If there is one award that every Broadway show wants to win each year, it is the Tony Awards. Any wins will be emblazoned across marquees, shouted from every major newspaper and give the show a seal of quality in front of a national television audience at the awards ceremony. This year’s nominations were announced this morning with a strong weighting towards the new (and sold out until 2017) show, Hamilton. So now seems like an appropriate time to explore why it has reached this record height in popularity and awards . . .
For those of you who haven’t heard, Hamilton scored a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations this morning far surpassing the two shows who jointly held that title previously, The Producers and Billy Elliot. And these awards very closely represent the relevance to the real theatre audience with this show selling out each night and every single night through to the end of 2016. However, I can’t help but wonder as Hamilton talks about its future world tours in the coming decade . . .
Would Hamilton have taken the theatre community by storm in the same way if it hit the scene five years ago? Would it have the same impact if it came to the stage in 2020? No. There are two factors which have helped to magnify the power of Hamilton and turn it into the well-deserved Tony nominated hit of the season.
- 2016: The Year of Diversity
In the face of Hollywood having its year of similarity with a set of rather monochrome nominations at the Golden Globes, Broadway has gone in the opposite direction. Shows this year included; Hamilton, The Colour Purple and Shuffle Along which featured predominantly African-American casts, a new musical about the life story of Gloria Estefan – On Your Feet – putting Latin American stories front and centre, Chinese immigrants coming to the fore in Allegiance and Fiddler on the Roof exploring Jewish narratives. But the diversity wasn’t purely race related with a new revival of Spring Awakening from Deaf West featuring (you guessed it) a cohort of deaf and hearing-impaired actors in a re-tooled production of the recent classic.
Launching Hamilton amongst this environment meant that theatrical marketing was already reaching a more diverse crowd, encouraging them to explore theatre as an entertainment option and putting it at the forefront of new consumers’ minds – more so than any other year. It has also meant that there has been a huge amount of cumulative publicity about these diversity-encouraging shows. And like Gestalt says, the whole is more than the sum of its parts!
- The Music Scene
The second reason? There is the famous phrase of ‘Life imitating Art’. Well, when it comes to entertainment, it is actually the other way around. ‘Entertainment should imitate life’. And that is exactly what Hamilton has done. It has made itself so much more accessible than any other option on the stages because it isn’t a big leap to go from listening to the radio in your car to listening to these talented performers every night on stage. Much easier than making the leap from Beyoncé to The King & I!
Hamilton is so now. It is representative of the entertainment that people already enjoy. The music could quite easily slip into a playlist amongst Drake and Jay-Z meaning that it will resonate with their enormous audiences.
But Hamilton isn’t alone in this phenomenon. Think about some of the big success stories over the last few decades. The electronic score of CATS prowled onto the scene when electronica was taking over the popular music scene. When Wicked defied gravity for the first time its soundtrack could have quite easily sat amongst the international pop sensations at the turn of the century. The best entertainment comes from when entertainment mimics life – and in these economic climates we only have money for entertainment its detached sibling, art.
Hamilton may have been a standout success, but it isn’t really a surprise. Fitting in with the crowd but standing out enough to reap the benefits of cumulative publicity. Breaking boundaries to reach new audiences. Taking what audiences already enjoy and repackaging it into an engaging new theatrical format. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to realise that there are a few simple rules to success – and Hamilton, with its 16 Tony nominations, is definitely the poster child!