On the Sunday of an early morning tragedy in Orlando, Florida that left 50 dead, Broadway gathered for the 70th annual Tony Awards. The bittersweet timing wasn’t lost on the community of actors, directors, writers and producers. Costume designer William Ivey Long created silver ribbons for Broadway's brightest to wear in remembrance and solidarity.
“It’s senseless, it’s mindless, it’s terrifying. How many mass shootings do there have to be before we have a truly comprehensive plan for how to move forward as a nation?” asked from the red carpet Laura Benanti, a nominee for best actress in a musical for She Loves Me. [Cynthia Erivo would go on to win the prize for The Color Purple.] “It feels weird to be celebrating, but at the same time, you have to move forward and sometimes the show must go on, unfortunately."
Leona Lewis, who will make her Broadway debut this summer as Grizabella in Cats, added, “It’s just terribly tragic - it goes without saying - to target the LGBT community, but whoever was the target at the end of the day, we’ve lost people and we’ve lost lives and it’s so sad.”
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that William decided to create something for us all to show our recognition of the event that has happened,” said Brandon Victor Dixon, a nominee for best featured actor in a musical, Shuffle Along. “An event like this touches all lives, whether its in Orlando or California, no matter how far away or nearby. We all need to remember the loss of the life and... it’s not just about our access to guns. It’s what we see when we see one another.”
Dixon was also at the crux of the night’s other main topic: Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s patriotic hip hop musical that took home 11 of the 16 Tonys it was nominated for—and likely would have won more if some of its cast members weren’t competing in the same categories. (A whopping three actors from the play were nominated in Dixon’s category, and in the end the award went to Daveed Diggs for his his dual part as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the blockbuster show.)
"Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside," Miranda said in touching remarks from the Beacon Theatre stage in New York. His words were echoed in a classy acceptance speech by the venerated actor Frank Langella, who won best leading actor in a play for The Father.
“When something bad happens we have three choices. We let it define us, we let it destroy us, or we let it strengthen us,” Langella said. “Today in Orlando we had a hideous dose of reality. And I urge you, Orlando, to be strong. Because I’m standing in a room with the most generous human beings on earth. And we will be with you every step of the way.”
Hamilton wasn't the only Broadway show nominated Sunday night that originated at the Public Theatre - Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed, starring Lupita Nyong’o, was up for six awards, though it eventually lost to Stephen Karam's The Humans for best play.
“She was an understudy of the play back in 2009 at Yale Repertoire, for the same role she plays now,” said Gurira of working with Nyong'o. “So it was really divine order. I was trying to work together in little ways when she was at school – workshops, readings – but she was in school! So this was a very meant to be outcome that we ended up working together.”
Gurira, too, took a moment to acknowledge bloodshed far, far away from the Broadway stage, not just in Florida, but in Liberia, where her play takes place.
“My play is definitely something that taught me more about how to publicly be an activist,” she said. “So wearing a ribbon is an awareness tool but it’s also telling me, what else can I do to make sure these things stop happening in society? Each one of us has to have that conviction in our hearts to contribute to the change.”
Love is love, after all.
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