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Takeaways from the 2016 Tony Awards

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

Now that we've had a little time to recover from last night's Tony Awards, we have a few more thoughts. 

Hamilton came through. As expected, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s supersmash dominated the musical awards, winning all but two of the 13 categories in which it was nominated. But it also dominated the telecast: beginning (a joke version of “Alexander Hamilton,” introducing host James Corden), middle (“History Has Its Eyes on You” and “Yorktown”) and end (a bonus finale of “The Schuyler Sisters”). It was reminiscent of the 1976 Tonys, when A Chorus Line—that year’s inevitable winner—performed its opening and closing numbers as the opening and closing numbers of the telecast. Viewers hungry for a glimpse of Hamilton stayed tuned like paupers pressing their faces against the windows of a fancy restaurant: 8.7 million viewers watched the show, the most in 15 years and up 35% from last year’s edition.

Broadway women sure can sing. The Broadway musical is one of the rare art forms that has tended to favor women as stars, and this year’s telecast was a showcase for exceptional female voices. Jessie Mueller, Laura Benanti and Carmen Cusack soared in their big numbers, demonstrating that this year’s field for Best Actress in a Musical was one of the most impressive in Tony history. And as for winner Cynthia Erivo, of The Color Purple, consider this: Erivo is a British actor with no previous Broadway credits who received two standing ovations at the Tony Awards. That’s how good she is.

Diversity at the Tonys is real. Racism? Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical went to shows with predominantly black casts, and black performers won all four musical acting awards. Sexism? A gay man (of Lebanese descent) won Best Play; another gay man won Best Director of a Play. Ageism? All four acting winners in the play categories were over 60 years old. And that’s just the winners!

Theater people give better speeches. They know how to hold themselves onstage. They can memorize lines and deliver them quickly and clearly. They are inventive (especially Miranda, who wrote a 16-line poem.) They are quick to share credit with their costars and collaborators. And they can deal with tragedy—as they did last night, in the wake of the Orlando massacre—with gravity and respect.

Scott Rudin is a gracious winner. He has a reputation as a tough cookie, but megaproducer Rudin came off as a sweetheart last night. When A View from the Bridge won for Best Revival, Rudin credited its success to David Lan of London’s Young Vic (where it originated), and insisted that Lan take the microphone. Later, The Humans won for Best Play, an award that goes to both the playwright and the producer. After thanking his partners, Rudin ceded his half of the award to the The Humans’s director. “I would be remiss in taking this, because by rights it really belongs to Joe Mantello,” he said. “So I’m going to give it to him!” Which, with a hug, he did.

Danny Burstein is the Susan Lucci of the Tonys. Though he is a magnificent Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Burstein lost the Best Actor in a Musical Tony to Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. It was his sixth loss in 11 years, which gives him the distinction of being the actor nominated for the most Tonys without winning one. (For trivia buffs: The five-loss club comprises Tom Aldredge, Dana Ivey, Jan Maxwell, Estelle Parsons, John McMartin and George C. Scott.) Hopefully, he’ll get many more shots at the medallion. Meanwhile, he has the Tony Award of our hearts.

It was, overall, a very strong Tony telecast. And that’s mostly because, overall, it was a very strong Broadway season. Let’s see how they top this next year.

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