Tonys: 'Hamilton' Makes History With 16 Nominations

Courtesy of Joan Marcus
L-R, Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones in 'Hamilton'

Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop juggernaut is one of a handful of shows that yielded noms for actors of color, flipping the trend of this year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

The question was never whether Hamilton was going to dominate the 70th Annual Tony Award nominations. It was by how much. And whether it could beat, or even equal, the record-busting haul of The Producers and Billy Elliot, which each scored a whopping 15 nominations back in 2001 and 2009, respectively.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash hip-hop historical dissertation on the founding fathers became the favorite to win this year's best musical Tony even before its Broadway transfer was confirmed. The show's downtown premiere at the Public Theater in February 2015 made it an instant sensation, leaving critics gasping for superlatives and audiences scrambling for tickets.

Hamilton did indeed set a new record, besting its predecessors with 16 nominations, including best musical, score, book, direction, choreography and a tidy handful of acting mentions. That gives it a very strong shot at toppling The Producers from its perch as the all-time highest winner, with 12. And as anyone who has seen it knows, this is one show that's not throwing away its shot.

In a season that has seen unprecedented diversity representation on Broadway, with many ensembles populated by African American, Hispanic and Asian American performers, it was also clear that the Tonys were going to be spared the kind of firestorm that scorched this year's Oscars. Call it #TonysSoInclusive.

The nominations across the eight performance categories for plays and musicals include several actors of color, a number of them frontrunners. But that's more about the unplanned convergence of productions with strong roles for non-Caucasian actors this year, not a well-timed rebuke to the Academy. Despite an anomalous downward bump last season, Broadway has a relatively respectable track record for diversity — on its stages, if not so much behind the scenes. In fact, you need to go back to 2008 to find a year in which one or more performers of color didn't take home Tonys for acting.

Widely tipped to win in their respective slots this year are Leslie Odom Jr., up against Miranda with dueling lead actor noms for Hamilton; British newcomer Cynthia Erivo for her breakout performance as Celie in the revival of The Color Purple; and in the featured acting races, Daveed Diggs and Renee Elise Goldsberry, both scene-stealers in Hamilton.

Diggs, who doubles as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, is considered to have the edge over castmates Christopher Jackson (as George Washington) and Jonathan Groff, who had a choice one-song role as the petulant King George but has now left the production to star in the Netflix series Mindhunter. Likewise, Hamilton's Phillipa Soo faces tough odds against The Color Purple's Erivo for lead actress.

One interesting element of Tuesday's nominations is the emergence of a significant challenger for Hamilton’s preordained across-the-board sweep in Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. That electrifying historical reappraisal scored 10 nominations, including best musical, plus noms for director and book writer George C. Wolfe and choreographer Savion Glover, both previous Tony winners. While Hamilton kicked off the season on an exhilarating high, Shuffle Along, which celebrated its opening night April 28, just under the wire for Tony eligibility, closed the Broadway year on an equally thrilling note.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the morning, however, was the exclusion of one-woman Tony arsenal Audra McDonald — who holds the record for an individual performer with six Tonys — from the ultra-competitive lead actress stakes. Her Shuffle Along co-stars Brandon Victor Dixon and Adrienne Warren earned noms, while fellow castmember Brian Stokes Mitchell was named the recipient of this year's Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, a special noncompetitive honor for a theater community individual who has made a substantial philanthropic impact.

Also on the best musical shortlist with four noms is Waitress, based on the 2007 Keri Russell movie. Pop-rock artist Sara Bareilles was nominated for her first musical-theater score. The show’s star, Jessie Mueller, won a Tony two years ago for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and is in the running again for her role as an unhappily married Deep South diner server who dreams of baking her way to a better life. Her castmate Christopher Fitzgerald also made the cut for featured actor.

Another surprise was the strong showing for Bright Star, the bluegrass musical written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, which has been a slow starter at the box office. It earned five nominations, including best musical, score, book and a lead actress slot for newcomer Carmen Cusack as a lonely literary editor retracing her troubled past in post-WWII North Carolina. As writer of the book and co-composer of the score, Martin is a double nominee.

Rounding out the best musical contenders with four nominations is School of Rock, a revamp of the Jack Black movie about a floundering headbanger who reinvents himself on a whim as an anarchic music teacher. The show was also nominated for Alex Brightman's galvanizing performance in the lead role, for the score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater, and for Julian Fellowes' book.

The major shutout was American Psycho, an '80s electro-pop re-imagining of the Bret Easton Ellis cult novel about an investment banker by day, serial killer by night. The show — which like Bright Star, has not yet ignited the box office and was no doubt hoping for an awards boost — landed only two design nominations, leaving Benjamin Walker's chillingly sexy performance in the lead role out in the cold.

Other commercially challenged shows that got little love from the Tony nominating committee were Tuck Everlasting, which drew a single nomination for costumes, and the Hollywood spoof Disaster!, acknowledged only for featured actress Jennifer Simard's inspired comic turn as a nun with a gambling addiction. On Your Feet! was also largely overlooked, with just a single nomination for choreography and no spot for acclaimed lead Ana Villafane among the crowded field of actress-in-a-musical contenders. But the bio-musical charting the rise and resurrection following a near-fatal accident of Latin music sensation Gloria Estefan has been a steadier performer, so it may survive even without the Tony attention.

