Two years ago, when the Tony Awards committee inexplicably decided to eliminate the Tony for sound design, many people were outraged, especially in the theatrical design community, since the sound award had only been created in the 2007-2008 season. The hashtag #tonycanyouhearme popped up, and if you Google it today, the most recent Twitter Tweet is by Tony Award-winner writer/composer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda with a link to a thoughtful article about Nevin Steinberg’s revolutionary sound design for Hamilton. The rationale for nixing the sound design Tony is that the Tony voters don’t know what they are listening to, and that sound design is more science and technology than art. Really?
Going into the Sunday, June 12, 2016 broadcast of the 70th annual Tony Awards, I assumed that Steinberg would be the only one of the four Hamilton designers not to be honored with a Tony this year. Clearly, he deserved one. But the surprise upset of the evening, at least for me, was that scenic designer David Korins was snubbed and did not win in the category for Best Scenic Design Of A Musical. Instead, David Rockwell won for the sets of She Loves Me. Any other year, I would have applauded his win for his wonderful scenic work: He is a true master of his art.
Deservedly, Howell Binkley won for the lighting and Paul Tazewell won for the costumes of Hamilton. What bothers me about this is that Hamilton is such a seamless production, where all of the design elements go hand-in-hand to create an incredible whole that cannot easily be dissected, directed with such panache by Tony-winner Thomas Kail. And while nothing diminishes Binkley’s lighting—perhaps the best in his career to date—can you picture it in an empty theatre, on an empty stage?
In addition to lighting the actors, and their costumes, Binkley primarily lit Korin’s inventive set, with its brick wall that is made higher during intermission (how many Tony voters noticed that?) as the new country is built brick by brick. And the clever use of double turntables that enhance Kail’s Tony Award-winning direction as well as the Tony Award-winning choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler. In short, the entire Hamilton creative team was awarded for their work, with the exception of Steinberg, since there is no Tony for sound, and Korins, since maybe the voters don’t know what they are looking at any more than they know what they are hearing.
Perhaps a remedy to this is to have just two Tony awards for production design: one for Best Design Of A Play and one for Best Design Of A Musical, and each member of the team takes home a statuette. That way, sound no longer needs to be excluded, nor does projection, flying, special effects, or any other discipline that goes into creating an award-winning production. And maybe with just two awards, they could be presented during the primetime portion of the Tony telecast, rather than relegating the designers to pre-broadcast positions. After all, without the award-winning design elements, Broadway would be a pretty bleak place.
Check out the scenic, lighting, sound, and costume of Hamilton in-depth: