The 70th annual Tony Awards are more than six months away, but one Broadway show is already guaranteed to dominate almost every category: the hip-hop musical “Hamilton.” The show has become a pop culture sensation thanks to its infectious score and lyrical gymnastics, and its impact has reached far beyond the Great White Way. Consequently, the folks at the American Theatre Wing, which produces the Tonys, are no doubt salivating at the prospect of increased interest in next year’s awards telecast.
On Thursday, the Tony Awards Administration Committee said three stars in the ensemble cast would be eligible for consideration in the lead actor/actress category: Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo and show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Although the actual nominations won’t be announced until well into next year, it’s the first hint at what is sure to be a “Hamilton”-obsessed event.
“Hamilton,” a multicultural reimagining of the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, has already generated a record-breaking $57 million at the Broadway box office, and tickets are sold out for months to come. But will the show's phenomenal buzz actually translate into more people watching the Tonys telecast? That remains to be seen. While Broadway attendance is at an all-time high, fewer people have been tuning in to watch Broadway's biggest night in recent years. The 69th annual Tony Awards drew an estimated 6.35 million total viewers in June of this year, the lowest viewership in the past three years and well below the 2014 number of 7.3 million, according to reports.
Miranda -- a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient who has been wooing national audiences thanks to appearances on shows like “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” -- may prove to be the Tonys' saving grace.
“Because it’s so difficult to get 'Hamilton' tickets, there might well be more people tuning in [to The Tony Awards] to get at least a taste,” Joseph Church, a composer and former Broadway music director, told International Business Times.
But it’s no guarantee.
“Despite the growing popularity of musical theater, evident in the constantly rising profits of the industry, it remains something of a niche or cottage industry,” said Church.
Recent history agrees. The blockbuster musical "Book of Mormon" drew less-than-stellar results for the 2011 Tony Awards, with the number of viewers down significantly despite Neil Patrick Harris hosting the event. Similarly, the wildly popular show "The Producers'' wasn’t enough to increase the awards show viewership in 2001. Ratings remained flat.
Some experts say the Tonys' on-and-off ratings boil down to an identity crisis.
“By building their show around people who are not primarily associated with Broadway, they not only fail to attract a more mainstream audience, but they end up alienating their real audience -- Broadway,” said Kelly Kessler, director of the media and cinema studies masters program at DePaul University.
The public relations team for the Tony Awards declined to comment.
Decisions to have non-Broadway stars like Sheryl Crow present awards, or to have the award for best costume design during commercial breaks, are examples of alienating the theater crowd, she added. Perhaps Miranda is the perfect gift for the upcoming Tony Awards, a tried-and-true Broadway star with some popular appeal. Theatergoers will have to wait until June to find out.