Facing off as best play frontrunners with six nominations apiece are Stephen Karam's The Humans, a nuanced, tragicomic snapshot of the anxieties of the working-class American family, framed by a Thanksgiving gathering; and Eclipsed, a complex portrait of life for women caught up in the Second Liberian Civil War, written by The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira.

In addition to play and Joe Mantello's direction, The Humans drew noms for featured actors Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell, both of them first-rate New York stage pros long overdue for recognition.

The nominations for Eclipsed, as well as for play and Lupita Nyong'o's lead performance, include direction for Liesl Tommy and featured actress for Pascal Armand and Saycon Sengbloh. The play's solid Tony profile stands to goose its commercial performance, which has so far been disappointing. Like Hamilton, Eclipsed transferred to Broadway from its premiere at the Public Theater, making this another strong year for the downtown powerhouse that took best musical in 2015 for Fun Home.

British plays have frequently triumphed over homegrown drama at the Tonys, most recently The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time last year. This year's top transatlantic contender is Mike Bartlett's "future history play" about Britain's royal family in a time of change, King Charles III, which yielded five nominations. Those include lead actor for Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role, featured actor for Richard Goulding as Prince Harry, and direction for Rupert Goold.

Rounding out the best play race with two nominations is another Brit import, Christopher Hampton's translation of French playwright Florian Zeller's drama The Father, which also put three-time Tony winner Frank Langella back in the running for his role as an elderly engineer lost in the fog of dementia.

Other notable actors in the awards mix this year include Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne and Michael Shannon in Long Day's Journey Into Night; Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams in Blackbird; Laurie Metcalf in Misery; Mark Strong in A View From the Bridge; Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski in She Loves Me; and Danny Burstein, a Broadway favorite with five previous nominations under his belt and no win, in the running this year for Fiddler on the Roof.

As invariably happens, many of the marquee names that came to Broadway during the season were passed over for Tony honors in tight races, among them Keira Knightley for Therese Raquin, Clive Owen for Old Times, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson for The Gin Game, Forest Whitaker for Hughie, Bruce Willis for Misery, Jim Parsons for An Act of God, Al Pacino for China Doll and Jesse Tyler Ferguson for Fully Committed.

Leading the pack for musical revival honors with eight nominations is the effervescent romance She Loves Me (based on the same source material that inspired the screen classic The Shop Around the Corner). In addition to acting slots for Levi, Benanti and Krakowski (the latter two both previous Tony winners), the show also earned director Scott Ellis a chance to win an honor that has eluded him in seven previous nominations.

The Color Purple is another competitive entry in the musical revival stakes with four nominations, including Erivo's lead actress bid and a featured actress spot for Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks in her Broadway debut (co-star Jennifer Hudson was a shutout). Previous winner John Doyle also received a nomination for his direction.

Fiddler on the Roof also figures in the running for musical revival, its three noms including Burstein's lead actor bid and one for Israeli modern dance choreographer Hofesh Schechter, who revolutionized the dance aspects of a show indelibly associated with the defining original work of Jerome Robbins.

The final spot for musical revival went to Los Angeles company Deaf West's reinvention of Spring Awakening, which used American Sign Language to explore adolescent unease. That show landed director Michael Arden in the mix, although the frontrunner by a wide margin in that category is Hamilton's Thomas Kail.

For play revival, Long Day’s Journey Into Night leads with seven nominations, including those for Lange, Byrne and Shannon, as well as one for director Jonathan Kent. A View From the Bridge follows with five, including Strong and director Ivo van Hove. Also netting five noms is Noises Off, with three featured actor spots going to Megan Hilty, Andrea Martin and David Furr. The three noms for Blackbird include revival and lead actors Daniels and Williams.

The fifth play revival contender is The Crucible, director van Hove’s second illuminating fresh take on an Arthur Miller classic this season (alongside A View From the Bridge). But that stellar production came away with a somewhat disappointing haul of four nominations. Actors Bill Camp and previous winner Sophie Okonedo are in the running, though Ben Whishaw, Saoirse Ronan and Ciaran Hinds were shut out. The production's lighting designer, Jan Versweyweld, landed a nom, in addition to two for his lighting and set design on A View From the Bridge. Strictly on a numbers level, that puts him even with the personal haul of three nominations for Hamilton’s Miranda (score, book and lead actor), who clearly emerges as the big winner of the day.

The Tony nominations proved especially bountiful for producer Scott Rudin, whose prolific season generated an impressive 28 nominations, spread across Shuffle Along, The Humans, A View From the Bridge, The Crucible and Blackbird. Also likely to be celebrating this morning is the nonprofit Roundabout Theatre Company, marking its 50th anniversary season with a collective 21 nominations for its productions of She Loves Me, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Noises Off and Therese Raquin (which grabbed a single nom for set design). Roundabout also has a stake in The Humans, which had its New York premiere in the company's off-Broadway space before moving intact to theatrical primetime.

The Tonys will be presented June 12, aired live from New York’s Beacon Theatre on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/delayed PT. Hosting the ceremony is James Corden, a 2012 Tony winner for One Man, Two Guvnors.

While the Tony telecast traditionally struggles to break beyond its niche audience of theater diehards, the high profile across the media landscape of Hamilton — the most-talked-about Broadway production since Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, only this time for the right reasons — and the prospect of a fully staged musical number within the presentation should provide a bump to this year's ratings.

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