The Tony Awards 2016

The Award for Warm Humanity Goes to the Tonys (‘Hamilton’ Did OK, Too)

The Daily Beast

June 13, 2016

In a Tonys respectfully, movingly, and quite properly informed by the LGBT massacre in Orlando, it was a night dominated—as long-predicted—by the musical, Hamilton.

With Barack and Michelle Obama, and Common, eloquently introducing the performance the show’s cast gave on the night—its title star and creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, leading them—all its competitors could do was sit back and look forward to partying later.

Hamilton, as expected, racked up an impressive, if not record-shattering 11 awards (The Producers won 12 in 2001) in the musical categories, winning the Best Musical gong (presented by Barbra Streisand), and Best Actor in a musical for Leslie Odom Jr. (who plays Aaron Burr)—deservedly beating out Miranda himself, who looked pretty OK with having lost.

Odom Jr. delivered a powerful and feeling acceptance speech, thanking his castmates and the show for “saving” him.

Hamilton also won best direction of a musical for Thomas Kail, Best Original Score (music and/or lyrics) written for the theater for Miranda, as well as Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for the charismatic and swaggering Daveed Diggs (who plays both the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson), and Featured Actress for Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler).

Those who have seen Hamilton will know it deserves every one of its awards. The hype around it is in rightful correlation to its brilliance and accomplishment. From the music to its story—of Alexander Hamilton’s political ascent and fledgling American democracy—to its writing and execution, this is a thoroughbred.

In an evening peppered with references to love winning over hate (and customized in James Corden’s emphatically embracing opening), Miranda even supplied a sonnet dedicated to the Orlando massacre.

The consideration given to the massacre at the Pulse LGBT nightclub and its victims within the show itself revealed how life-enhancing and joy-inspiring theater and art can be. These are not luxuries, but necessities.

The massacre at Pulse nightclub gave the Tonys a loudly beating background heart, and—on a day when LGBT and LGBT allies’ hearts, minds, and bodies had been battered—a reminder that this gayest, gay-friendliest, and most gay-adjacent of industries not only cared, but knew in a primetime entertainment spectacular how to make that care and love hearteningly, humanely evident.

In the musical categories, Hamilton was almost unstoppable. Miranda also won Best Book of a Musical, and Andy Blankenbuehler for dizzying choreography that combines so stylishly so many forms of physical movement and musical expression.

Hamilton also won Best Lighting Design (Howell Binkley) and Best Costume Design (Paul Tazewell). It won Best Orchestration for Alex Lacamoire and his wonderful musicians who segue from ballads to rap to rock in their hidden burrow beneath the stage.

In the musical awards, what did Hamilton miss out on? In scenic design its ropes, moving staircases, and brick-backed amphitheater was beaten by the delicate ingenuity of David Rockwell’s design for She Loves Me.

Cynthia Erivo also broke the Hamilton hold, winning Best Actress in a Musical for The Color Purple, meaning that—for the first time—a black performer won awards in each acting category for musicals. (And viewers had the good fortune to see the evidence of her powers, when Erivo took center stage when a number from the show was staged.)

Erivo gave a moving and emotional speech: she was a “London girl” made very happy with the win.

The Color Purple also won Best Revival of a Musical.

As was widely noted before the Tonys, and sealed decisively on the night, if the Oscars was criticized for their whiteness, the Tonys can be justly hailed for its diversity.

In the play categories, Tony voters chose a slice of witty, unsettling family melodrama as Best Play. Stephen Karam’s The Humans may not have been a surprise winner, but—like Hamilton—satisfyingly arrived from off-Broadway to assume its place on the Great White Way.

Focusing on a family meeting for Thanksgiving at their daughter’s New York apartment, The Humans features strange, forbidding noises that punctuate the dysfunctional relationships. This is a family haunted every which way.

Jayne Houdyshell, who plays the put-upon matriarch, won Best Featured Actress, while Reed Birney, who plays her husband, won Best Featured Actor and delivered one of the evening’s loveliest speeches.

Birney said he had been an actor for 42 years, 35 of which had been pretty bad, but what had sustained him were the “great, amazing people” he has worked with. He had not taken the route to Broadway, succinctly laid out by Steve Martin moments later: you can work away at your craft for years to end up there, Martin said, “or do what I did, and be famous.”

David Zinn’s stage design for The Humans—an open doll’s house-style cross section of a slightly cruddy, split-level Manhattan apartment with flickering lights, and finally scary darkness—won the award for scenic design.

But The Humans didn’t rout the dramatic category as Hamilton did the musical.

Jessica Lange’s stunning performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night earned her the Best Actress award. The play may be almost three hours long, but don’t be put off by that. See it to be transfixed by Lange’s perfectly pitched incarnation of the morphine and demon-addled Mary Tyrone, fluttering around the family manse as a menacing and vulnerable lace-dressed emotional missile.

“This is a dream come true. It fills me with such happiness even on a sad day like this,” Lange said. The orchestra dared to play Lange out: rather them than me. Yikes.

Natasha Katz’s distinctive lighting design for Long Day’s, which features a number of stunning effects to convey day-into-evening, won the play-lighting Tony. Clint Ramos’s costume design for Eclipsed won that play’s only Tony, with its star Lupita Nyong’o losing out to Lange.

Frank Langella—who beat out Lange’s co-star Gabriel Byrne, and Mark Strong, the glowering patriarch in A View from the Bridge—for the Best Actor in a Play award also delivered a strong, Orlando massacre-themed acceptance speech, choosing to deliver—as he put it—words rather than the familiar prizewinner litany of agents, managers, and co-stars.

“We will be with you every step of the way,” Langella said, addressing Orlando directly.

However, View won Best Revival and Best Direction of a Play for Ivo Van Hove. Van Hove’s staging included on-stage showers and a spare, furnishing-free crucible that was more, appositely, boxing ring than family home.

In a charming acceptance speech, Van Hove—who also directed David Bowie’s Lazarus off-Broadway this season—recalled that as a young man he had come to Broadway to see David Bowie perform in The Elephant Man in 1980, where a woman had asked what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to be a theater director. She asked him to sign her program.

“You never know,” she said, alluding to the possibility of his future success.

He and we hoped, if this lady was alive, she was watching the Tonys, and perhaps armed with that program, smiling broadly.