After a morning of unthinkable loss, it hardly felt like a time to celebrate. The massacre in Orlando that devastated the nation and the LGBT community happened just hours before a Tony ceremony that soldiered on as planned, with host James Cordon and other artists expressing messages of grief and hope, emphasizing the power of art and the theatre community’s inclusive embrace. The ceremony itself was dedicated to the victims of the shooting, and many wore silver ribbons to show their support.
Underneath this shadow, the 70th annual awards were, as expected, an ode to the musical sensation Hamilton, which took home 11 Tonys, one shy of the record dozen held by The Producers. The hip-hop take on American history was so certain to win big that the ceremony both opened and closed with numbers from the show, a rarity if not a first. In addition to Best Musical, which Barbara Streisand handed over with a touching nod to the day’s events, acting prizes went to Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Renée Elise Goldsberry. With his win for Best Score, Lin-Manuel Miranda gave one of the evening’s most touching Orlando tributes, in the form of a sonnet to his wife.
After a show-stopping performance from The Color Purple that resonated with a message of pride and resilience, star Cynthia Erivo took home the much-deserved honor of Best Actress in a Musical. With her win, all four musical acting awards went to people of color, a first in Tony history (Hollywood, take note). In accepting the production’s win for Best Revival of a Musical, producer Scott Sanders reiterated Celie’s inspiring message: “I’m beautiful and I’m here.”
Stephen Karam’s uncanny family drama The Humans reigned among new plays, winning featured acting prizes for venerable industry vets Jayne Houdyshell and Reed Birney, for their turns as a couple struggling with emotional and financial hardships. In accepting the show’s Best Play award, producer Scott Rudin credited its success to director Joe Mantello, who also received shout-outs from the acting champs.
Celebrated veterans also took home the top acting prizes, including Jessica Lange for her stunning performance as Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night. In his speech accepting the Best Actor award for his brilliant turn as an Alzheimer’s sufferer in The Father, Frank Langella scrapped a list of names in favor of a moving speech urging Orlando to stay strong. “We will be with you every step of the way,” the 78-year-old concluded.
Belgian avant-garde Ivo van Hove was also a big winner, with his white-box take on Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge winning him the Best Director prize in addition to taking home Best Revival of a Play.
The telecast celebrated other shows as well, which in any other season would have been strong contenders for top honors but were largely shut out. A performance from Shuffle Along saw a pregnant Audra McDonald tap-dancing backward alongside the musical’s starry cast. Sara Bareilles and Jesse Mueller teamed up on a beautiful performance from Waitress, introduced by the movie’s star Keri Russell. School of Rock, On Your Feet!, and the shuttered Spring Awakening each delivered their own rousing numbers, only the former two in the hopes of selling tickets.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus,matthew murphy, brigitte lacombe, julieta cervantes)