Tony Awards offer powerful response to Orlando massacre

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet to Orlando.

The 2016 Tony Awards were not overshadowed by the worst mass shooting in U.S. history earlier in the day in Orlando, Fla. They were instead underscored by a powerful message of inclusion and human resilience. Fitting, then, that the winner of the 2016 Best New Play is called The Humans.

As expected, Hamilton the Musical was coronated as one of the most celebrated new musicals in Broadway history, winning 11 Tony Awards. That’s one fewer than the record of 12 won by The Producers in 2001 – largely only because Hamilton had multiple nominees in several categories (16 in all).

But of all the moving acceptance speeches, it was creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, quickly becoming the conscience of the new America, reciting a “thank you sonnet” he wrote in the wake of the massacre that left 50 people dead in an Orlando nightclub. He delivered it after winning for best book of a musical:

My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.

Added Tony Awards host James Corden: “Our hearts go out to all of those affected by this atrocity. All we can say is you are not on your own right now. Your tragedy is our tragedy. Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win. Together, we have to make sure of that.”

Diane Paulus quote Tony AwardsDiane Paulus, acclaimed director of Best New Musical nominee Waitress, called the Tony Awards “a deeply moving and emotional evening” because of what happened in Orlando. “It made us all think about what our purpose is, and how precious time and life are,” she said. But the response of the New York theatre community on display at the Beacon Theatre on Sunday, she said, made plain what makes theatre special among art forms. 

“It made me appreciate what the theatre can be as a community: A place of tolerance and kindness that is embracing of diversity and freedom of expression,” Paulus said in an exclusive interview for the DCPA NewsCenter. “Our role as artists is to do whatever we can to give people courage and resilience at times like this, through music and song and dance or drama.”

Our interview with DCPA Broadway Executive Director John Ekeberg

Hamilton, the improbable hip-hop musical about America’s first Treasury Secretary, picked up Broadway’s highest honor, for best new musical. The show is sold out through January 2017. That almost everyone in the cast is non-white punctuated these as the most diverse Tony Awards in history.

“Think of tonight as the Oscars, with diversity,” Corden joked in his opening monologue. By night’s end, 2016 made history as the first Tony Awards where all four awards for acting performances in musicals went to black actors. (Pictured below right: Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry. Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions.)

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.

Tony Awards. Cynthia Erivo. Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images. “This was landmark season for women in so many ways,” said Paulus, who launched the national touring production of Pippin in Denver in 2014, and also helmed Finding Neverland, opening here on Dec. 20. “But I have said this time and time again – every artist is in their position on Waitress because they were the best person for the job.

(Pictured: Actress Cynthia Erivo accepts the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical in ‘The Color Purple.’ Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Tony Awards.)

“This was not about a casting agenda. It’s just a reflection that women are at the top of their field in composing, in writing, in choreography. This is the 21st century. We all have benefited from generations of women behind us who actually were told they couldn’t be directors or writers. I hope we can provide that example for the next generation of artists wherever they are across America. To say, ‘If you work with integrity and you tell important stories, this is not a closed door.’ We have a long way to go for women, especially in leadership roles in the musical theatre. So yes, this is a  landmark year – but let’s hope it’s not a one-off, and that this continues.”

Paulus noted that Eclipsed, Blackbird, Waitress, The Color Purple and Spring Awakening all have one very powerful commonality: “These are all shows about women who are encountering some sort of abuse or violence,” she said. “And it’s not because that’s all we care about as women. It’s because 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. experiences some sort of intimate partner domestic abuse. This is a crisis in our time.” 

A practical example of change: CBS did not pull the plug on the Tony Awards telecast at exactly three hours, as it did last year. (The historic win for the female composing team of Fun Home came after the live cutoff.)

Perhaps both the Hamilton hype and the Orlando massacre played a part, but the telecast posted its highest overnight rating in 15 years, growing 33 percent from last year. The CBS telecast drew 8.7 million viewers, largest since 2001.

The Humans, by Stephen Karam, won for best new play, best featured actress (Jayne Houdyshell) and featured actor (Reed Birney), who played a married couple struggling to love and cherish a family under stress. The cast features frequent Denver Center actor Lauren Klein, who recently starred with her husband, Mike Hartman, in the DCPA Theatre Company’s Death of a Salesman.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

The Tony Awards included Denver Center founder Donald R. Seawell in its memoriam segment, alongside names such as Roger Rees, David Bowie and Patty Duke. Seawell was first to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company to America, and he produced more than 65 Broadway plays, including the RSC’s The Hollow Crown.

In the aftermath of Orlando, the night ended with a poignant parting message from Producer Jeffrey Seller, accepting the Best Musical for Hamilton: “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” It is a song from the show, and its meaning was all the more resonant given the events of the day.

Donald Seawell Tony Awards

News and notes: 

  • Keri Russell, who grew up in Highlands Ranch, introduced the live performance by the cast of Waitress, which is based on the movie she starred in from 2007.
  • Josh Groban shouted out arts education when introducing the Fiddler on the Roof performance. “Thank you very much, arts education,” said Groban, who will make his Broadway debut this fall in The Great Comet
  • Best Director Ivo Von Hove said he first came to the U.S. specifically to see David Bowie perform in The Elephant ManHere’s our story on how that production began in Denver.
  • Celebrity presenters included Carole King, Barbara Streisand, Carole King Cate Blanchett and Jake Gyllenhaal.
  • One of Hamilton‘s wins went to Costume Designer Paul Tazewell, who also designed the DCPA Theatre Company’s new look at The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 2014.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

News services contributed to this report.

2016 Tony Award winners:

Best Musical: “Hamilton”

Best Play: “The Humans”

Best Book of a Musical: Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theater: “Hamilton”

Best Revival of a Play: “Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge”

Best Revival of a Musical: “The Color Purple”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Frank Langella, “The Father”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Jessica Lange, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Leslie Odom Jr., “Hamilton”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Cynthia Erivo, “The Color Purple”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Reed Birney, “The Humans”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play: Jayne Houdyshell, “The Humans”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical: Daveed Diggs, “Hamilton”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical: Renee Elise Goldsberry, “Hamilton”

Best Scenic Design of a Play: David Zinn, “The Humans”

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: David Rockwell, “She Loves Me”

Best Costume Design of a Play: Clint Ramos, “Eclipsed”

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Paul Tazewell, “Hamilton” 

Best Lighting Design of a Play: Natasha Katz, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Howell Binkley, “Hamilton”

Best Direction of a Play: Ivo Van Hove, “Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge”

Best Direction of a Musical: Thomas Kail, “Hamilton”

Best Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, “Hamilton”

Best Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire, “Hamilton”

Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre: Sheldon Harnick, Marshall W. Mason

Special Tony Award: National Endowment for the Arts, Miles Wilkin

Regional Theatre Tony Award: Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J.

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award: Brian Stokes Mitchell

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre: Seth Gelblum, Joan Lader, Sally Ann Parson