Tonys, Revolutions and Art in the Midst of Tragedy

It’s been a week since Broadway’s biggest night and the theater community is still buzzing about it.  Though tinged with the sorrow of recent tragedy, it was still a night filled with joy, singing, dancing and general theater geekiness.  Oh, and a little bit of Hamilton on the side, but I’ll get to that later.

Many people were doubting James Corden’s hosting abilities, especially because everyone seems to be partial to Neil Patrick Harris as the host of this event, but I think James did a pretty good job.  He sang and danced his heart out, especially during that opening number, and while I wasn’t hysterically laughing at every single joke, it was a great way to start the night.  Plus, there were kids in the opening number, kids.  It’s pretty hard to be cynical when it comes to children, right?

Anyway, one thing that had people talking was the incredible amount of diversity in the theater world, particularly during this season, a season that, as many were happy to point out, showed more inclusiveness than the Oscars have in years.  I, too was impressed by the diversity, but not just among races.  There have been so many divers forms of storytelling.  When else has there been rap, rock, bluegrass and even sign language among the musical elements in various shows, all in one season?  That’s pretty crazy.

To say that last Sunday consisted of Hamilton mania (Hamilmania?  Hamilfever?) is most definitely an understatement.  The show began and closed with Hamilton and there were huge helpings of it in between.  Of course, everyone knew that the night would mostly be about this show, which is probably what contributed to this Tony Awards having the highest viewer count in years.  And when the POTUS and FLOTUS introduce your performance, you know you have something special.  With the current political climate sparking debates about immigration, it’s not hard to see why a story about a young, scrappy and hungry immigrant who started from nothing and climbed through America’s political ranks is so popular.  Some are even calling it revolutionary.  It has created conversations about diversity in theater and encouraged many people with no prior interest in theater, hip-hop or U.S. history to explore these subjects.

The craziness surrounding this show reminds me of a little show from the 1990’s.  Rent was one of the few shows to have a diverse cast during its time period and it got many young people and people of color interested in musical theater.  It was the first show to have a rush policy and many college students were flocking to see it in full force.  I believe this was because they saw something in it that they could relate to on a personal level.  Homelessness, gentrification, the AIDS epidemic, these are all real things that are experienced by real people, and the people seeing the show connect with that.  It touches basic human emotions like love, loss, hope, fear and desire.  I think it is safe to say that Hamilton is shaking up the theater world now the same way Rent was then.  It touches some of those same emotions and has made theater buffs out of those who wouldn’t usually be fans.  I make this comparison not to encourage some kind of competition between the two shows as to which is better or more significant, but because it is interesting to see how theater changes people on a large scale.

The night wasn’t all about Hamilton, however.  There were other shows (Gasp! There were other shows?) that I feel deserve praise.  The two performances that bought me to the verge of tears were The Color Purple and Waitress.  Cynthia Erivo and Jessie Mueller both have tremendous voices that, when combined with their compelling acting, reach into your heart and make you feel.  Also, the combination of Spring Awakening‘s gorgeous music and blocking, along with the sign language made for a beautiful performance.

Something has to be said for the energy these performers put in.  I can’t even imagine how tiring it must be to leap around stage with Alex Brightman’s intensity, or do perfect splits like Jane Krakowski or tap dance while pregnant like Queen Audra McDonald.  It made me exhausted just watching some of them.  I’ve heard that Alex Brightman wrings out buckets of sweat from his shirts every night!

Lastly, I appreciated how the performers and speakers were able to address the tragedy in Orlando without making the evening downright depressing.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet nearly made me cry.  It means a lot to me that these wonderful theater people are able to create art and push boundaries in a world that is seemingly becoming less and less accepting and loving and more and more bleak and hopeless.  They are the rays of light and inspiration that give hope to a cold, dark world.  They are the ones who “fill the world with music, love and pride.”

Musical theater inspirational quote of the day: “Courage does not erase our fears. Courage is how we face our fears”- Newsies

 

 

 

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