'Hamilton' breaks Tonys record with 16 nominations

Steven Zeitchik
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
This image released by The Public Theater shows Lin-Manuel Miranda, foreground, with the cast during a performance of "Hamilton," in New York. (Joan Marcus/The Public Theater via AP)

NEW YORK — "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop musical about America's founding fathers, wrote its own piece of history Tuesday morning by picking up 16 Tony Award nominations, breaking the record of 15 set by "The Producers" in 2001 and tied by "Billy Elliot" in 2009.
Miranda's critical and box-office hit, considered by most to be a shoo-in to win the top prize of best musical, will compete, nominally, against Andrew Lloyd Webber's "School of Rock," small-town charmer "Waitress," Appalachian bluegrass piece "Bright Star" and race-themed meta-tale "Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed."
With its 16 nominations, "Hamilton" will aim for "The Producers'" record of 12 Tony wins when theater's biggest night kicks off June 12 on CBS from New York's Beacon Theatre.
Acting: "Hamilton" was boosted by nominations across the board, but particularly in acting categories. That included multiple nominations for lead actor (Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr., the latter a front-runner) and featured actor (Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff). In a rare occurrence, half the total nominations were in those categories. "Hamilton" also will compete for score, choreography and direction of a musical, among others.
The 16 nominations for the show were even more impressive given that "Billy Elliot" reached 15 with the help of sound design, a category that was phased out in 2014.
Miranda, at 36 already one of the theater world's most influential creators, took a cheeky approach to acknowledging the occasion. "The Rodgers tonight," he tweeted, referring to the "Hamilton" theater, over a video of a famous "Seinfeld" scene in which the cast joyously welcomes home Elaine.
'Bright Star': But "Hamilton" was far from the only story Tuesday morning, and "Bright Star" proved perhaps the biggest surprise. The period tale written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and inspired by an earlier musical collaboration between the pair, was nominated for best musical even though it was not on most pundits' list.
Indeed, even the presence of five nominees was a surprise. Tony rules require that for a fifth show to be accepted it must finish close to the top four among the several dozen nominators who select the Tony shortlists.
"Bright Star" also landed book, store and orchestration nominations, in addition to the more expected nod for Carmen Cusack for lead actress in a musical. The little-known actress — she had been in several touring productions of "Wicked" — plays both a middle-aged repressed magazine editor and a younger free spirit in North Carolina in a melodrama that cuts between the 1920s and '40s.
Cusack will compete against 2014 Tony winner Jessie Mueller ("Waitress"), Phillipa Soo ("Hamilton"), upstart Laura Benanti ("She Loves Me") and front-runner Cynthia Erivo ("The Color Purple").
The category of lead actress in a musical also saw perhaps the biggest snub of the day: Audra McDonald, lauded for her performance as the diva Lottie Gee in the newly opened "Shuffle Along," was left off the list. McDonald holds the record for most Tonys by a performer (six) and was thought to be a serious contender for a seventh.
Drama: "Shuffle Along" was at the center of another Tonys drama, as the George C. Wolfe production sought a spot in the revival category, where the road to a win was perceived as smoother without "Hamilton." But the Tony's administration committee on Friday rejected that bid.
Instead, "The Color Purple," "Spring Awakening," "She Loves Me" and "Fiddler on the Roof" were nominated for musical revival, an expected array of candidates. "The Color Purple," the Menier Chocolate Factory's well-regarded production that also starred Jennifer Hudson, is considered the front-runner.
But with a winner still unclear — or at least less clear than the best new musical race with "Hamilton" — the revival category has vaulted into a more prominent spot than it has occupied in past years.
"The Color Purple" could also have a big night in June thanks to Erivo, a 29-year-old Brit of Nigerian heritage who is a favorite to win for her performance as the ardent protagonist Celie. If she does, and if other categories fall into place, this could mark the first time in Tonys history that all four musical performance winners are people of color. Odom is a front-runner for lead actor, castmates Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson have a solid shot at featured actor with Brandon Victor Dixon of "Shuffle Along," while the featured actress category also has a majority of minority contenders.
Plays: Meanwhile, in nonmusical categories, best play nominations fell into line with pundits' expectations as front-runners "Eclipsed" and "The Humans" — Danai Gurira's Liberian Civil War drama and Stephen Karam's dysfunctional-family holiday tale, respectively — will share slots with Michael Bartlett's so-called "future history" royals tale "King Charles III" and Florian Zeller's first-person dementia drama "The Father."
Best revival of a play slots went to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and a "A View from the Bridge," both reimagined by the Flemish director Ivo Van Hove, as well as "Blackbird," "Noises Off" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night." The Miller nominations fittingly followed the monthslong celebration of the writer's 100th birthday last October.
Lead actress in a play is a Hollywood-heavy race, as Lupita Nyong'o ("Eclipsed"), Michelle Williams ("Blackbird") and Jessica Lange ("Long Day's Journey Into Night") compete against Sophie Okonedo ("The Crucible") and Laurie Metcalf ("Misery").
On the male side, Jeff Daniels ("Blackbird"), Gabriel Byrne ("A Long Day's Journey Into Night"), Mark Strong ("A View from the Bridge"), Frank Langella ("The Father") and Tim Pigott-Smith ("King Charles III") will go head-to-head. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, well-reviewed for his many-charactered turn as an overworked restaurant employee in the one-man show "Fully Committed," was not nominated.