we’ll point to the broadcast of the 70th Annual Tony Awards as an important cultural milestone not only in its celebration of diversity but in its unabashed and sincere display of empathy towards the LGBTQIA community. From host James Cordon’s opening statement to Hamilton‘s win for Best Musical, the ceremony and its participants let their emotions drive their performances and their words. The victims of Orlando were truly in the hearts and minds of those performing in New York as Broadway paid tribute to the community that built it.

So let’s take a look at all of the moments that made this year’s Tonys so significant.

And as a side note, you should check out Carolyn Cox’s article about the Tonys over at The Mary Sue.

 

The Cold Open

Before the ceremony even began, host James Cordon opened the show with little fanfare. Just the camera on him, positioned from the back curtain, so those watching could see the full capacity of the theater; a theater full of the LGBTQIA community and their allies, a theater full of love and support, a theater full of voices crying “you are NOT alone!”

 

The Tonys have always made a priority out of giving it their all as a showcase of performance and passion. For many across the country and around the world the chance to see a Broadway production is slim whether because of geography or for financial reasons. And yet the lifeblood of the theater is made up of young people seeking an outlet for their creativity or a refuge from the world around them, so the broadcast takes on extra special meaning and importance for the theater community as it reaches out to the next generation.

The Hamilton Love Was Non-Stop

With a record setting 16 nominations, it was merely a question of how many awards Hamilton was going to take home at the end of the night. One shy of matching The Producers‘ record-setting 12 wins, Hamilton made an impressive haul, winning in several categories including Best Director (Tommy Kail), Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Leslie Odom, Jr.), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Daveed Diggs), Best Orchestration (Alex Lacamoire), and Best Book of a Musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda).

The hip-hop musical chronicling the “ten dollar Founding Father without a father” was all over the Tonys. Not only did Lin-Manuel Miranda’s company provide an opening parody of Hamilton‘s first song for James Cordon they also closed out the show with “The Schuyler Sisters,” a love letter to New York City with Angelica, Eliza…and Peggy proclaiming it as “the greatest city in the world.”

It’s not all that surprising how much of a presence Hamilton had; James Cordon is unapologetically Hamilton trash and he used the award ceremony to indulge in that love as well as pay tribute to the efforts of Miranda to provide entertainment for those unable to attend the show during the Ham4Ham lottery outside the Richard Rogers Theater. At each commercial break, the upcoming performers took the stage outside the Beacon Theater, surrounded by fans unable to attend the show, to sing a well-known show tune or a classic Broadway standard. Cordon even aired an edited version of his Carpool Karaoke featuring Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jane Krakowski.

But there were two Hamilton related moments that prominently stood out. First, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance sonnet after winning for Best Original Score. A man of compassion and intelligence, Miranda made “love” the word of the night as he paid tribute to his wife and the LGBTQIA community.

After his win for Best Book, Miranda told reporters, “Theater doesn’t exist without the LGBT Community. It’s the cornerstone of our industry and it’s heavy in my heart tonight.”

Secondly, the performance of “History Has It’s Eyes on You” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” showed exactly why Hamilton has become such a significant piece of art. Getting three separate introductions from James Cordon, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and Common respectively, the words and intent of the songs, not unlike the actual words of the Founding Fathers, took on new meaning. Out of respect for the victims in Orlando, Miranda and company performed without the prop muskets that would normally be featured, but I can say that their presence was barely noted as somber lyrics like “the world turned upside down” and “history has its eyes on you” reverberated through the Beacon Theater. It was a poignant moment as if the songs were chosen for a reason, sending a message to all those watching. Even the victorious shouts of “We won!” held back barely contained pride, joy, and rage. Hamilton secured its spot as the voice of a generation in that moment.

Frank Langella Pays Tribute to Orlando

After winning the award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in The Father, veteran actor Frank Langella forfeited the typical list of thank yous and instead commented on the Orlando shooting.

People of Color Sweep Major Awards

As mentioned before, Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom, Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Renée Elise Goldsberry took home awards for acting in a musical. Add to that list The Color Purple‘s Cynthia Erivo’s win for Best Lead Actress in a Musical and all four categories for acting in a musical were won by people of color. It’s a bittersweet moment of triumph since it’s the first time in the history of the Tonys that this has happened, but given the plethora of people of color nominated for Tonys this year, Broadway’s biggest night showed far more effort in promoting and encouraging diversity than the Oscars.

Speaking of which…

Diversity Steals the Showerivo

With so many people of color nominated, the plays and musicals nominated were just as diverse in their subject matter and significance to our current culture. Hamilton showed the parallels between modern and Revolutionary America through the lens of postmodern storytelling. Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed brought context to the Jazz Age play; the first to star an entirely black cast and a desegregated orchestra. The Tony performance also featured the incomparable Audra McDonald doing a tap routine while very pregnant! The Color Purple celebrated the hard work, struggle, and drive of black women finding strength in themselves and in the people they love. Worth noting was Cynthia Erivo’s powerhouse performance as Celie during the show. She brought the house down and showed why the Tony was hers to win. Even the revival of Fiddler on the Roof found significance as a celebration of faith through the struggle of the Jewish community in turn of the century Russia.

The most intriguing performance, however, was the revival of Spring Awakening with a cast made up of deaf and hearing as well as differently abled actors. Marlee Matlin, who made her Broadway debut in the Deaf West production, introduced the performance, noting that the themes of the play are universal but the deafness of some of the principal actors gives greater meaning to a musical about the failure of adults to listen to their children.

Of course one night of music and awards can’t erase the tragedy this country, specifically the LGBTQIA community, experienced, but in their own way the Tonys gave us a brief distraction. It was a generous gift and I thank them for that with all of my heart.

If you’d like to help the victims of the Orlando shooting, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund

Kate Leth also posted a roundup of pertinent links for various donations and trauma counseling. You can go here: http://kateordie.tumblr.com/post/145813044112/anyone-in-orlando-or-has-followers-from-the-area

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