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Is the 'Hamilton' Tony sweep the beginning of a new era for Broadway?

Posted June 16

With the cultural phenomena of "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda's rapping take on the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, millions of Americans took note of the Tony Awards telecast this year, boosting viewership to almost 9 million.

That's great for New York's theater district this season, but with its irreverent style, diverse cast and now 11 Tony Awards to its name, is it fair to say "Hamilton" has ushered in a new age of prosperity for live theater?

Maybe, says Los Angeles Times critic Charles McNulty.

"Musicals with marketing hooks and plays with big-name stars are still the safest bets (economically)," McNulty wrote. "This is why the excitement over 'Hamilton' is so vital. The show has the potential to be a game-changer, lighting a path that leads from diversity on the stage to diversity in the audience."

And the diverse hallmarks of "Hamilton" are something audiences are cloying for. When race tensions and xenophobia seemed to dominate the national conversation this past year, The New York Times argued, Broadway captured the complexity of America's frustration with injustice and political elitism better than other media this season.

"This was definitely a season offstage in which it was impossible to turn off the sounds of the news being made," Times critic Ben Brantley wrote. "So it was gratifying to find plays that were indeed in dialogue with real life, including a play from many decades ago."

Whereas debates continue about movies and TV seriously lacking diversity in casting and recognition, Broadway is enjoying a multicultural moment with the all-minority cast of "Hamilton" to revivals of important race tales like "The Color Purple," "Shuffle Along" and "Eclipsed."

"In this era of #OscarsSoWhite, the Tonys are looking pretty good," New York Times critic Michael Paulson wrote when the Tony nominations were announced.

Race aside, the New York Times declared 2016 Broadway the "Year of the Woman," a stark contrast to criticisms in the movie industry that women are underrepresented in the medium.

Given the new exposure "Hamilton" gave the telecast of the Tony Awards this year, hopefully the new trend of cultural diversity will continue, in keeping with Miranda's original goal in bringing "Hamilton" to the stage.

“Our cast looks like America looks now,” Miranda told The New York Times last summer. “That’s certainly intentional."

And while the movie box office continues to struggle, live theater seems to be thriving, pulling in record ticket sales. Diversity in entertainment, many in the industry argue, isn't just what audiences want, it's what they're willing to pay — and continue to pay — to see.

"Broadway is healthy and vibrant,” executive director of the Broadway League Charlotte St. Martin told Reuters in 2014. “The diverse offerings on stage are clearly pleasing our audiences."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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