Tonys: 'Hamilton' Leads the Charge on a Historic Night for Broadway (Analysis)

All four musical performance awards went to people of color for the first time, and Frank Langella tied the record for most wins by a male performer.
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'Hamilton' wins for best musical

A Broadway season of record-setting box-office and unprecedented diversity — highlighted by Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's mega-blockbuster about America's founding fathers, with its hip-hop soundtrack and color-blind casting — came to an end on Sunday night with the 70th Tony Awards ceremony. Hamilton did not establish a new record for most Tony wins — its final tally of 11 means that distinction still belongs to The Producers, which won 12 — but it still was the main attraction on a night that featured plenty of other history-making. (The only other place one can see the show is at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where tickets now go for thousands of dollars apiece.)

In the wake of this morning's shooting in Orlando, Fla., the greatest mass-killing with a gun in American history, some wondered whether the show would even go on. In the grand tradition of the theater, it did, with the organizers, host James Corden and numerous winners dedicating the evening to the victims — and it was perhaps helpful that so many of the shows highlighted with performances and wins are implicitly and/or explicitly about the importance of tolerance, like Hamilton, which came into the night with a Grammy, a Pulitzer and a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, and left with the best musical prize.

(This is the second consecutive year, after Fun Home last year, in which a social issue show that originated Off Broadway at The Public Theater won this most coveted of Tonys.)

Hamilton also won three of the four musical performance awards: fan favorite Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in the show, edged out Miranda, who plays the title character, for best actor; rapper Daveed Diggs, a Broadway newcomer who plays the Marquis de Lafayette in the first act and Thomas Jefferson in the second, beat co-stars Jonathan Groff and Christopher Jackson for best featured actor; and Renee Elise Goldsberry won best featured actress. Only best actress nominee Phillipa Soo came up short, losing to The Color Purple's breakout sensation Cynthia Erivo — whose win makes this the first time in history that all four musical performance awards went to people of color.

Best revival of a musical went to producer Scott Sanders for The Color Purple; he was nominated for the same show's original incarnation a decade ago. And, for the second year in a row, best play and best revival of a play both went to Scott Rudin productions, The Humans and A View From the Bridge, respectively; Rudin has now won an astounding 14 Tonys to his name.

All four winners for performances in a play are revered veterans of the New York theater community. Best actress Jessica Lange (Long Day's Journey Into Night), best featured actor Reed Birney (The Humans) and best featured actress Jayne Houdyshell (The Humans) had never won before in all their decades of service; maybe someone can create Birney a Wikipedia page now. Best actor Frank Langella (The Father), however, won for the fourth time, prevailing from a tough category that also included Tony-less vets Gabriel Byrne (Long Day's Journey Into Night) and Jeff Daniels (Blackbird). Langella tied Boyd Gaines' record for most wins by a male performer.

A View From the Bridge's Belgian-born Ivo Van Hove won for best director of a play, while Hamilton's Thomas Kail, who has worked with Miranda since their time together at Wesleyan University and through all incarnations of both In the Heights and Hamilton, won for best director of a musical.

Hamilton — and specifically Miranda — won for best book and best score of a musical. It also won for best orchestrations, best choreography, best costume design and best lighting design of a musical, but not for best scenic design of a musical, which, in a result cheered by many, went for She Loves Me to David Rockwell, the famed architect whose passion is building sets for the theater. (Rockwell had lost on each of his five prior nominations.)

The craft and technical categories recognizing plays were more widely dispersed: The Humans won best scenic design, Eclipsed won best costume design and Long Day's Journey Into Night won best lighting design.

It must be noted that a few fine shows came up empty-handed, including Shuffle Along, which received 10 nominations, more than any show except Hamilton. Also shutout after receiving multiple noms, including mentions in one of the big four categories — best play, best musical, best revival of a play and best revival of a musical — were Bright Star, Fiddler on the Roof, School of Rock, Waitress and the long-closed King Charles III, Noises Off and Spring Awakening. A consolation prize of sorts, for all of the above except the non-musicals King Charles III and Noises Off, were slots to perform numbers on the telecast.

A year from now, a new crop of shows will head into the Tonys having blazed their own trails on the Great White Way, possibly including the Off Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen, the highly-anticipated Hello, Dolly! or the strongly-buzzed The SpongeBob Musical. This year's crop has set a high bar for them to meet in just about every respect.

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