Orlando Gay Nightclub Shooting Casts a Shadow on Tony Awards

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Austin Ellis, a member of Metropolitan Community Church, carries a cross with a sign in memory of the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting as he marches in the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday in Philadelphia, Pa.

"Today's a day of tragedy," said 'Hamilton' creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. "At the same time, I'm in a room of people who made new art and new music this year and I'm happy to be celebrating that. I feel like we need it more than ever."

NEW YORK (AP) — The shooting at a gay Florida nightclub cast a shadow on the 2016 Tony Awards, with organizers dedicating Sunday's ceremony to the victims and Broadway performers rushing to embrace the LGBT community.

"My heart is saddened by it," said Jeffrey Seller, producer of Hamilton, which goes into the night with a leading 16 Tony nominations. "The celebration tonight is tempered by it."

At least 50 people died early Sunday when a gunman opened fire inside a crowded nightclub in Orlando, Fla. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Organizers didn't say how the evening's Tony broadcast would be affected, but Hamilton — the musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton that is expected to win big — will drop its use of muskets in its performance, according to a spokesman for the musical.

The Tony show also created a silver ribbon for stars to wear in solidarity, and they were seen on the suits of actor Sean Hayes and director George C. Wolfe.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of Hamilton, said the shooting was "heavy in my heart and heavy in my mind. Today's a day of tragedy. At the same time, I'm in a room of people who made new art and new music this year and I'm happy to be celebrating that. I feel like we need it more than ever."

There was an obvious stepped-up security presence outside New York's Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side, with explosive-sniffing dogs and a critical response team at the ready. Bags were being checked and credentials scrutinized.

The shooting was close to home for Christopher Fitzgerald, a nominee for the musical Waitress who went to school in Orlando. "I'm heartbroken. I think everybody is feeling it, so we are at least all coming together to celebrate and not live in fear," he said.

Performers who have strong ties to the gay community like Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald took to Twitter to express their outrage over the attack. Miranda tweeted a rainbow-hued heart with "Orlando" written beneath it.

Josh Groban, who plans to star on Broadway this fall, tweeted: "We mourn but stand tall." Tony nominee Cynthia Erivo simply wrote: "Sending thoughts to Orlando." Neil Patrick Harris called the tragedy "beyond sad," adding "my deepest regrets to all those suffering."

The performance from the revival of Spring Awakening, featuring a mix of hearing and deaf performers, was dedicated to the victims. The show's director, Michael Arden, called the attack "senseless." Jesse Tyler Ferguson tweeted: "Heartbroken for my LGBTQ brothers & sisters."

The shooting threatened to put a damper on the expected victory lap for Hamilton, Miranda's hip-hop-flavored biography about the first U.S. treasury secretary. With its diverse cast, the show has become a cultural phenomenon, bringing attention to Broadway like no other.

At rehearsal, Tonys host James Corden led a show that was endearing, respectful and not at all edgy. The Late Late Show host sang and danced and encouraged others in the audience to pick songs and join him in a bit of karaoke during breaks. No official mention was made of the Orlando attack.

An hour before the show, Corden came out to quickly greet the audience dressed in a terry-cloth bathrobe and socks and a towel turban on his head.

The show itself seemed to burst out of the smallish Beacon Theatre, taking a page from the weekly free public concerts outside Hamilton to put performers from the nominated shows on tiny stages outside the venue serenading the crowd before and after commercial breaks.

Hamilton and the 38 new productions this season helped Broadway's attendance figures hit a record high, up 1.6 percent to 13.3 million ticket buyers. The box offices reported a record total gross of $1.37 billion — up 0.6 percent from the previous season.

This season brought unusual musical stories for Broadway: an unhappy wife and pie-maker in Waitress; the inside story of a forgotten 1920s African-American musical in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed; and a bluegrass show about an unwed mother in the South in Bright Star. One of the darkest and most twisted shows was American Psycho, with a knife-wielding hero smeared in blood.

The plays and play revivals included a look at Liberian sex slaves in Eclipsed; a fractious family's Thanksgiving get-together in The Humans; a tale about what might happen when the current English queen dies in King Charles III; and two Arthur Miller unconventional revivals of The Crucible and A View From the Bridge. In one, the actors were barefoot. In the other, a wolf-like dog made a chilling appearance.

The season also was rich in diversity among actors: Fourteen of the 40 Tony nominees for acting in plays and musicals — or 35 percent — are actors of color. And there are more non-whites nominated on the other side of the stage, including choreographer Savion Glover, directors Wolfe and Liesl Tommy, and playwright Danai Gurira.

Women also broke records: Eclipsed is the first-ever Broadway play to feature a director, writer and cast who are all women and also all black. On the musical side, Waitress marked the first time that the four top creative spots in a show — composer, choreographer, book writer and director — were four women.

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