Graphic above by DCPA Art Director Kyle Malone.
DCPA Broadway Executive Director John Ekeberg has been a Tony Awards voter since 2006. And while it would be professional bad form for him to express a preference for one musical over any another, he is among the few, the bold, and the brave who are going out on a limb and calling this year’s awards “The HamilTonys.”
“I would say Ross Perot has a better chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination than Hamilton has of losing the Best Musical Tony Award,” Ekeberg said, adding with a wink: “But you never know until all the votes are counted.”
Hamilton (pictured right) is the rare piece of live theater to cross over into the mainstream popular culture. But it is perhaps the first to do so before anyone outside of Broadway has even seen it. Interest in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-infused musical about the founding fathers is approaching what Variety calls “stratospheric levels.”
Hamilton is nominated for 16 Tony Awards, more than any other show in Broadway history. It can’t break The Producers’ all-time record with 12 wins on Sunday night (7 p.m., CBS), but it’s a mathematical impossibility only because the show has so many multiple nominees in the same individual acting categories. Still, Hamilton is nominated in every category of theatremaking — acting, writing, directing, dancing, music and design.
Hamilton is sold-out on Broadway through January 2017. It is regularly propped and promoted on daytime and late-night television. But if you really want to know how deep Hamilton Fever runs, consider that officials at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo have named a new camel born there last month “Alexander Camelton.”
We are having a pop-culture moment, said Ekeberg (pictured right).
“I think where Hamilton really succeeded was the gestalt of it all,” said Ekeberg. “When a piece of theatre works, there is something about it that is larger than the sum of its individual parts. Hamilton succeeds at all of the things that make theatrical storytelling great.”
Ekeberg said the musical is resonating with audiences on multiple levels. “Some of the issues the story touches on regarding diversity and immigration and our country’s values at its beginning are revealing meaningful truths about where we are as a country today,” he said.
But if Hamilton is going to run the table on Sunday night, is there any reason to even watch on Sunday night? “Absolutely,” Ekeberg was quick to say back. Since CBS began broadcasting the awards in 1978, the annual telecast has become an essential opportunity to introduce to heartland American audiences the musicals that will be visiting their cities in the coming years.
“It is incredibly important that as many TV viewers tune into the Tony Awards as possible,” said Ekeberg. And with interest in Hamilton skyrocketing, Ekeberg believes the often ratings-challenged broadcast could get a boost.
“Hamilton is a fantastic show, no question, and I expect it to do very well in terms of awards,” Ekeberg said. “But it was a great season on Broadway all around, and a lot of shows will be featured on that broadcast. I am excited that whatever attention Hamilton brings to the broadcast means more people will see other shows like Shuffle Along and Waitress as well.
“The Tony Awards are a celebration of all things Broadway, and if Hamilton means more people will tune into the celebration because of it, then all the better. I like to believe the old saying that a rising tide floats all boats.”
What strikes Ekeberg most about the Broadway theatre season just passed was its unprecedented diversity. Of the 40 acting nominations, 14 went to black, Hispanic and Asian-American actors. Contrast that with the controversy the Academy Awards faced in February over the lack of nominations for nonwhite performers.
“From Hamilton to Shuffle Along to The Color Purple to On Your Feet, it’s been an amazing season for diversity on Broadway,” said Ekeberg. But the open-door policy goes far beyond skin color. This season brought Deaf West’s acclaimed production of Spring Awakening, which included not only hearing-impaired actors, but the first non-able-bodied actress to appear on Broadway in a wheelchair (Ali Stoker).
Additionally, Waitress became the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team. And the powerful political drama Eclipsed was the first Broadway play written by, directed by and starring women.
“It’s been a pretty amazing year,” Ekeberg said.
We talked to Ekeberg further about the Tony Awards, who votes for them, and what else to look for on Sunday’s broadcast, which will be hosted by Broadway actor, film star and now, late-night TV host James Corden.
John Moore: So, who are the Tony Awards voters, anyway?
John Ekeberg: There are approximately 846 eligible voters, the vast majority of whom are New York theatre professionals. Tony voters include full members of The Broadway League as well as the board of directors and designated members of the advisory committee of the American Theatre Wing, which is comprised of theatre professionals, general managers and those of us from out-of-town who oversee touring Broadway programming in those communities.
John Moore: Why is it important that the touring community has a voice in determining the winners?
John Ekeberg: Broadway is first and foremost a New York-centric business. But I actually think that as the years go on, the lifespan of any piece of commercial theatre is only expanded by its increased exposure on the road.
John Moore: How much do the Tony Awards directly affect what shows we eventually see in Denver?
John Ekeberg: I take the results very seriously. If the profession-at-large has determined a show to be the best musical of any given season, there would be no reason I would prevent the Denver community from seeing that show. I feel like part of our role here is to keep our local community at the forefront of the pulse of Broadway theatre, and certainly winning the Tony Award for best musical qualifies a show as being a part of that heartbeat.
John Moore: Still, it must takes some courage to book underdog or controversial Best Musical winners such as Fun Home and Spring Awakening.
John Ekeberg: I don’t know that it takes courage. When I heard the name “Fun Home” announced as last year’s Best Musical, my immediate reaction was, “When is it getting to Denver?” I never gave it a second thought. I just can’t imagine getting a call from John Q. Public asking me, ‘Why didn’t you book the Tony Award-winner for Best Musical?’ – and not having a good answer for that.
John Moore: But your predecessor Randy Weeks said it took some real soul-searching for him to eventually book Spring Awakening.
John Ekeberg: Things have changed. I go back to how freaked out people were about Avenue Q. I feel like our Denver audiences, time and time again, have proven to us that challenging material is valuable to their lives, and they want it to be seen onstage here in Denver. I think we’re in a really exciting time where we have a lot of shows that are telling important stories from interesting points of view.
Tony Awards telecast information
- The Tony Awards will air on a one-hour delay at 7 p.m. MDT on CBS-4.
- Host: James Corden
- Watch the pre-show, red-carpet special live online at tonyawards.com