Why the Tony Awards Are About More Than Hamilton

Max Bahneman

  • OnStage St. Louis Columnist
  • @MaximusBahneman

Since they first announced their transfer to Broadway in February of 2015, Hamilton has been the frontrunner for this year’s Tony Awards.  And it has a right to be—it is completely revolutionary in its concept and execution.  However, as the rest of the Broadway season began to come into focus, it became clear that this was one of strongest seasons in recent memory.

On May 3, the Tony nominations were announced and, to no one’s surprise, Hamilton broke the nomination record.  Social media quickly began buzzing with numerous posts about how the other contenders didn’t stand a chance of winning.  While Hamilton certainly deserves all of the praise and awards it’s receiving, the Tony Awards are about much more than the awards themselves—they are about the celebration of a thriving community.  And there was a lot to celebrate this season on Broadway.

The 2015-2016 Broadway season brought a slew of shows with extremely diverse casts.  While Hamilton certainly contributed a great deal by reimagining our founding fathers as the people inhabiting America today, other shows this season had equal contribution.  Shows such as The Color Purple, Shuffle Along, Allegiance, On Your Feet!, Fiddler on the Roof, and Eclipsed brought minorities into the spotlight.  As a result, of the 40 acting nominees, 14 are actors of color.  In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, this is a huge deal.  Not only is it important that actors of color are being recognized, it is notable that Broadway is telling the stories of people of color and other minorities.

The diversity on Broadway this season wasn’t strictly limited to minority representation either. The nominated shows themselves represent a broad variety of styles and subject matter.  In the best musical category, we have a bluegrass musical based on a true event (Bright Star), a hip-hop musical about America’s first treasury secretary (Hamilton), a rock musical adapted from a popular film (School of Rock), a behind-the-scenes musical written around an existing score (Shuffle Along), and a pop-infused musical about a waitress trying to make a better life for herself and her future child (Waitress).  For revivals, we have a retooled version of a newer musical that was written off by critics in its initial production (The Color Purple), another newer musical reimagined with the use of American Sign Language (Spring Awakening), and two Bock and Harnick classics (Fiddler and She Loves Me).  The diversity in the types of musicals makes it clear that there is room for more than one style of musical on Broadway.  The strong box office numbers being posted by most of these musicals are also quite encouraging.

The play nominees are also admirable with an exceptionally strong revival category lead by Ivo van Hove’s Arthur Miller revivals.  The best play category also features strong entries with two Off-Broadway transfers and two plays from across the pond.  The acting nominees in the play categories are diverse in race as well as experience; the nominees feature celebrities, Broadway veterans, and relative newcomers.

Based on the nominations, it is clear that this season on Broadway was a strong one.  So when the big night comes, we should absolutely celebrate Hamilton, but we should also celebrate all of the other wonderful shows that graced the Broadway stage this season.  Plus, we are in for some incredible live performances.