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Hamilton’ Makes History with 16 Tony Nominations

By Michael Paulson : New York Times : May 3, 2016 Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“Hamilton” is already a sold-out smash hit, that rare piece of theater to cross over into popular culture, showered with prizes and accolades, celebrated by artists and politicians, memorized by children and late-night talk show hosts.

On Tuesday, the hip-hop musical about America’s first Treasury secretary added another mark of distinction: It was nominated for 16 Tony Awards, more than any other show in Broadway history.

Tony nominators deemed the show prize-worthy in every category of theatermaking — acting, writing, directing, dance, music and design. A whopping seven “Hamilton” performers were singled out; in two categories, “Hamilton” actors will compete against one another.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s absolutely humbling and incredible,” said the show’s 36-year-old creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was nominated for three awards himself, for his book, his music and his performance in the title role. Mr. Miranda has already won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the show.

The show is most directly about the life and death of Alexander Hamilton, but it is more broadly, and boldly, about America itself — its origins and its aspirations — as it deftly uses contemporary music and a multiethnic cast to suggest that the revolutionary impulses of the nation’s founding generation are as relevant and as riveting today as they were in the 18th century.

“When I had the idea, I did say to myself, ‘I can’t believe no one’s done this yet,’ because it felt to me like a good idea — Hamilton’s life was uniquely suited to the things that are my strengths: hip-hop and musical-theater storytelling,” Mr. Miranda said in a telephone interview shortly after the nominations were announced.

The current theater season, led by “Hamilton,” has been the most diverse in Broadway history, and the Tony nominations reflect that: Of the 40 acting nominations, 14 went to black, Hispanic and Asian-American actors. The nominee diversity is a particular point of pride for Broadway this year, when Hollywood has been convulsed with controversy over the lack of Oscar nominations for nonwhite performers.

“When you look at Broadway and Hollywood, it’s clear who’s leading,” said Michael Arden, who was nominated for his direction of a revival of “Spring Awakening” that featured deaf actors as well as an actress in a wheelchair. “This is one of the strongest seasons I’ve seen in years.”

“Hamilton” is the overwhelming favorite to win the most coveted Tony Award this year, the prize for best new musical. But four other musicals hope to benefit simply from being nominated in that category: “Bright Star,” “Waitress,” “School of Rock — The Musical” and “Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” Those shows can now market themselves as best-musical contenders, hoping the nominations will help them at the box office.

“We call it the HamilTonys, and we know this is as far as we can go, but it’s great to have got this far,” said Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer and lead producer of “School of Rock,” which is an adaptation of the Jack Black film about a failed musician who lies his way into a job as a substitute teacher and then trains his pupils to perform rock music. (Alex Brightman was nominated for his exuberant lead performance.)

That musical is a significant comeback for Mr. Lloyd Webber, best known for his enormous successes in the 1980s, including Tony Awards for “Evita,” “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“I haven’t done a musical on Broadway for quite a while,” he said in a phone interview from London. “It’s fun to be able to do this.”

The race for best new play is likely to be more competitive.

The nominees are “Eclipsed,” by Danai Gurira, about a group of Liberian women kept captive by a warlord; “The Father,” by Florian Zeller, about a man’s struggle with dementia; “The Humans,” by Stephen Karam, about a close-knit family grappling with disappointment; and “King Charles III,” by Mike Bartlett, imagining a crisis that might ensue after Queen Elizabeth II’s death.

The nominees for best play revival are “Blackbird,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Noises Off” and two plays by Arthur Miller — “The Crucible” and “A View From the Bridge” — both given adventurous reinterpretations by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove.

Several emotionally grueling plays scored multiple acting nominations, including “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Lange and Michael Shannon), “Eclipsed” (Lupita Nyong’o, Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh), “Blackbird” (Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams), “The Crucible” (Sophie Okonedo and Bill Camp) and “The Humans” (Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell).

This was an excellent season for musical revivals, and four strongly reviewed shows will face off in that category: “The Color Purple,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “She Loves Me” and “Spring Awakening.”

The 16 Tony nominations for “Hamilton” broke the record shared by “The Producers” (2001) and “Billy Elliot” (2009), each nominated for 15 prizes. With 12 Tonys, “The Producers” is the winningest show of all time. “Hamilton” is unlikely to surpass that, partly because it earned multiple nominations in two categories.

Among the day’s notable nominees was the prolific producer Scott Rudin. Mr. Rudin had five shows on Broadway this season, and they were all listed among the best in their category: In addition to “Shuffle Along” for best new musical, Mr. Rudin was nominated for producing “The Humans” and three play revivals: “The Crucible,” “A View From the Bridge” and “Blackbird.”

Mr. Rudin had asked that “Shuffle Along,” a jazz-and-tap-rich show which explores the origins and aftermath of an early all-black musical, be considered a revival, not a new musical, so that it would not have to compete with “Hamilton.”

He lost that battle, but “Shuffle” did well on Tuesday, garnering 10 nominations, second only to “Hamilton.” Its creators, however, were stung that the show’s star, the six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, was overlooked for her performance in the show.

“You have to reach for a bigger word than disappointed — I’m shocked ” said George C. Wolfe, who was nominated for directing and writing the book for “Shuffle Along.”

Among the other notable snubs: Benjamin Walker was passed over for his bare-chested and blood-soaked performance as Patrick Bateman, the antihero at the dark heart of “American Psycho,” while Jennifer Hudson was not nominated for her sultry turn as a nightclub singer in “The Color Purple.” (“My presence was used for my celebrity, not my talent,” Ms. Hudson said on Twitter. “I’m not surprised.”)

The nominations dealt a blow to several shows that could have used help luring ticketbuyers, including “American Psycho,” based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel, and “Tuck Everlasting,” adapted from the book by Natalie Babbitt, about a girl whose encounter with an immortal family forces her to make a difficult choice.

The single Tony nomination for “Disaster!” (for Jennifer Simard’s scene-stealing performance as a guitar-slinging, slot-machine-loving nun) was not enough to save that musical spoof from sinking; nine hours after the nominations were announced, the show’s producers said that “Disaster!” would close on Sunday.

But Tuesday’s announcement offered a big boost to “Bright Star,” a soulful Southern romance with bluegrass music by the comedian Steve Martin and the singer-songwriter Edie Brickell. The musical, which has been struggling at the box office, received five Tony nominations, including one for Carmen Cusack, a veteran of touring productions who finally snagged a Broadway lead and earned critical praise for her performance.

“We set out to write a certain type of show, and we are satisfied that we did what we set out to do,” Mr. Martin said. “Now it’s up to the audience.”

This year’s nominees were selected by a panel of 47 theater experts, many of whom work at nonprofit organizations and in academia. The winners will be chosen by the 846 Tony voters — a mix of producers, performers and other theater industry professionals — and will be announced at a ceremony, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, on June 12, hosted by James Corden and broadcast on CBS.

Erik Piepenburg contributed to this report.


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