NEW YORK >> The year 2015 began with a musical opening downtown that seemed an unlikely subject for a hit show — a hip-hop biography of a Founding Father. On Sunday, this show about American history is expected to make its own history — again.
Despite the presence of new host James Corden and the arrival of Barbra Streisand for the first time since 1970, “Hamilton” will be front and center at the Tony Awards at the Beacon Theatre.
The musical is nominated for a record 16 awards — with some of the actors vying in the same categories — and can actually only win 13, which would break the 12-Tony record held by “The Producers.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-flavored biography about the first U.S. treasury secretary starring diverse actors has become a cultural phenomenon, bringing attention to Broadway like no other. It has been discussed in the presidential campaign, influenced the debate over the nation’s currency and its stars have become regulars on early morning and late-night TV shows.
The Tonys are expected to be a sort of victory lap for a show that has swept every major award. Miranda has already this year won a Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.
“Hamilton” and the 38 new productions this season helped Broadway’s attendance figures hit a record high, up 1.6 percent to 13.3 million ticket buyers. The box offices reported a record total gross of $1.37 billion — up 0.6 percent from the previous season.
In the shadow of “Hamilton” came unusual musical stories for Broadway: an unhappy wife and pie-maker in “Waitress;” the inside story of a forgotten 1920s African-American musical in “Shuffle Along;” and a bluegrass show about an unwed mother in the South in “Bright Star.” One of the most dark and twisted shows was “American Psycho,” with a knife-wielding hero smeared in blood.
The plays and play revivals included a look at Liberian sex slaves in “Eclipsed,” a fractious family’s Thanksgiving get-together in “The Humans,” a tale about what might happen when the current English queen dies in “King Charles III” and two Arthur Miller unconventional revivals of “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge.” In one, the actors were barefoot. In the other, a wolf-like dog made a chilling appearance.
Thomas Kail, nominated for a best directing Tony for “Hamilton,” said he’s noticed a shift away from traditional Broadway fare and an embrace of unconventional tales.
“Inherently what I think Lin’s show is saying and what so many of the shows this season are saying is, ‘Your story matters.’ It can be about a waitress in a little town. It can be about a woman in the South. It can be about a group of dockworkers. It can be about a musical in the 1920s,” he said. “We’re listening and we heard you and we’re responding to that.”
The season also was rich in diversity among actors: Fourteen of the 40 Tony nominees for acting in plays and musicals — or 35 percent — are actors of color. And there are more non-whites nominated on the other side of the stage, including choreographer Savion Glover, directors George C. Wolfe and Liesl Tommy, and playwright Danai Gurira.
Women also broke records: “Eclipsed” is the first ever Broadway play to feature a director, writer and cast who are all women and, incidentally, all black women. On the musical side, “Waitress” marked the first time that the four top creative spots in a show — composer, choreographer, book writer and director — were four women.
Deaf performers also shined on Broadway in the revival of the musical “Spring Awakening,” which also featured the first-ever performer in a wheelchair to perform in a Broadway show. The show used American Sign Language, attracting new theater-goers.
“It’s a season that has brought audiences to Broadway that probably wouldn’t have been interested or don’t get the chance to come and see themselves onstage portrayed in ways where they feel moved and connected,” said Adrienne Warren, who is nominated for a Tony in “Shuffle Along.”
“That’s changing. Audiences are changing. Stories are changing. The narrative is changing. This is a season where I see that we are in charge of the narrative and we’re pushing the boundaries way past what we’ve seen in other seasons.”
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits