In the wake of what is being called the worst mass shooting in American history, the 70th Annual Tony Awards announced earlier in the day that the June 12 ceremony would be dedicated to the Orlando victims.
“All around the world, people are trying to come to terms with the horrific events that took place in Orlando this morning,” began host James Corden at the opening of the ceremony. “On behalf of the whole theatre community and every person in this room, our hearts go out to all of those affected by this atrocity. All we can say is you are not on your own. Your tragedy is our tragedy. Theatre is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win. Together we have to make sure of that. Tonight's show stands as a symbol and a celebration of that principle. This is the Tony Awards.”
Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda gave a powerful acceptance speech on the enduring power of love over hatred, in honor of the Orlando victims. Miranda delivered a moving sonnet after winning the Tony Award for Best Original Score: “When senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day, the show is proof that history remembers. We live through times when hate and fear seems stronger, we rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer,” he told the crowd.
Barbra Streisand, who presented the final award of the evening, the Best Musical Award to Hamilton, also paid tribute to the victims of the Orlando tragedy. “Tonight, our joy is tinged with sorrow,” Streisand told the crowd. “But we’re here to celebrate Broadway and the beauty that artistry can bring into this world.”
Several Tony winners acknowledged the victims in their acceptance speeches, including Frank Langella, who received his fourth Tony Award for his leading role in The Father. “There are so many names I wrote down today to thank, but I hope they will forgive me if I bring in a dose of true reality: what happened today in Orlando,“ stated the Broadway vet. “I found some words that will mean more to you than a litany of names: ‘When something bad happens, we have three choices: we let it define us, we let it destroy us, or we let it strengthen us.’ Today in Orlando, we had a hideous dose of reality. I urge you Orlando, to be strong, because I'm standing in a room full of the most generous human beings on Earth and we will be with you every step of the way.“
On the red carpet before the awards, members of the Broadway community continually expressed their shock and dismay.
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s the second time this week that a tragedy occurs in Orlando,” said Gloria Estefan, referring to the death of Voice star Christina Grimmie. “You try to make sense of these things, but there’s really no sense. It’s hatred run amok…All we can do is put as much love out there into the world for a balance.”
“The homophobia that precipitated that event...,” director Liesl Tommy told Playbill on the red carpet. “Where theatre has to take responsibility is that, if we don’t provide stories of every kind of humanity, then our audiences only understand their own humanity... If that boy had maybe seen different kinds of shows in high school, depicting different kinds of lives and humanity and compassion, he might be a different person today. I truly believe that because theatre changed my life, and I really believe in its power to change other people’s lives. That’s why I work on shows like Eclipsed.”
Pre-Tonys red carpet hosts Alicia Quarles and Laura Michelle Kelly kicked off the coverage with an emotional message to the victims and those affected by the tragedy. Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County mayor Theresa Jacobs and president and CEO of Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts made a video statement during the arrivals. “Thank you Broadway for standing with us during our time of great need,” said Dyer. “Your outpouring of love has been felt and they help us begin the healing of our diverse community.”
“It's an unbelievable tragedy,“ Spring Awakening's Andy Mientus told Playbill on the red carpet. “You say unbelievable but sadly it’s becoming more and more commonplace. I will say that – I tweeted something to this effect – any kid at home that sees [the Orlando tragedy] and is scared by it, is going to be able to watch the Tonys tonight and see a whole community of all different kinds of queer people being celebrated through the mainstream media and seeing us support each other and the whole community come out. It’s a strange day.”
According to multiple news reports, a 29-year-old gunman, who has been identified as Omar Mateen, opened fire around 2 AM in Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub, where more than 300 people were inside. After killing 50 people and injuring at least 53 more, the gunman was shot by SWAT officers who stormed Pulse.
Following the tragic news and in the lead-up up to the ceremony, the official Tony Awards Twitter account tweeted, “Our hearts are heavy for the unimaginable tragedy that happened last night in Orlando.” Many guests at the ceremony are wearing pins attached to their clothing in memoriam.