Broadway’s acclaimed smash “Hamilton” pushed the ratings for the annual Tony Awards telecast Sunday to its highest level in 15 years.
The ceremony from the Beacon Theatre that aired from 8 to 11:15 p.m. averaged 8.73 million viewers, an increase of 35% over the 2015 ceremony. The preliminary figure from Nielsen does not include the last 15 minutes of the broadcast, which aired outside of prime time.
The Tony Awards telecast is a must for theater fans but has typically been a modest ratings attraction when compared with other major awards shows. But it clearly received a boost from offering performances by the cast of “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking hip-hop musical on the nation’s founding that has become the most coveted ticket on Broadway.
"What is it that makes this year's Tony Awards different from other years'?" is the opening line I'd prepared for this review. The answers were going to be "Hamilton" and host James Corden, because he is new. Those answers are still correct, and we will get to that.
But what also, unfortunately, unexpectedly distinguished Sunday's ceremony and its CBS broadcast was that it came on the heels of the shootings in Orlando, Fla., that targeted a community central to and inextricable from the life of the theater. There was a question of how this would be addressed in the ceremony. We will get to that too.
First, I find the Tonys reliably the most moving, exciting, inspirational and well-paced and the least pretentious of awards shows. Not every year is equally well written or ably hosted, but it always feels sincere and real and somehow representative of the fans, who get seats in the room, as well as the people they’re fans of.
"Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s landmark musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, had its coronation Sunday at the 70th Tony Awards. As expected, the show won for best musical, capping a triumphant season that seized the attention not just of Broadway but of the entire nation.
The ceremony, which was held at New York’s Beacon Theatre, was muted by the devastating attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Host James Corden prefaced the evening with an expression of sympathy for all “affected by this atrocity.”
He went on to affirm the theater as “a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved.” References to the tragedy were contained, but Miranda, in accepting the award for best original score, addressed the heart of the matter in a sonnet he wrote for his wife that reminded everyone that “love is love is love is love” and “cannot be killed or swept aside.”
"History has its eyes on you,” Christopher Jackson’s George Washington sang in one of the most anticipated moments of the highly anticipated Tony Awards on Sunday night.
The general was facing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton, but he could have been addressing the nation he and Hamilton helped form. Reeling from the news of the deadliest mass shooting in our history, many had spent the previous hours wondering what was to be done in this time of seemingly endless gun violence, of terrorism perpetrated by Americans against Americans.
Hope, and a reminder that we have overcome times even worse than these came from the most unlikely place: the Tony Awards.
The extraordinary talents competing for lead actress in a musical must have left Tony voters bewildered by the task of selecting only one winner. Jessie Mueller's performance in “Waitress” might make her the musical theater performer of her generation. The exquisite work of Laura Benanti in “She Loves Me” has us all eager to find out what this sublimely mellifluous actor’s next role will be. Their performances on the Tony telecast were two of the best I can recall on the show.
But the winner, Cynthia Erivo for her portayal of Celie in John Doyle’s revival of “The Color Purple,” was a revelation in her Broadway debut. And she took the roof off the Beacon Theatre in her performance on the telecast. It was an impossible choice but an inevitable one.