The 2019 Broadway season has been filled with theatre that speaks directly to the culturally relevant shifts shaping our world. From diversity and inclusion to feminism and politics, this season’s shows have tackled some tough subjects telling the stories that need to be told. I had the pleasure of speaking with a few of the Tony award nominees on June 3rd at the 2019 Honors for Excellence in the Theater and 2019 Special Awards recipients about the power of theatre to affect change, both personally and culturally.
When I asked them what they thought about the themes and messages imparted to audiences in this year’s Broadway season, this is what they had to share.
Dominique Morisseau, playwright, actress and one of this year’s Tony nominees for Best Book of a Musical for Ain’t Too Proud shared that, for her, the themes of “social balance” and “making space for people” showed up powerfully across the entire theatre season. With a thoughtful smile, she added “No one person is bigger than the whole,” – a theme that was central to the Temptations and is central to both Ain’t Too Proud AND to the world at large. “It takes a village.”
For Kiss Me Kate star Kelli O’Hara, “Understanding what is behind why people do things,” is the them she feels is the most important in the show. Just like in the character of Kate, people are a product of their experiences, they are complicated and layered, and simply giving them a label and casting judgment doesn’t do them justice. “Be patient with people,” O’Hara encourages.
In Tootsie, the message is clear: the overall price of what it costs to be an artist, to what an artist sacrifices to do what they do. Lilli Cooper said what we all know, that “this is a really hard business to be in and the joys that come from it are what makes the sacrifice we make worthwhile.”
Special Tony Award recipient Jason Michael Hall shared that he found Choir Boys’ themes of truth and tamily to be poignant. In many cases, the need to redefine what and who our family is, becomes important. He explained that “one of the themes that I really felt like resonated for me was that redefinition of family, especially between black men, because we’re not always trained to think that way.” The sharing of these stories and examples of this on stage makes them visible and can give people and access to begin this process on their own.
Of the themes from the Prom, Caitlin Kinnunen (The Prom) took a breath and said with clarity, “Listen to the people around you. Like, actually listen. Take what they are saying in. And then respond. And respond with kindness.”
Chad Beguelin (Music The Prom) highlighted another theme of The Prom – “Love the Neighbor” – This message is at the core of everything, but is often morphed and masked. We should love each other, without judgment, without hesitation.
Theatre has an important role. It brings a voice to the stories we need to hear – as people and as a society. The 2019 season has leveled up and shown us compelling stories, ultimately encouraging audiences to love one another, listen to and seek to understand each other, define what your world needs to look like for you, and to become part of the community that you need.