History is Happening in Manhattan: The Beauty of the Tony Awards

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“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”-William Shakespeare, Ask You Like It

Musicals, to me, are like a love affair. For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with musicals. In spite of all the tragedy and internet debate, I still looked forward to the Tony awards.

Now I know that award shows can get political and the Tonys are no different. But I stand by what James Corden said:

But as my pastor said today in his homily during Daily Mass, we can only overcme evil with good and be loving in the face of hatred. I don’t agree with all the political stuff being talked about. I just want to remind everyone that in spite of everything, there is always good happening in this world.

On with the show!

Everyone on Broadway knew that Hamilton was basically the selling point, the darling, so it’s no surprise that the show opened with a Hamilton-style introduction of James Corden.

However, the real opening number was a beautiful, inspiring song about how theater inspires people to go into acting.  There’s a magic to theater that can’t be completely captured in film or television and the quick changes in this number shows a little glimpse of that magic. And yeah, I was listing off every single musical he referenced. The Doctor would be proud of you, Craig.

Corden described the Tonys in his opening monologue as “The Oscars, but with diversity.” There were more than a few shots taken at Trump and their support for a certain presidential nominee wasn’t exactly subtle either. She was senator of New York, after all. But I love that actors of every age and race was nominated for a major award.

As of now, my latest musical love affair is with Hamilton, which had a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations. Due to multiple actors being nominated in the same categories, the musical could only win a total of 13 possible awards. They ended up winning 11, including Best Musical. So before I get to squeeing over that, I want to give attention to the other shows that performed that night. Warning, though, I am very sick with a case of Hamilaria, so forgive all the Hamilton puns I’ll be making throughout this blog post.

The first musical number performed featured the cast of School of Rock: The Musical. I admit that I was kind of skeptical about this adaptation, but watching the performance opened my mind to the idea.”You’re In The Band” shows Dewey assembling his rock band, with the kids getting more excited as the song got more bombastic. I love that the kids played their instruments live (although I’m not sure where the electrical instruments are plugged into). It’s a very-high energy performance that I hope inspires future kids to try and take a shot.

The next number was from Shuffle Along, a musical about the making of a Broadway show in the 1920s. The performance featured a lot of beautiful tap dancing that had me considering taking lessons. Audra McDonald’s voice was as gorgeous as always. The melody of the song and all those tap dancers stirred up pure, undiluted joy in my heart.

She Loves Me, nominated for Best Revival, had a performance that starred Jane Krakowski from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Zachary Levi from Tangled and Laura Benanti aka Alura and Aunt Astra on Supergirl. This musical won the Tony for best set design and I totally get why. I also have to give Jane props for dancing her heart in the first song. She’s absolutely adorable! Zachary Levi is utterly charming, too. But Laura Benanti totally clinched her performance. Never have I ever heard anyone sing so passionately about vanilla ice cream! The romantic comedy role she’s playing is such a huge contrast from her serious role on Supergirl and her role as the Baroness in the NBC live showing of The Sound of Music. I absolutely love it!

Another musical nominated for Best Revival was Fiddler on the Roof. James Corden showed Josh Groban playing Tevye at the age of 17. Josh Groban took it with great stride. (Your face needs to stop, it’s so cute!) The cast of Fiddler performed “Sunrise, Sunset” and the huge wedding reception dance number. You can really see how much work they put into it.

The musical I knew the least about was Bright StarBright Star is a musical set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina during the 40s with flashbacks to the 20s. The play is written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It was definitely an interesting performance, but I’m not sure if it’s for me.

Two other musicals nominated for Best Revival were The Color Purple and Spring AwakeningThe Color Purple‘s song was perfectly apropos because they sang about how “The Good Lord Works In Mysterious Ways.” It reminded the audience that in spite of the bad things that happen, God will always come through. Then Cynthia Ervio sings a beautiful solo about gratitude and accepting yourself. It’s no wonder that it won Best Revival.

In contrast, Spring Awakening was performed by a cast of deaf teenagers from the Deaf West Theatre. The songs were performed with singers, but most of the actors “sung” the lyrics in American Sign Language. I liked the concept of this revival because, as Marlee Matlin described it, the story of Spring Awakening is “a cautionary tale of lust and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them.” The musical is skeptical and confusing, much like adolescence is, and this revival shows that even people who can’t hear have a voice.

My dad, who is a huge fan of Gloria Estefan loved the performance from the cast of On Your Feet. He told me that Ana Villafane went to the same high school as Gloria Estefan. The resemblance between Ana and Gloria is very uncanny! Emilio Esetefan, Gloria’s husband, also announced that everyone in the cast is here in the country legally, papers and all. Gloria and Ana had a vivacious performance

Out of all the original musicals nominated this year, though, Waitress was the one that caught my eye the most. I already knew Jessie Mueller from her role of Carole King in Beautiful. The number started with “Opening Up” and ended with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “She Used to Be Mine” featuring Sara Bareilles (who wrote the score and songs for this musical) and Jessie Mueller. The song reminds me of the worst years of my life, when I thought I lost myself. Also, I want Jesse Mueller to be Sara Bareilles in some future biopic.

Now, while musicals were the main feature of the night, a few plays caught my attention. Eclipsed looks into the lives of captive sex slaves living through the Liberian civil war. The Father, a play centering on a man with dementia, stars Frank Langella from Frost/Nixon. King Charles III intrigued me because it’s inspired by Shakespearean tragedy but mixes it with speculative fiction as to what kind of king Prince Charles might be. Other notable plays are the revivals of two Arthur Miller plays: The Crucible and A View from The Bridge. I was also familiar with Noises Off because my college did a production of that during my first year. A View From the Bridge won Best Revival and The Humans (a play set in WWII) won Best Play.

And now, to my favorite parts. Namely, the parts where Hamilton won most of the things! (11/13 ain’t bad as far as I’m concerned.)

It didn’t surprise that Daveed Diggs won Best Featured Actor. I loved Renee Elise Goldsberry‘s acceptance speech. I had no idea that she struggled to have children and I’m so happy that she has two kids now and values them enough to save them for last in her speech. Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s tear-jerking sonnet as he accepted his Tony for Best Score made me want to give him a hug. Thomas Kail, the director of Hamilton, won Best Direction of A Musical. I tweeted: “Thomas, that was a real nice declaration.” The surprise of the night, though, was Leslie Odom Jr. winning the Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance of Aaron Burr.

Then, of course, were the wonderful performances from the cast. The first one, aside from the opening, was a performance of “History Has Its Eyes On You” and “Yorktown.”

Angelhamilfan on tumblr pointed out something interesting about this performance:

I feel like people are missing something really key that happened in the 2016 Tonys performance.

Lin changed one word. But that’s all it took to change the meaning of the performance and the Tonys.

“Weapon with my hands.”

They didn’t just take out the muskets to show solidarity, Lin is trying to teach us that what we do, say and write will change perspective for generations to come. He’s showing us how we don’t need a gun or violence to fight for what we believe in. Like Alexander, we have our hands. Our writing. Our words are immortalized when we write, no matter who takes us away. The massacre in Orlando has devastated our country, but why stay silent? Why give them what they want and silence ourselves? We need to make something that is immortalized. Teach generations that come that you can take away our loved ones, but you can NEVER take our words.

It’s the message of the Schuyler Sisters in the closing number that I love the most, though: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” In spite of all the bad things that are happening, we are lucky to be alive right now. We are blessed.

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