Exit Lines: The Hamiltons

Written by Exit Lines, Theatre

Err, the Tony Awards, this Sunday.

“The room where it happens” is New York’s Beacon Theater, where tomorrow night Hamilton, the history-drenched hip-hop phenomenon, will be anointed “king of Broadway“–but will it make history of its own at the Tony Awards? Or will The Producers, which won a dozen Tonys 15 years ago, hold onto its record?

The undisputed star of a record-breaking year for Broadway, Hamilton received 16 Tony nominations, more than any other show to date. The problem (in a Hamilton-person problem sort of way) is that two of them came for best leading actor in a musical, and three for best featured actor in a musical. Barring ties, only one can win, which means that Hamilton will have to have a winner in all 13 categories to beat The Producers. In a world where Hamilton makes the cover of Rolling Stone, dazzles politicians of every stripe, and influences currency decisions, it’s entirely possible.

(Now, will someone buy me a ticket, so I can see it on Broadway? Perhaps my mildly peevish response to the Off Broadway staging will change. Hey, Lin-Manuel Miranda is leaving next month–maybe prices will drop from an average $849 a pop to a chump change $800?)

Needless to say, expect Hamilton to “take a shot” all evening. Vulnerabilities? Best actress is a musical–it’s a strong year for that category, with my favorites Jessie Mueller (Waitress) and Laura Benanti (She Loves Me, pictured) competing, and newcomer Carmen Cusack giving the pallid Bright Star its only stardust. But Cynthia Erivo has been knocking them dead in the revival of the (awful) Color Purple, and I’d say it’s hers to lose, over Hamilton‘s Phillipa Soo. Possibly production design, too–beautifully utilitarian work by David Korins, but lacking the “wow” factor of, say, She Loves Me‘s gorgeous jewel box sets, by David Rockwell. There’s no ostentation to any element of Hamilton’s design, yet I expect the overall strength of the show, as art and as awards juggernaut, to carry it along.

(Hamilton also has rich sound design, by Nevin Steinberg, but the Tonys foolishly dropped that category two seasons back, depriving the show of a 17th nomination and  another record-chasing win. Awards aside, it remains an asinine decision.)

Even if Hamilton falls short of the record, or ties with The Producers, it will almost certainly beat its rival in longevity. It’s too bad the beloved LMM is leaving to conquer Hollywood, but he’s not a star, and when I saw the show he wasn’t quite Hamilton, either. (Veteran Danny Burstein is all that as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, but I’d say he’s a long shot.) Other actors can refresh Hamilton, and bring new dimensions to it, whereas The Producers sputtered at the boxoffice whenever headliners Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick departed, ultimately shortening its run. If Hamilton loses, it still wins.

The good news about the Tonys is, it’s not just Hamilton on Sunday night. James Corden, who deservedly won one for his sidesplitting performance in One Man, Two Guvnors (2012), will be ringleading a plethora of outstanding musical performances, which should make for a great show so long as everything’s not too shoehorned by commercials. A Shuffle Along dance number (pictured) will rock the house, and if you like it, there’s lots more to see in another edu-taining, history-based show brimming with talent. Should School of Rock choose to perform “Stick it to the Man” with those incredible kids, well, there’s your highlight. (You’ve still got it, ALW!)

I don’t see much drama regarding plays this year. The Humans, fantastic, should add to its haul, and I’m hoping its veteran co-stars Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell win in the featured performer categories. (That’s not to discount Danai Gurira’s harrowing Eclipsed, a look at African turmoil as finely honed as the deadly blade wielded by Michonne, her day job on The Walking Dead.) Look for Frank Langella (The Father) and Jessica Lange (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) to scoop up the big prizes, but I’m as about excited about that as I am about a Hillary presidency. Langella brings his gifts to bear on a trifling play made affecting by his presence as a dementia patient, and Lange, while more at ease here than in The Glass Menagerie seasons ago, still isn’t up to the challenge of the addicted Mary Tyrone. She fails to wound.

(I’m resigned to never seeing a version of the play as well cast as Sidney Lumet’s 1962 film, and that includes nominee Michael Shannon, a fine actor, strong in his monologue, who doesn’t suggest anyone’s son. But Gabriel Byrne, adding this to his canon of impressive Eugene O’Neill plays, is terrific, as if born to play it. Don’t pout for the unnominated John Gallagher, Jr.–he has a Tony, for Spring Awakening, which was more stirringly revived this season. So was The Crucible, with enough weird touches to make a revisit worthwhile.)

It all happens starting 8pm EST on CBS. What the hell–ten bucks says Hamilton breaks the record.