NEW YORK — The Tony Awards on Sunday night were a bonanza for “Hamilton,” as Broadway’s wildly popular hit musical collected an impressive 11 prizes, including the coveted one for best musical. While the results reflected the widespread audience and critical acclaim for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop biography of Alexander Hamilton, they did not quite match the record 12 prizes bestowed on the musical “The Producers” in 2001.
Miranda scooped up two statuettes himself, for best book and best score of a musical. Among the show’s other wins were in the categories of direction (Thomas Kail), choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler), orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire), supporting actress (Renée Elise Goldsberry) and supporting actor (Daveed Diggs). In a mild surprise, Miranda’s co-star Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr to Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton, beat him for best actor in a musical. The show celebrated victories, too, in the design categories of costumes and lighting.
Its attempt to break the 15-year-old record of “The Producers,” however, was thwarted by David Rockwell, a winner for the set of the revival of the musical “She Loves Me,” and by a sterling performer in another show, Cynthia Erivo, who plays tragic-to-triumphant Celie in the acclaimed revival of “The Color Purple.” Such was the power of Erivo’s performance that she managed to hold back the “Hamilton” tide and win as best actress in a musical. Her show, too, took home the trophy for best revival of a musical.
Still, “Hamilton” was able to win in all but two of the 13 categories in which it earned 16 nominations, almost half of the evening’s 24-category take — a pretty remarkable achievement.
The traditional ebullience of the Tony Awards — the ceremony in which excellence is rewarded by 800 industry voters for productions that opened in the past season in one of Broadway’s 40-odd theaters — was tempered by the news of the massacre earlier in the day in an Orlando nightclub. Producers of the ceremony announced that they were dedicating the event to the shooting victims, and some minor changes were made to take note of the mass killing. For the interlude from “Hamilton,” for example — introduced by video by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama — it was decided that the number would be performed without the muskets used in the show. And Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long, head of the American Theatre Wing, which runs the Tony Awards with the Broadway League, created a special silver ribbon that attendees wore to honor those killed in Florida.
An emotional Miranda accepted the first of his awards, for best score, by reciting what he described as a “sonnet” that included allusions to the violence of the type in Orlando that has become so prevalent in American life. “Love is love is love is love,” Miranda said, declaring that it “can’t be killed or swept aside.” He then grabbed the award’s presenter, songwriter Carole King, in a bear hug.
The night was auspicious, too, for playwright Stephen Karam, whose tragicomic family drama “The Humans” was named best new play. Actors Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell won for their supporting work in Karam’s piece, an exploration of the financial, medical and emotional pressures bearing down on an average family in America’s declining middle class.
Noting that “The Humans” is an ensemble piece for six actors, a delighted Houdyshell said: “No one of us could do what we do without the other five.”
And Ivo van Hove, in contention for his work on two productions this season, was voted best director of a play for his captivating revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.” Van Hove’s rawly innovative staging earned it the Tony for best revival of a play, as well.
Best actor in a play went to Frank Langella, for his turn as a man drowning in dementia in “The Father,” and Jessica Lange scored her first Tony for her portrayal of the hopelessly addicted Mary Tyrone in Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
“It fills me with such happiness, even on such a sad day as this,” Lange said.
Langella devoted the entirety of his brief remarks to the Florida massacre. Of tragedy in general, he said, “We have three choices: We let it define us, we let it destroy us, or we let it strengthen us. Today in Orlando, we had a high dose of reality. And I urge you, Orlando, to be strong.”
By virtue of its extraordinarily high profile — Miranda has appeared on the covers of Time and Rolling Stone and Michelle Obama publicly described the show as “the best piece of art in any form I have ever seen in my life” — “Hamilton” was destined to be a focal point of the telecast. CBS had been aggressively promoting the musical’s appearance on the show, and host James Corden made it the focal point of several gags.
So the show opened, of course, with a parody “Hamilton” number featuring several of its cast members and Corden, who assured the audience that in addition to mentions of the show, the telecast would also feature “some commercial breaks.” In a fresh recurring segment, the cameras went outside the theater, where nominated artists performed Broadway show tunes of their choosing. It mimicked the popular free “#Ham4Ham” performances Miranda stages frequently with actors from various Broadway shows, outside “Hamilton’s” Richard Rodgers Theatre.
The diversity of the evening’s nominees served, too, as a noteworthy counterpoint to the 2016 Oscars, which came under fire from some quarters for their total shutout of actors of color. While there were no nonwhites recognized in the 20 slots of the Academy Awards’ four acting categories, a total of 14 actors of color were nominated for Tonys this year, out of 40 total slots. (The Tonys dole out acting awards separately for plays and musicals.) Of those 14, four actors of color won, in all four musical categories.
For some nominated shows, the paltrier results could spell box-office trouble. Some nominated productions struggling to build an audience depend on the promotional value of Tony wins. On Sunday night, the musicals “Shuffle Along, Or the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” “Waitress,” “School of Rock” and “Bright Star” all failed to garner a single Tony.
Only a juggernaut of the magnitude of “Hamilton” could be looked upon as having slightly underperformed with a tally of 11 wins. And in spite of that, it was clearly Miranda and “Hamilton’s” night.
In his acceptance speech, “Hamilton” director Kail summed up his debt to the show’s creator. “I exist to try to take what you have given,” he said, addressing Miranda, “and bring honor to that.”