Orlando, and Why the Tonys Mattered This Year More Than Ever

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist
  • @A_J_Piccione

Every year, those of us who love theatre tune in to the Tony Awards on television, and we are treated to some of the very best that Broadway has to offer. For some of us, it’s the only time of year where our non-theatre friends might be as excited about these shows as we are year-round. For many of us, this might be the time of year we think most about what new shows we do or don’t want to see, if we get the chance. All of that makes for a very fun and worthwhile annual experience.

But this year was a bit different. Just a few hours before the ceremony, we woke up to the tragic news of a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida,which led to the death of at least 50 people, and left dozens more severely injured. Even before this shooting occurred, it has been no secret that we have been grappling with issues of gun violence, global terrorism and discrimination toward the LGBT community. This is just a continuation of past horrific trends.

Prior to the ceremony,I spend the rest of the day worrying about how this tragic news would overshadow any attention that the public and the media would give to the great shows that were up for awards on Sunday night. As it is, it’s hard for most new shows to get any significant amount of attention from the public outside of the theatre community, as I’ve said before in past columns.

Nonetheless, I tuned in at 8pm, as did many of my theatre friends. After a touching opening speech from James Corden, the show began. Over the course of the night, those of us who did tune in saw a show that was both an enormous treat and a necessary escape. During the show, I was reminded of the real reason why what we all do in theatre – whether it is in Broadway, off-Broadway, community or regional theatre – truly matters, and why we ALL need events such as the Tonys during times such as these.

The Tony Awards – like they are every year – are not just an award ceremony, but also a wonderful celebration of theatre for the entire family to enjoy. Each year, audiences across the world get to see tiny tastes of some truly talented performers in each of the nominated musicals. During this year’s ceremony, I think I’m not alone when I say that I was blown away by much of the talent this year. (Although School of Rock was a bit underwhelming, to say the least.)

While the performances weren’t going on, the acceptance speeches didn’t ignore what happened earlier that day, but rather, they addressed the tragedy in a way that not only paid tribute to the victims and families, but also reminded the world that not only is the theatre community filled with incredible artists, but also consists of some of the most compassionate and accepting people that you’ll ever find the entertainment industry. If you ask me, we can use a LOT more people like that not just in the industry, but in our society.

Personally, while I’m aware of the challenges our world faces and the need to be able to confront them, I also recognize that many of us also need an escape, so we are able to cope and survive. We need bright lights to help us smile and feel safe in a world that often seems filled with darkness, and the lights on Broadway always seem to do the trick for me, and for many of my friends.

So as heartbroken as I am over what happened in Orlando, it also served as a reminder to me – along with the award ceremony that same day – why the Tonys, and why theatre in general, is so important and so special to so many people. On that note, for any of you who might have missed last night’s show, I thought I’d leave you with a quick bit of Lin’s acceptance speech…

“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love!”

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).