Written by Brooke Robinson with reporting and photography by Samantha Stephens and Nicole Nadler
The 70th Annual Tony Awards showed us that the most powerful response to fear and violence is love and hope.
The broadcast, which aired at 8pm EST on Sunday, came only hours after a gunman left 50 dead and many more injured in a gay nightclub in Orlando, began with a somber message from host James Corden.
“Hate will never win,” Corden said. “Together, we have to make sure of that. Tonight’s show stands as a symbol and celebration of that principle.”
Several other reminders of the day’s tragic events occurred throughout the ceremony. Most attendees sported a silver ribbon on their evening wear in honor of the victims. Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s acceptance speech for Best Original Score for Hamilton took the form of a sonnet in which he stated that, “Love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” Later on in the evening, Jessica Lange also mentioned the events in her acceptance speech for Best Leading Actress in a Play for Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Soon after, she was followed by Frank Langella (Best Leading Actor in a Play for The Father), who, rather than list of “a litany of names”, gave a message of strength to the people of Orlando.
The proceedings were also filled with abundant joy, which is always an effective weapon against terrible grief. In the winner’s circle, Best Leading Actor in a Musical recipient Leslie Odom Jr. discussed how something to look forward to – even something such as the Tony Awards, long-awaited Hamilton tickets, or a Beyonce concert – can bring about a moment of happiness.
“That was re-focusing, that was re-focusing,” Odom said. “We can’t let them take that away from those people.”
Odom added that he and his wife, actress Nicolette Robinson, recently purchased Beyonce tickets and how something to look forward to can bring about a sense of hope and a moment away from grief.
“That’s what something like this represents. Something looks forward to that. They pay their money. That is a bastion of hope for somebody,” he said. “I believe that even if people couldn’t watch the Tonys today, they’ll watch it a week from now or two weeks from now and it will make them feel better. It will bolster them.”
Of course, all eyes were on Hamilton, which had a record-breaking 16 nominations. Although the show failed to beat The Producers for most Tony wins, it still came away with an astonishing 11 wins, including Best Musical. Hamilton’s performance also paid tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting by removing the use of muskets during “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”, a simple but very moving gesture. They also surprised audiences with a performance of “The Schuyler Sisters” at the end of the broadcast.
For the first time in history, all four of the musical acting awards went to actors and actresses of color: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Cynthia Erivo, who didn’t leave a dry eye in the house after her show-stopping performance of The Color Purple, which also received a standing ovation and later won for Best Revival of a Musical. Erivo’s remarkably powerful vocals in particular served as a reminder of the incredible talent Broadway witnessed in the 2015-2016 season.
Another unforgettable performance came from Waitress leading lady Jessie Mueller, who gave her heart and soul in her performance of the heart-wrenching “She Used to Be Mine”. Although the musical didn’t receive any awards last night, the cast proved in just a few minutes why the production absolutely should not be overshadowed or overlooked.
Other performances that brought down the house were Spring Awakening‘s reminder that their revival broke down barriers, Shuffle Along‘s showcasing of its leading lady Audra McDonald, She Loves Me‘s charming trio of songs, and Fiddler on the Roof‘s exuberant onstage wedding celebration.
The evening was a much-needed reminder of the goodness still left in the world, even in the wake of tragedy. It served as a testament to the Broadway community’s amazing ability to come together in the darkest times. The awards also reminded that theatre is a loving home for everyone regardless of race, gender, religion, or disability.
Stage Door Dish was on the Tony Awards red carpet and discussed the importance of theatre with winners, nominees, and stars moments before Corden’s moving dedication.
What makes Broadway such a special community?
Jeff Mahshie (Nominated for Best Costume Design of a Musical, She Loves Me): I love the theatre. I grew up going to the theatre, and my dad’s actually here tonight. What makes theatre different is the minute you sit in a seat, the rest of the world goes away. Very few things do that. That ability to disappear in a story and have that become everything is priceless, especially in today’s world with all its noise.
Glenn Slater (Nominated for Best Original Score, School of Rock): Theatre, as opposed to all other forms of entertainment, is all about human connection. It’s about sitting in the audience and being able to look at another person in the eyes, see them breathing, see them making decisions, and see them making mistakes sometimes. It’s the only art form where you actually get to have that one-on-one bond with the performers. Theatre is the oldest art form as well; it’s been around for 3000 years. There’s something about that connection that has persisted through the ages and still has meaning, particularly in this era where so much interaction is done through screens.
