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2016 Tony Awards: A "Hamilton" Sweep for the Ages

Among another season of white-washed ceremonies, the 70th Annual Tony Awards shook up the standard award show formula this Sunday night. From its inclusive nominee pool to the very pieces it honored, the Tony Awards signified a budding shift in attention from the academies toward cultural diversity.

Two of this theater's season attention-grabbers are at the crux of this wave of change. Though less highlighted in pop culture, Shuffle Along emphasizes the significance black actors have played in Broadway’s success throughout the last century. The true front-runner in award pick-ups, however, is the most successful Hamilton: An American Musical. By way of its non-traditional casting, the highly-acclaimed hip-hop musical re-envisions colonial history by adding a poignant element most commonly lacking from its telling and unfolding: respect for racial diversity.

In recasting white historical figures with racial minorities, Hamilton reclaims the historical narrative and strikes a chord with current political divisiveness by hinting at “the melting pot” ideals lost somewhere in early United States history. In light of recent violent tragedies and xenophobic responses, a musical praised for its racial inclusivity resonates with a nation ready for progress and redirection towards respect for all.

Beyond calling attention to the needed demographic changes in casting protocol, The New York Times argues Hamilton has brought Broadway back into national conscience and revamped the visual art medium. The show’s profits alone—a single ticket to tonight’s show would cost an astonishing $2,000 and up—speak for its success in increasing Broadway’s revenue, audience attendance, and public outreach. The musical appeals not only to theater junkies, but also the average American audience, shockingly surpassing both Drake and Beyoncé to claim the number one album spot on iTunes.

Hamilton’s success rate undoubtedly contributed to the 8.73 million viewers (the largest audience since 2001) who tuned into the CBS Tony Awards broadcast, which the network projects as a 35% viewership increase from last year’s ceremony. Audiences eagerly awaited not only the production’s wins, but two performances by the cast, “History Has Its Eyes on You” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).”

National embrace for Hamilton’s message is ultimately undeniable following the musical’s success at the Tony Awards. Entering with the most nominations in the ceremony’s history, Hamilton walked away with 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The production also cinched Best Actress and Actor in a featured role, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical among others.

Director Lin-Manuel Miranda enveloped his show’s success and our nation’s need for healing as he spoke toward the recent Orlando massacre in his acceptance speech, “We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger / We rise and fall and light from dying embers /Remembrances that hope and love lasts long / And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love / Cannot be killed or swept aside.”

 

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Michelle LaConte