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The 70th annual Tony Awards, celebrating the best in live Broadway theater, air Sunday night. All eyes are on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acclaimed historical hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” which has received a record 16 nominations. But there are a slew of other productions that could garner surprise wins. Jeffrey Brown reports on a crowded and critically beloved Tony field.
Broadway's 70th annual Tony Awards air Sunday night with all eyes on the musical "Hamilton."
But, as Jeffrey Brown reports, there are many more stage productions which may provide surprises.
No question about it, it was the year of "Hamilton," and the hip-hop musical about America's first treasury secretary received a record 16 Tony nominations.
It also took in over a billion dollars in ticket sales and helped make this a profitable, as well as buzzed-about year on Broadway. Another contender in the best musical category, "Shuffle Along," with an all-star cast led by Audra McDonald, also got much buzz, even if it faces tough Tony odds.
In the best play category, "The Humans" and "Eclipsed" were among the standouts. The former presents a Thanksgiving gathering where tensions reach a boiling point and family fault lines are exposed.
"Eclipsed," starring Lupita Nyong'o is a drama set amidst the Liberian civil war. The best revival of a musical category includes new takes on two well-known stories. "The Color Purple," based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, centers on African-American women in the 1930s South.
And Tevye and tradition returned in "Fiddler on the Roof," first produced on Broadway in 1964. And in the best revival of a play category, famed playwright Arthur Miller faces off against himself, as well as others.
There's "The Crucible," about the Salem Witch Trials and an allegory of McCarthyism in later years, and "A View From the Bridge," Miller's 1956 drama of a Brooklyn longshoreman.
And as it happens, both Miller revivals were directed by Ivo Van Hove.
And for a further look at a most interesting year on Broadway, I'm joined by Ben Brantley, chief theater critic for The New York Times.
Welcome to you.
So, let's start with the "Hamilton" phenomenon. There is really no other way to refer to it, I guess.
BEN BRANTLEY, Chief Theater Critic, The New York Times:
No, you can't avoid it.
Well, there is a song from "Hamilton," "I Want to Be in the Room When It Happens," which is referring to sort of the political ambitions of Aaron Burr. But it became sort of the mantra for everyone.
I have never received so many questions from people sort of crawling out of the woodwork of my past asking if I could get them tickets, because they're hard to come by.
And that kind of feeds the fuel.
And this is one case, though, in which that kind of hype is justified. It really is unlike anything that's come on Broadway before and it's drawing audiences that Broadway hasn't really brought in en masse in many years.
One aspect to it much noted "Hamilton" and other plays is the diversity in theater.
The Oscars look especially pale by comparison to Broadway this year.
Well, the point of "Hamilton," or one of the many points of "Hamilton," which is a multi-leveled production in so many ways, is that this country was founded by immigrants. And one of the strokes of genius was casting all the dead white founding fathers with very vital young men and women of color.
It fuses the language of hip-hop, sort of the braggadocio in that, the energy in that, the kind of show-off aspect of it as the natural language for young people who would be revolting.
OK, other plays aside from "Hamilton" this year, right?
Let's talk about the new play category. And we mentioned "The Humans" and "Eclipsed." What stood out for you?
"The Humans" is lovely. It's probably an old-fashioned play in many ways.
But Stephen Karam, he's a very interesting playwright. It's perfectly balanced. It's a portrait of family dysfunction, which is what American plays, significant American dramas, tend to be like. But there's kind of a nimbus of the supernatural within it that suggests that the ghost, what really haunts us, the horror, the monsters, are us.
"Eclipsed" is its own creature. I never — I don't think there has been ever been a play like this on Broadway before, woman playwright, all-female cast. And it's about African brides, basically, who have been kidnapped by revolutionaries in a time of civil war. And it's their very limited existences and their hopes of escaping it.
It's sort of a conventional play in the way it's told, but I think it's really good. And the accents are thick, the lingo is thick. The historical context or the topical context is thick in a way that you really have to pay attention to follow it. And when you do, you're hooked.
A young actress named Cynthia Erivo in the musical "The Color Purple," which came in from London, it had been on Broadway not that long ago, but this is the pared-down revival from John Doyle. And she is extraordinary.
She plays — it's based on Alice Walker's novel. And she plays a repressed, young girl really, who grows into her sense of herself. And watching Cynthia Erivo grow in presence on stage is like watching a star being born before your eyes. It's just thrilling.
Let me ask you briefly, finally, to sum up the year.
There's some years where the talk about Broadway is, oh, blockbuster musicals, nothing all that new and really exciting. Where do you think we're at right now?
This year, "Hamilton" is so singular, that it really does sort of put everything else in the shade, but it's good that something this original — and it is truly original — is what's casting that shadow.
Aside from that the fact we had Ivo Van Hove, a radically experienced director, bringing two Arthur Miller plays to Broadway, "The Crucible" and "A View From the Bridge," and making them seem so new and so startling and so emotionally engaging, in a way, yes, any show that contains those, and "The Humans" and this great reinvented revival of "The Color Purple," it's a season to give thanks for.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times, thanks very much.
Thank you for having me.
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