All hail “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical (Thomas Kail), Best Book and Original Score of a Musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Leslie Odom Jr.), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Daveed Diggs), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Renee Elise Goldsberry), Best Choreography of a Musical (Andy Blankenbuehler), Best Orchestration of a Musical (Alex Lacamoire), Best Costume Design of a Musical (Paul Tazewell) and Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Howell Binkley).
“Hamilton” swept the Tonys and everyone loved it. This musical has brought rap as a means of telling a story to Broadway, and it is an enormous hit. There are so many things about this musical that make one want to celebrate. It totally deserved all the accolades it received Sunday night at the 70th annual Tony Awards, held at the Beacon Theatre.
“Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, a role played by Miranda, who also did the book and original score for the musical. Miranda established his style of using rap music to tell stories with his hit musical “In the Heights,” but “Hamilton” has climbed much higher than I’m sure even Miranda dreamed it would. The musical tells a historic tale with some of the best nontraditional casting ever used in a Broadway musical. All the actors are Black or Hispanic, and they let the audience see the story while demonstrating the profound talent of the cast members.
Miranda was very humble as he won the Tony for book and then for original score. He said, “I spent seven years writing this. It takes a long time to get it like this. This has everything I had inside me.”
Odom was asked about the show being performed after the tragedy in Orlando, Fla. He explained that many people who come to the show save up and some had bought the tickets around Christmastime and planned to see the show the same day as the Tonys. “We were a beacon of hope for them,” he said. “We couldn’t let him [the shooter] take that away from them.”
Goldsberry spoke of her gratitude for being a part of the show. “I’m glad that Lin and Thomas let me live in that role,” she said. “Since getting the show, I prayed that I could hold on to this job. When I think about my faith, it’s always growing stronger. I asked to keep a job and I got a Drama Desk and Tony Award for it.”
Considering the phenomenon that the show has become, Goldsberry added, “Everyday there’s a screaming crowd of people at the end of the performance. On the street there are rows of people without tickets that will do a singalong with strangers because they love the show’s songs so much.”
Diggs, who is making his Broadway debut in “Hamilton,” revealed that his roots are in rap and that he is thrilled to be part of “Hamilton.” Diggs plays Thomas Jefferson and said the character reminds him of his father and grandfather. “My family is all through this work and that’s great since I’m far away from them now,” he remarked. “This season is so inclusive, there’s so much diversity on Broadway. Being with this group of artists is great. They are the most caring, generous people. I’m fortunate to be around these men and women all the time. I’m just trying to do cool stuff with good people.”
In addition to Hamilton’s phenomenal wins, something else very special happened Sunday night: four Black actors won in the major categories of Lead Actor in a Musical, Lead Actress in a Musical (Cynthia Erivo for “The Color Purple”), Featured Actor in a Musical and Featured Actress in a Musical. How amazing and fantastic was that?
Now, of course, Erivo was not the only win for “The Color Purple.” It also received the prestigious honor of Best Revival of a Musical. It was definitely no surprise to me. You have to go and see this current cast, especially the performance of Erivo. Her voice is a powerful instrument to be reckoned with and the musical just has a timelessness and a heart. It will touch your soul. Go and you’ll see.
“Eclipsed,” the dramatic play about women who are sex slaves to a commander of a camp in war-torn Liberia, won for Best Costumes Design of a Play (Clint Ramos).
But, Tony’s night of honoring excellence among African-Americans did not stop there. This year the Isabelle Stevenson Award was presented to Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell for the many years of volunteer work he has done on behalf of the Actor’s Fund. Discussing this cause and his commitment to it Mitchell said, “The Actor’s Fund is a human services organization that helps anyone who makes a living in the arts, not just actors.” Explaining why he’s involved, he added, “When the universe treats you right, you should give back. A lot of people who get help are the people whose shoulders we stood on.” Go to Actorfund.org to find out about helping the group.
In addition to Mitchell being honored, for the second year the Tony Award and Carnegie Mellon University presented an Excellence in Theatre Education Award, and this year’s recipient was Marilyn McCormick, drama teacher/director, Cass Technical High School in Detroit. McCormick’s students and former students nominated her for her tireless work of introducing them to the arts and nurturing their talents for decades. Many of her students perform in various types of theater and other venues.
I don’t know when another Tony Awards will come the likes of which happened Sunday. It was one for the ages! Broadway has never shown so much appreciation for the talents and gifts of minorities, especially African-Americans. Bravo!
See you next year, but in the meanwhile go out and support these award-winning productions. I know “Hamilton” is hard to get tickets to, but if you visit the website you can try to get the $10 lottery tickets. Also try to see “The Color Purple” and “Eclipsed.” Although it did not win any Tony Awards this year, “Shuffle Along” is dynamite and truly tells a story of Black musical Broadway theater history that everyone should know about. Broadway, now more than ever, is a marvelous place to find immensely talented Black and Hispanic performers. Go and check it out!