Stephen Byrd (Producer, Eclipsed): It can enlighten people. There’s nothing like leaving the theatre feeling better than when you went in. Theatre takes you and transports you into a different world that you would have never ventured into.
Andy Blankenbuehler (Winner for Best Choreography, Hamilton): Theatre to me is an opportunity to put into action what you believe in life. Sometimes we feel like things are out of our control, but our imagination allows us to imagine the world that we really want. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have a job that allows me to actually put things on stage that project an ideal world. To me, that’s the most important thing.
David Furr (Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Noises Off): There’s no substitute for seeing a person perform live. When you see someone physically going through that experience right in front of you, there’s an immediacy to it that is as effective and affecting as film and television can be. As a human, you can’t help but to connect to that. As a performer, it’s so important and so wonderful because you get that connection back from the audience. In terms of Noises Off, when you get those laughs, or if it’s a drama, when you feel an audience inhale or go silent, that’s just amazing. That’s what I miss when doing on-camera work; the audience is somewhere in the future, and you don’t get that wonderful give and take.
Katie Boeck (Spring Awakening): In light of events like today, it’s important that we create in the midst of distraction and just keep putting our hearts out there and trying to spread peace.
Lisa Kron (Playwright/Lyricist & Composer, Fun Home): It feels so fundamental, in a way. It’s been around for a long time and I don’t think it will ever die. I always feel like it’s a calling; you don’t choose it, it chooses you. In a certain way, it’s like being gay. I never saw theatre when I was a kid. I listened to cast albums, but that was it. And yet, I found my way there. You are on a completely different path. You’re imagining an alternate version of the world. Making a metaphor out of it is a basic human need, and to come together and watch it together is a very powerful human experience.
Liesl Tommy (Nominated for Best Direction of a Play, Eclipsed): Theatre is important because it provides audiences with opportunities to see lives other than their own and to find connections. You introduce young people to stories about lives that they might fear or cultures that they don’t understand, and you introduce them with exciting, provocative stories with depth, and they can start to connect to those people and places. They start to understand that we are all one human being together on this earth. I really believe that theatre has the power to change lives. I see it happening every night with the audiences at Eclipsed. That’s the reason we’re all wearing these pins tonight, as a show of support after the tragedy in Orlando this morning. It’s incredibly painful that this still keeps happening. We just have to continue to do everything that we can to fight for our fellow human beings’ lives and safety.
David Korins (Nominated for Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Hamilton): It’s about the human connection. It’s a word-based medium at its heart, even though I’m a visual designer. It challenges human beings to get into a dark room and trust each other. We are smarter and we learn better as a community, and the stories translate in a beautiful and more powerful way as a community.
Brandon Victor Dixon (Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Shuffle Along): Theatre is important to me in my heart because theatre is inherently a community art form. It’s how we learn about one another, it’s how we share with one another, and it’s how we connect as human beings. When we use theatre to see ourselves in one another, it helps us to evolve and makes us greater as human beings.
Rebecca Luker (Three-time Tony nominee, most recently seen in Fun Home): Theatre is one of the most powerful things in the world. It can bring people together, it can change the world, it can bring social issues to the fore, it can entertain people, it makes people happy, and it changes peoples’ lives.
Ali Stroker (Spring Awakening): Theatre has saved my life and changed my life. Finding music and learning what it meant to be an actress and play a part really helped me find my confidence as a woman. It is my purpose. I feel in alignment when I am acting and performing.
Christopher Fitzgerald (Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Waitress): It’s important because we get to tell beautiful stories about real people.
Saycon Sengbloh (Nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Eclipsed): Children need to be able to express themselves. Adults doing theatre, we’re just grown-up kids expressing ourselves and creating. Creativity brings joy and relaxation, because we all work really hard in America. I say that all the time.
Andy Mientus (Spring Awakening): I’ve always been drawn to it; I can’t get enough, no matter where life takes me, it’s just always been a part of it. Since it means so much to me and I know it means so much to all these people and so many people at home, I’m glad that I’m able to contribute in the ways that I can.
Michael Arden (Nominated for Best Direction of a Musical, Spring Awakening): For me, it’s living and breathing. To be able to not only celebrate life, our greatest gift, but to reflect back an incredibly diverse landscape that exists within the world, all shapes, sizes, and colors, is really an incredible opportunity and responsibility. I’m so happy to be here tonight doing that.
Pascale Armand (Nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Eclipsed): Theatre is my home, and home is always important. That’s what it is to me.