Last night’s Tony Awards garnered the highest ratings the show has seen in 15 years. Considering the cultural significance of theater since practically the dawn of time and that this is the 70th year of the awards show, one has to wonder at this return of interest. It looks it may be a variety of factors including the freshness of a new show like Hamilton, the great mix of revivals and original new plays, and, perhaps most significantly, the way in which theater has far more quickly embraced diversity over film and television.
Host James Corden joked that the Tony’s were like the Oscar’s but with more diversity, and just looking around at the audience and nominees it was abundantly clear how true that was. Another smart move on the part of the award show’s producers was the emphasis placed on well-known Broadway hits and mainstays. Not only did Corden start the show with a medley of well known musical numbers, making for a sort of trivia game for true musical snobs to showcase their knowledge, but also the ensembles of several musicals sang the hits from well-known musicals in front of the theater after commercial breaks.
With performances galore, heartfelt speeches, and a sense of community exuding off the screen in a time when America needed to see it most, here are all the reasons why last night’s Tony Awards may have been the best yet:
You don’t have as the new host of The Late Late Show to appreciate Corden as host of the Tony’s. He’s an obvious choice, as he hilariously points out in his opening medley of musical numbers where he sang snippets of classic musical numbers describing how seeing these roles and hearing these songs made him want to eventually take on the parts. Everything from Phantom of the Opera to Dream Girls. He performed with the sort of high energy and charisma needed to host an award show celebrating theatrics. And his somber opening speech recognizing the events in Orlando that had occurred that morning and the support the theater world would be sending to the victims and their families was an excellent blend of sensitivity and inclusiveness.
The Color Purple Performance
Of the many performances of the evening none was as moving as Cynthia Erivo singing from The Color Purple. The magic of watching a theatrical musical number on television is HD quality close-ups and as a result it was only so easy to see the sincere heart and soul Erivo put into her performance. And woh, that voice! Erivo won Best Featured Actress later in the evening for her role as Celie in the Oprah produced production and gave a heartfelt speech about being a “London girl made very happy.”
Hamilton’s 11 Wins
Having been nominated for a record 16 Tony awards, Hamilton was always going to be the . It was just common sense to bookend the entire show with performances by the cast AND an additional performance during the show as well. From principle actors Daveed Diggs (Best Featured Actor), Leslie Odom Jr. (Best Leading Actor) and Renée Elise Goldsberry (Best Featured Actress) to choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton took home its weight in trophies last night. The jokes around Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in the musical, winning the award over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton is just ripe with assassination jokes.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Speech
Speaking of Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Pulitzer Prize winning creator of the historical musical that has stolen hearts across the country didn’t go home empty-handed. Nominated for three awards, including book, music and performance, he ultimately accepted the awards for music and book. for the first, music, he read a sonnet he had written in part to his wife Vanessa and referencing the horrible events of Sunday morning, eloquently saying:
“When senseless acts of tragedy remind us nothing here is promised, not one day/The show is proof that history remembers/We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger/We rise and fall/And light from dying embers/ Remembrance that hope and love last longer/And love is love is love is love is love…”
Dry eyes were scarce in attendance both on and in front of TV screens and the country sniffled together at the truth of his words.
Law & Order Jokes
By far the night’s funniest joke was a montage of all the actor’s present who had played in Law & Order. A hilarious joke riffing on not only the insecurity of a life as an actor and the dreams now being realized by those in the room, but also a jab at Law & Order’s long-running status as a lovely paycheck and quick moment of fame for up and coming actors. Claire Danes, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., and many others popped up beside photos of the characters they played. Of course, none had Fiddler on the Roof’s Danny Burstein beat, with his record 6 separate roles on the show. Glad he’s found success at last!
By far the biggest win of the night was the absolutely refreshing sense of diversity the Tony’s exuded. In multiple categories were there often more than one person of color represented in nominations, but also many wins. Historically black musical Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed is enjoying a popular revival and their performance of “Shuffle Along” was among the strongest of the night. Unless watching the BET awards, its been pretty hard to feel a in awards shows of late, not to mention the lack of roles in film and television. This sense of inclusion was by far the strongest theme of the night and the progressive nature of Broadway is why it will remain an entertainment mecca for years to come.
Unfortunately for all the good of the Tony Awards, there were at least a few moments that just did not work.
On Your Feet Performance
A musical showcasing the rise in fame of Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio Estefan should have been a sure-fire get-on-your-feet moment for the show. Heck, one of Estefan’s own hit songs “Get On Your Feet” was among those performed. Gloria even came out to lend her voice to the songs and yet the entire thing felt forced. Gloria should have let the stars of the show be the center of the performance. Somehow her involvement made her songs feel dated and underwhelming.
As much as has become a favorite bit on Corden’s The Late Late Show, inserting a WAY too long clip of himself and Lin-Manuel Miranda singing showtunes while driving around NYC smack dab into the middle of the show felt stale. When the couple pick up Jane Krakowski, Audra McDonald, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and continue singing from Les Miserables it spirals into an insider nerd session of who can show off being the loudest musical buff in the car. Sure, any true fan of Broadway can easily belt out any major musical’s hits while in the car, and loves to do so, but now we know it doesn’t make for interesting TV. Especially not when professional performances were already littered throughout the awards show to much better goosebump-inducing effect.
Overkill on the Nostalgia
Starting the show with a roundup medley of Broadway’s greatest hits was an inspired choice, quickly uniting the audience over whatever of the many shows represented may be their favorites. Then the producers took a step too far inserting small snippets of the major musical ensembles singing bits of Broadway staples after each commercial break. Not only were they awkwardly outside among the crowd, but the songs chosen were all obvious, not always a good fit for the ensemble singing them and so corny that at times it felt like even the singers knew they were being manipulated for nostalgia’s sake. Either the Tony’s should have saved this sort of heavy hitting Broadway appreciation for their 75th anniversary show, or maybe not done quite so many of them. Considering the show ran late it would have been the easiest place to cut and felt like an unnecessary ode to the past in a time when it’s the “now” of Broadway that makes last night’s Tony Awards so exciting.
It’s a GREAT time for theater and the Tony’s were the best they’ve been in a while. So now there’s only one question left:
When is Hamilton touring the country and where do I buy tickets?
“Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.” – Ferris Bueller