An air of both celebration and sobriety hung over the Tony Awards on Sunday, as one of the biggest hits in Broadway history was honored hours after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton," which merged unlikely forms to become a cultural phenomenon, pulled off an epic night, winning 11 prizes, including best musical, director, score and three acting awards. The hip-hop piece, which began at downtown New York's Public Theater in early 2015 and opened on Broadway last summer, capped its remarkable run with one of the biggest nights in Tonys history -- though it fell just short of "The Producers'" record of 12 wins in 2001.
"We chase the melodies that seem to find us until they're finished songs that start to play," Miranda said from the Beacon Theatre stage, upon accepting the prize for best score.
Later, after winning the musical award, producer Jeffrey Sellers added, "Look around. Look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now," alluding to one of the show's signature numbers.
"Hamilton's" joyous presence could be felt throughout the evening, from a parody that introduced host James Corden at the start of the show to a swirling medley midway through to the final award of the night and a closing number that followed.
With its subversively multiracial cast, the show, about the founding of America, has become an improbable paragon of diversity. As it happens, that was a theme Sunday night too: All four musical acting winners were black for the first time in the show's 70-year history.
"Hamilton's" Renee Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. (the latter topping co-nominee Miranda, in a reprise of sorts of the Burr-Hamilton standoff of the show) all scored prizes; so did "The Color Purple's" Cynthia Erivo, whose show also took best revival of a musical and whose performance of "I'm Here" won over pretty much everyone in the audience.
Diggs noted the evening's sociological importance.
"Growing up I felt that there was no place for me here. But this place is so inclusive. Not just culturally but in terms of ability and in terms of age. There is so much diversity on Broadway now, I'm so proud to be a part of it, so happy to see so many kids around," an exuberant Diggs, who plays both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, said backstage after his win,
But a somber tone also infused the ceremony in the aftermath of the events at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., earlier in the day. Many nominees and presenters wore silver ribbons, designed by costume designer William Ivey Long, to commemorate the victims.
Corden also began the night by pre-taping a moment from the stage that dedicated the show to those affected by the massacre. "You are not on your own," he said. "Your tragedy is our tragedy. Hate will never win. Together we have to make sure of that."
Frank Langella, taking lead actor in a play for his role as a man suffering from dementia in "The Father," gave one of the most heartfelt speeches about the shootings -(after previously noting that his brother was suffering from dementia).
"When something bad happens we have three choices: we let it define us, we let it destroy us, we let it strengthen us," said Langella, who notched his fourth Tony win. "Today in Orlando we had a hideous dose of reality. And I urge you Orlando to be strong. ... We're with you every step of the way."
Langella won the fourth Tony of his career. "The Father" missed out, however, on winning play. Honors in that category went to Stephen Karam's heavy favorite "The Humans," which put a fresh spin on the dysfunctional-family dramedy. Ditto for director Ivo Van Hove, whose radical reimagining of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" earned him best director of a play and his show best revival of a play.
And while in many ways it was a night for the youthful upstarts of "Hamilton"--20 minutes after the show ended, much of the cast could still be seen chatting and exulting in the moment on the Beacon stage--longtime performers received their moment too.
Jessica Lange took home her first Tony, a lead actress in a play prize, for her performance in the latest iteration of Eugene O'Neill's domestic drama "A Long Day's Journey Into Night." The actress, a 40-year-veteran, said that the honor "fills me with such happiness on even a sad day like this."
When it comes to overdue veterans, though, the Oscar-winning Lange may have nothing on "The Humans" stars Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell. Each won their first Tony, featured acting prizes, after long careers that often took them far from the Broadway stage. "I've been an actor for 42 years. Thirty-five of them were pretty bad," Birney said. "The last eight have been great." Houdyshell could be seen at a swank party later that night—it included Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Andrew Lloyd Webber and nearly every other three-named person of note—basking in the congratulations of well-wishers, a reminder that Broadway is often a collision of the glamorous and the lunchbucket.
History was not forgotten in other ways on Sunday. Throughout the evening current nominees paid homage to classic shows, honoring 70 years of Tonys history. Barbra Streisand also appeared on the Tonys stage for the first time since 1970. (Back then, David Frost introduced her as she received a special Tony.) An opening parody saw Corden drop himself into a series of past musicals, Billy Crystal-style, from "Annie" to "The Sound of Music."
Corden, a Tony winner himself who was hired equally for his emerging status as a CBS host and his deep roots in theater, largely kept the evening buoyant. He engaged in numerous costume changes and was often roaming the aisles of the Beacon, at one point interviewing his own father and at another, during a commercial break, creating a viral video that involved Jake Gyllenhaal, "Aladdin" and used chewing gum.
"Think of tonight like the Oscars--except with diversity," the host joked, one of several political jibes that included a fake Trump bio-play titled "The Book of Moron."
But it was "Hamilton," in the end, that owned the evening. The Tony wins proved a capper to an odyssey that began with a Miranda performance of a nascent show called "The Hamilton Mixtape" at the White House all the way back in 2009. Sunday even saw the presentation of a video tribute from Barack and Michelle Obama. The president said the show has "become not only a smash hit but a civic lesson [children] can't get enough of," shortly before the production's gleeful exploration of national trubulence was display once more with several numbers on the Beacon stage.
Bringing together that theme with the evening's more painful motif, the exuberance of "Hamilton" and the sadness of Orlando, was, fittingly, Miranda himself. At bottom, his show is about how tribulation may lie at the heart of the American story, but so does an ability to push through the challenges and turn them into history. Miranda sought to underscore the idea in his score speech.
"When senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised. Not one day," he said in a sonnet. "The show is proof that history remembers. We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger; we rise and fall and light from dying embers remembrances that hope and love last longer." He ended it with an impassioned, triumphant repetition of the LGBTQ rallying cry "Love is love."
Patrick Pacheco contributed to this report.