The record 12-Tony sweep by The Producers in 2001 remained unbroken, but that hardly dimmed the enthusiasm for Sunday night’s big winner at the 70th annual Antoinette Perry Awards. Hamilton, the biographical Founding Father musical set to a rap score by Lin-Manuel Miranda, added 11 medallions to its already heavy-laden shelf of awards, including the big one, the Tony for Best Musical. Over the course of its journey from Off-Broadway to Sunday night’s Broadway fandango, Hamilton already had won the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics Circle award, the Obie and a dozen lesser nods.
Miranda himself came away with two Tonys, for his book and score for the show. He lost his third bid to castmate Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Hamilton’s frenemy (and ultimate killer) Aaron Burr. Odom took the award for best lead performance by an actor in a musical. Hamilton also won the awards for direction, choreography, featured actor and actress in a musical, costumes, lighting and orchestrations.
The prize for Best Play went to The Humans, a Broadway debut for playwright Stephen Karam that was the rare non-musical to make a Broadway go of it without a star’s name on the marquis. Veteran actors in the play’s two featured roles, Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell, won Tonys, along with set designer David Zinn. Accepting his Tony, Birney noted that of his 43 years in the business, “35 were pretty bad,” but the last eight had been great.
Winners in the revival categories were A View From The Bridge, whose director, Ivo Van Hove also won for best direction of a play; and The Color Purple, whose star, Cynthia Erivo, also won. The evening was a mixed bag for stars: Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, a nominee for her leading role in Danai Gurira’s war drama Eclipsed, went home empty-handed. But Jessica
Lange was named best actress for her tremendous performance as a morphine-addicted wife and mother in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. In her acceptance speech, Lange acknowledged a debt to American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy. Her co-stars Gabriel Byrne and Michael Shannon went home empty-handed. The acclaimed revival of Blackbird, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, also failed to bring home any Tonys.
The ceremony, hosted by a very game and seemingly inexhaustible James Corden — a Tony winner himself — started off with an immediate acknowledgement of the shadow cast over the evening by the horrific events in Orlando, where 50 patrons of a gay club were murdered and 53 more were injured in the worst mass killing in the country’s history. Earlier in the day, the Tony producers dedicated the program, telecast live by CBS, to the victims and their families. All of the presenters and most of the winners wore silver commemorative ribbons quickly designed by costumier William Ivey Long.
Several winners acknowledged the attack in their speeches — notably, and memorably, Frank Langella, who was named best actor in a play for his performance as a man losing his battle with Alzheimer’s in The Father. Saying he had composed a list of people to thank, he told the audience at the Beacon Theatre that instead, he shared the sorrow of all with the families in Orlando and paid tribute to the Broadway community’s “generosity and love.”
The crowd at the Beacon was in the mood to party, jazzed by a record-breaking year at the Broadway box-office and the emergence of Hamilton as a boundary-breaking cultural phenomenon like no other since Rent two decades ago. Added to that was Barbra Streisand’s appearance on the show for the first time since 1970, to present the award for best musical in the final seconds of a ceremony that went nearly a quarter-hour past its three-hour time limit. Although Corden’s father, on an aisle seat, told his son that the show was getting a little long and he really wanted to get to the party, in truth it was the best Tony production in memory. That had a great deal to do with the quality of the season and a certain self-congratulatory spirit that was announced right away, when Corden said, “Think of tonight as the Oscars — with diversity.”
In fact, the winners in all four musical roles were actors of color: Leslie Odom Jr. for Hamilton, Cynthia Erivo for The Color Purple, Daveed Diggs, featured actor in Hamilton, and Renée Elise Goldsberry, featured actress in Hamilton.
The special material for this year’s program sparkled. Among the best bits were Corden recreating his Late Late Show “carpool karaoke” routine with passengers Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jane Krakowski and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, pre-recorded and already a viral hit online, singing “One Day More” from Les Miz. In another inspired sequence, Corden pointed out many of the nominees in the audience and said they were best known for their roles on “Law & Order” — complete with clips from their appearances on the Dick Wolf series that was for recent generations of New York actors what The Fantasticks had been for an earlier one — a rite of passage that paid the bills and brought exposure. (The generational crossover? The late Jerry Orbach, the original El Gallo and later L&O star.)
An interesting failure was the use of casts from nominated shows outside the Beacon singing short bits from old musicals as intros to commercials. Nice try but no prize there.
Among the shows that failed to win any awards were the musicals Shuffle Along, School of Rock, Waitress, On Your Feet and Bright Star, the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical that is the weakest of the group and most likely to post a closing notice soon.
It was a particularly strong night for two of New York’s pre-eminent nonprofit theaters. The Public Theater provided the launching pad for Hamilton and Eclipsed, while the Roundabout Theatre Company, which operates three Broadway houses, produced the original production of The Humans, as well as Long Day’s Journey Into Night and She Loves Me.