Last Sunday night I sat down with my family and watched the Tony Awards ceremony. (The Tonys are given out yearly to award the best in musical and stage theater, similar to the Oscars for film or the Grammys for music.)
I’d never watched the Tonys before. I’m usually an Oscars guy, and every once in a while I’ll watch the Grammys (or at least that year when Arcade Fire was up for a bunch of awards), but the Tonys? Nope.
Then Hamilton came along, and we had an excuse. It’s been a bit of an obsession in our house, so an opportunity to see a performance from the show, and to see if it would win all the awards? Gotta watch it. (How much of an obsession, you ask? In our house, now, if the girls want to know the time, they will precisely ask “what is the time?”, because they know if they ask “what time is it?”, at least one member of the household will reply “showtime!”, which is invariably followed by “like I said…”. Every time.)
In retrospect I’m not sure why I follow the Oscars every year. I follow film (via podcast far more than I watch it. I guess I get a kick out of seeing the celebrities off the big screen, hearing the speeches, being able to discuss the ceremony the next day, whatever. But the Oscars ceremony has a history of being pretty awful. It runs long. The hosts are lame, or wooden, or both. The patter between presenters is forced. Depending on the year you might get a good musical number or two – the song from Selma brought down the house last year – but otherwise… it’s more an event than a great show.
Enter the Tonys. What a fantastic awards show! Host James Corden was funny (and very talented!) without dragging any jokes out too long or being obnoxious. The show moved along at a good clip, full of musical numbers from the nominated musicals. Leading up to commercial breaks, a cast from one of the nominated shows would move to a little outside stage on the street to perform a quick bit from some other classic Broadway show. (This led, charmingly enough, to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber playing the tambourine to accompany Steve Martin on the banjo for one song. Not bad, Sir Andrew. Not bad.)
And the performances. Wow, the performances. Carmen Cusack belting it out in a number from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s musical Bright Star. Audra McDonald singing and dancing (while 4 or 5 months pregnant!) in Shuffle Along. The big wedding dance number from the revival of Fiddler on the Roof. And The Color Purple. Goodness me, The Color Purple.
Having tuned in to see Hamilton, what I found along with it was a theater full of incredibly talented people who, to all appearances, really love the music and dance, and who even between show casts share a great camaraderie. In contrast to the cool, cynical detachment often seen at the Oscars, the Tonys were enthusiastic, joyous, and intense.
And then there were moments of brilliance like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance speech, which he provided in the form of a sonnet:
On the night after the horrific mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub, the Tony Awards show both acknowledged the loss and provided, if not some healing, at least a respite from the pain – an embrace saying we are in this together and we will get through it.
And when the Hamilton cast came back on stage for the closing number, and a good chunk of the audience stood up and sang along with them, the joy in their voices, faces, and dancing bodies shouted out that Miranda’s lyrics hold a timeless truth.
“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”