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Black Thespians Rule at 2016 Tony Awards

When it comes to arts, particularly in performance and music, there’s a saying among African-American people: “You can’t outdo black people.”

On Sunday, June 12, history was made at the 70th Annual Tony Awards. For the first time since the ceremony was inaugurated, actors of color attained all four musical acting categories; it should be noted that all of them are black thespians. Three of the victories went to the stars of the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winning Broadway smash Hamilton, which won a total of 11 Tony Awards out of its 16 record-breaking nominations: Daveed Diggs (Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical); Renée Elise Goldsberry (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical); and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical).

Directed by Thomas Kail and inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander HamiltonHamilton explores the life of the American founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury, as well as his experiences as an orphan of the British West Indies who immigrated to the 13 Colonies and helped shape the United States of America. Lin-Manuel Miranda himself took home trophies for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original

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Upsetting a sweep in the musical theatre acting division, Cynthia Erivo beat out Hamilton star Phillipa Soo, an actress of Caucasian and Chinese ethnicity, taking home the prize for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her tour de force performance as Celie in The Color Purple. Erivo’s triumph prompted tears from producer Oprah Winfrey, who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1985 for the role of Sofia in the motion picture that inspired the musical.

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According to a Mic editorial, the Tonys nearly achieved this feat in 1982, when the stars of Dreamgirls won the Lead Actor, Lead Actress and Featured Actor categories. In 1985, actors of color technically swept the musical categories when featured actor Ron Richardson won for his performance as Jim in Big River and featured actress Leilani Jones won for his performance as Satin in Grind; however, lead actor and actress in a musical categories weren’t given out that year.

Overall, 14 individual nominees this year were actors of color (most of which were black, Hispanic and East Asian ethnicity), including Sophie Okonedo (The Crucible), Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple), Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), Adrienne Warren and Brandon Victor Dixon (Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed), as well as Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh and Lupita Nyong’o, all of whom starred in Danai Guirira’s Eclipsed, the first play to be written and performed by a cast of all black women.

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But those victories aside, some of the more glorious moments of night were actually the unanimous acclaim in which the more diverse productions received. Performing in the wake of Jennifer Hudson’s exodus from the production, Erivo, Brooks, Heather Headley and the cast of The Color Purple: The Musical brought down the house to a standing ovation with a medley of its musical catalogue, which prompted a win for Best Revival of a Musical later in the night.

Miranda, Soo, Odom Jr., Goldsberry, Jackson, Diggs and the cast of Hamilton, who provided three incredible performances throughout the show that included an opening musical parody number with host James Corden and a rendition of “The Schuyler Sisters,” gave a Tony performance that has been called “riveting” and “jaw-dropping” by The Daily Beast. Introduced via video, from none other than President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the multi-ethnic cast performed a medley of “Guns and Ships,” “History Has Its Eyes on You” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” to roars from the crowd.

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However, the most underestimated and undermined performance of the night came from the incredible cast of George C. Wolfe’s ebullient meta musical-within-a-musical Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed! Starring Tony winners Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Tony nominees Brandon Victor Dixon and Adrienne Warren, as well as Joshua Henry, Amber Iman and the cast of the production, the highlight of the night came when the show’s headliner, six-time Tony Award winning actress-singer Audra McDonald, gave a master class in black excellence. McDonald, an operatic trained full lyric soprano belter, not only relearned tap dancing for her role as faded torch singer Lottie Gee, but during her performance, the Broadway star who is several months pregnant, danced in heels and gave a suspended high kick to the theatre gods with a Vaseline smile and hungry eyes. It’s the kind of performance that is stuff of legends.

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However, now that the 2015-2016 Broadway season is over, one must wonder is this season a fluke? While Tony winner Kenny Leon, an African-American theatre director—who is in the midst of pre-production for the independent feature film adaptation of Monster, a young-adult drama novel by Walter Dean Myers—is directing for the first-ever Broadway revivals of Children of a Lesser God and Proof, with the possibilities of these stories featuring black actors, the 2016-2017 Broadway season does not appear to be moving forward with the hell-bent push for diversity. Although British soul siren Leona Lewis will headline Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats in a coveted role, with rumors of Josephine (based on the life and times of iconic dancer Josephine Baker) and a revival of Miss Saigon on the horizon, there is not a kick for as much diversity from major producers. Which leads to a rather titillating quandary: Is this a banner year, the beginning of a Platinum Age or good PR?

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Here Is The Complete List:

Best Play
The Humans (WINNER)
Eclipsed
The Father
King Charles III

Best Musical
Hamilton (WINNER)
Bright Star
School of Rock—The Musical
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Waitress

Best Revival of a Play
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (WINNER)
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Blackbird
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Noises Off

Best Revival of a Musical
The Color Purple (WINNER)
Fiddler on the Roof
She Loves Me
Spring Awakening

Best Book of a Musical
Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda (WINNER)
Bright Star: Steve Martin
School of Rock—The Musical: Julian Fellowes
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed: George C. Wolfe

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Hamilton (WINNER)

Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Bright Star
Music: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Lyrics: Edie Brickell

School of Rock—The Musical
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Waitress
Music & Lyrics: Sara Bareilles

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Frank Langella, The Father (WINNER)
Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III
Mark Strong, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (WINNER)
Laurie Metcalf, Misery
Lupita Nyong’o, Eclipsed
Sophie Okonedo, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton (WINNER)
Alex Brightman, School of Rock—The Musical
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple (WINNER)
Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans (WINNER)
Bill Camp, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
David Furr, Noises Off
Richard Goulding, King Charles III
Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans (WINNER)
Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Andrea Martin, Noises Off
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton (WINNER)
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton (WINNER)
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Best Scenic Design of a Play
David Zinn, The Humans (WINNER)
Beowulf Boritt, Thérèse Raquin
Christopher Oram, Hughie
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
David Rockwell, She Loves Me (WINNER)
Es Devlin & Finn Ross, American Psycho
David Korins, Hamilton
Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Best Costume Design of a Play
Clint Ramos, Eclipsed (WINNER)
Jane Greenwood, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Michael Krass, Noises Off
Tom Scutt, King Charles III

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton (WINNER)
Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting
Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me
Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Natasha Katz, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (WINNER)
Justin Townsend, The Humans
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Hamilton (WINNER)
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening
Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Best Direction of a Play
Ivo Van Hove, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (WINNER)
Rupert Goold, King Charles III
Jonathan Kent, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Joe Mantello, The Humans
Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed

Best Direction of a Musical
Thomas Kail, Hamilton (WINNER)
Michael Arden, Spring Awakening
John Doyle, The Color Purple
Scott Ellis, She Loves Me
George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Best Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton (WINNER)
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof
Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea
Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Best Orchestrations
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton (WINNER)
August Eriksmoen, Bright Star
Larry Hochman, She Loves Me
Daryl Waters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

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About

MARCUS SCOTT is a playwright, songwriter, dramaturge, sketch comic and journalist. His work has appeared in Elle, Out, Passport, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Backstage, Giant, Hello Beautiful, NewsOne, The Urban Daily, Madame Noire, Styleblazer, Clutch, Artvoice, Bleu and Krave, among others. He has interviewed Fefe Dobson, VV Brown, Elle Varner, SWV, Danity Kane, Ryan Leslie, Rose Byrne, James Earl Jones, Annaleigh Ashford, LaMarr Woodley, Mehcad Brooks, Lisa Raye, Shaun Ross, Columbus Short and Boris Kodjoe, among others.


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