NEW YORK (AP) —The Tony Awards kicked off with a heavy heart Sunday night after a gunman killed 50 people at a Orlando night club – leaving many in the Broadway community angered and upset but determined to show solidarity with the victims.
Host James Corden, his back to the audience, said “Hate will never win.” He dedicated the night to celebrate the diversity of Broadway. “Your tragedy is our tragedy,” he said.
Corden brought his endearing, fan-boy vibe to the opening number in which he performed a head-spinning medley of tunes from famous Broadway musicals, including donning a mask for “The Phantom of the Opera,” a leather jacket for “Grease,” and a curly red wig for “Annie.”
The show opened with the cast of “Hamilton” performing their opening number with the lyrics altered to have them all wondering why Corden — “chatting with Hollywood phonies” — had earned this honor.
The host of the “The Late Late Show,” who was returning to the Beacon Theatre stage where he won a Tony for “One Man, Two Guvnors,” had some quips for the theater-loving audience: “This is like the Super Bowl for people who don’t know what the Super Bowl is,” he said at one point. At another: “Think of tonight as the Oscars, but with diversity,” and made a dig at Donald Trump for wanting to build a wall around the theater.
At least 50 people died early Sunday when a gunman opened fire inside a crowded nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
“My heart is saddened by it,” said Jeffrey Seller, producer of “Hamilton,” which went into the night with a leading 16 Tony nominations. “The celebration tonight is tempered by it.”
“Hamilton” — the musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton that is expected to win big — will drop its use of muskets in its performance, according to a spokesman for the musical. The Tony show also created a silver ribbon for stars to wear in solidarity and they were seen on the suits of actor Sean Hayes and George C. Wolfe.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of “Hamilton,” said the shooting was “heavy in my heart and heavy in my mind. Today’s a day of tragedy. At the same time, I’m in a room of people who made new art and new music this year and I’m happy to be celebrating that. I feel like we need it more than ever.”
There was an obvious stepped-up security presence outside the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side, with explosive-sniffing dogs and a critical response team at the ready. Bags were being checked and credentials scrutinized.
The shooting was close to home for Christopher Fitzgerald, a nominee for the musical “Waitress” who went to school in Orlando. “I’m heartbroken. I think everybody is feeling it, so we are at least all coming together to celebrate and not live in fear,” he said.
Performers who have strong ties to the gay community like Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald took to Twitter to express their outrage over the attack. Miranda tweeted a rainbow-hued heart with “Orlando” written beneath it.
Josh Groban, who plans to star on Broadway this fall, tweeted: “We mourn but stand tall.” Tony nominee Cynthia Erivo simply wrote: “Sending thoughts to Orlando.” Neil Patrick Harris called the tragedy “beyond sad,” adding “my deepest regrets to all those suffering.”
The performance from the revival of “Spring Awakening,” featuring a mix of hearing and deaf performers, was dedicated to the victims. The show’s director, Michael Arden, called the attack “senseless.” Jesse Tyler Ferguson tweeted: “Heartbroken for my LGBTQ brothers & sisters.”
The shooting threatened to put a damper on the expected victory lap for “Hamilton,” Miranda’s hip-hop-flavored biography about the first U.S. treasury secretary. With its diverse cast, the show has become a cultural phenomenon, bringing attention to Broadway like no other.
Before the show even began, “Hamilton” won its first two Tonys, for best costume and lighting design for a musical. “Eclipsed” won for best costume for a play and “The Humans” won for best set design of a play. Best set design for a musical went to “She Loves Me” and best lighting for a play went to “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Those early results meant “Hamilton” will not be able to break the record for the most Tonys, the 12-statuette haul by “The Producers.”
The show itself seemed to burst out of the smallish Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side, taking a page from the weekly free public concerts outside “Hamilton” to put performers from the nominated shows on tiny stages outside the venue serenading the crowd before and after commercial breaks.
“Hamilton” and the 38 new productions this season helped Broadway’s attendance figures hit a record high, up 1.6 percent to 13.3 million ticket buyers. The box offices reported a record total gross of $1.37 billion — up 0.6 percent from the previous season.
This season brought unusual musical stories for Broadway: an unhappy wife and pie-maker in “Waitress;” the inside story of a forgotten 1920s African-American musical in “Shuffle Along;” and a bluegrass show about an unwed mother in the South in “Bright Star.” One of the darkest and most twisted shows was “American Psycho,” with a knife-wielding hero smeared in blood.
The plays and play revivals included a look at Liberian sex slaves in “Eclipsed,” a fractious family’s Thanksgiving get-together in “The Humans,” a tale about what might happen when the current English queen dies in “King Charles III” and two Arthur Miller unconventional revivals of “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge.” In one, the actors were barefoot. In the other, a wolf-like dog made a chilling appearance.
The season also was rich in diversity among actors: Fourteen of the 40 Tony nominees for acting in plays and musicals — or 35 percent — are actors of color. And there are more non-whites nominated on the other side of the stage, including choreographer Savion Glover, directors George C. Wolfe and Liesl Tommy, and playwright Danai Gurira.
Women also broke records: “Eclipsed” is the first ever Broadway play to feature a director, writer and cast who are all women and also all black. On the musical side, “Waitress” marked the first time that the four top creative spots in a show — composer, choreographer, book writer and director — were four women.
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