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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.
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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