"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.
People watch the Emmys and the Oscars to see actors and actresses, who do their jobs in bits and pieces and in private, in real time, out of character, if not out of costume. The Tonys, which turn television to theater, are a live tribute to an art that happens live, a collection of showstopping numbers from people expert in the creation of showstoppers, lined up in a row.
As to "Hamilton," which you may know as a synonym for "valuable thing just beyond reach," it was a presence throughout the evening -- in the opening number, in the "Carpool Karaoke" segment with creator Lin-Manuel Miranda that Corden imported from his "Late Late Show," in its own nominated-musical slot (introduced by the POTUS and the FLOTUS), in the closing number and in the many acceptance speeches in between.
And yet somehow it didn't overwhelm the proceedings. Enthusiasm is spread generously and lavishly at the Tonys; to judge by the crowd, there are no wrong winners.
First-time host Corden is already under contract to CBS, sure, but he's also a Tony winner himself, in 2012 for "One Man, Two Guvnors." Where Neil Patrick Harris, who once seemed to have permanent first-refusal rights on the job, is a cool cat, Corden is a ball of energy, a big dog that won't stop licking your face; but it is a style that works for him.
The opening number, which related the host's own theatrical journey to rewritten songs from a host of musicals (including, yes, "Hamilton"), could have seemed self-involved; it felt heartfelt in the end, a shout-out to any and all stagestruck outsiders looking for a place to belong.
"This is like the Super Bowl," said Corden, "for people who don't know what the Super Bowl is."
Corden addressed Orlando at the top of the night, before the show proper began, with the audience behind him: "Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win. Together, we have to make sure of that. Tonight's show stands as a symbol and celebration of that principle.
"Think of tonight as the Oscars, but with diversity."
In the end, only a few speakers addressed the Orlando shootings. But the theater itself is a kind of rebuke to them; nothing needed to be said, because everything was on display, from minute to minute.