Tony Awards Honor Plays and Musicals Exploring Immigration

This past Sunday marked the 70th annual Tony Awards, a live show honoring achievements in Broadway theater productions. This year’s show, which was broadcast by CBS from the Beacon Theatre in New York City and hosted by actor James Corden, garnered its highest ratings in 15 years. The boost in this year’s viewership was undoubtedly due, at least in part, to the smash hit musical Hamilton, which won eleven Tony awards on Sunday night, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical. As detailed in a recent MurthyBlog, Inspiring Creator of Broadway Smash ‘Hamilton,’  Hamilton tells the true story of founding father and first U.S. treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, who was born in the Caribbean before eventually immigrating to the United States. And while the runaway success of Hamilton may have helped introduce viewers to the Tony awards and the world of live theater that it celebrates, several other productions featuring immigration themes were honored, as well. [See Tony Awards Hail ‘Hamilton’ Denounce Hate, by Michael Paulson, The New York Times, 12.Jun.2016.]

A View From the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s 1955 tragedy revolving around an Italian immigrant living in New York City with his family, took home awards for Best Revival of a Play and Best Direction of a Play. Praised by critics for its strong performances and arresting set design, A View From the Bridge is narrated by a character named Alfieri, who was born in Italy but has immigrated to the U.S. to work as a lawyer. He introduces the audience to the story of Eddie, an ItalianAmerican longshoreman living in Brooklyn with his wife, Beatrice, and orphaned niece Catherine, who he has raised on his own. When Beatrice’s two cousins arrive from Italy to stay with the family while they build a life in the United States, they provoke complex feelings about immigration and the pursuit of the American dream that ultimately build to a devastating climax. [See A View From the Bridge, Wikipedia.]

While not an award winner on Sunday night, the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical. First produced on Broadway in 1964, Fiddler involves a Jewish family living in Russia in 1905. Patriarch, Tevye, is focused on finding husbands for his five daughters while adhering to the cultural traditions of matchmaking and arranged marriage. But when his headstrong daughters insist on marrying only for love and choosing their own mates, Tevye is forced to rethink his rigid ideals. The musical ends with part of the family immigrating to America after being expelled from their village as Russia undergoes political change that has little tolerance for Jews or their culture. While Fiddler on the Roof features humor and several iconic musical numbers, it also has a more serious undertone that explores xenophobia, cultural gaps between familial generations, and the challenge of building a new life in America at the beginning of the 21st century. Singer and songwriter Josh Groban introduced the musical revival during the Tony Awards ceremony and called Fiddler on the Roof “a beacon of life, love, and tolerance.” [See Fiddler on the Roof, Wikipedia. See, also, Best Quotes From the Tony Awards 2016, by Alex Needham, The Guardian, 13.Jun.2016]

While the world of theater that is celebrated by the Tony Awards may not be as well known to mass audiences as some of the most popular movies and television shows, the plays and musical numbers that were honored this year have universal themes to which every viewer can relate. Whether explored by lively musical numbers or tense tragedy, the Tony Awards remind us that the American dream is complicated, multifaceted, and intensely personal.


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