2015 was undeniably an incredible year for live theatre. This past year saw legends, such as Kristin Chenoweth and Chita Rivera make their returns to the Broadway stage, as well as the rise of those who could one day be legends, such as Sydney Lucas, the 11-year old Tony nominee, who brought audiences to tears with her performance as Small Alison in the musical Fun Home. In 2015, Broadway shows were playing to fuller houses, and making higher grosses than they ever have before, proving not only that the theatre scene is alive, but it is thriving. Here are four events that helped cement 2015 as an iconic year in Broadway history:
- Fun Home wins the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical
Fun Home is a musical adaption of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name. Fun Home is centred on Bechdel’s relationship with her closeted gay father, and her efforts to learn more about his life, leading up to his suicide. The musical also deals with Bechdel coming to terms with her own sexuality throughout the stages of her life (in the show she is portrayed as a young child, a college freshman, and her adult self, who narrates the show). It is also the first Broadway musical featuring a lesbian protagonist.
After opening Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2013, Fun Home premiered on Broadway at The Circle in the Square Theatre on April 19, 2015, where it proceeded to win the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. Fun Home was the first musical written and composed by an all female writing team, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, to take home this award, adding to the Broadway history this little-show-that-could has made.
See Fun Home’s Tony Award acceptance speech here
- Hamilton “Rises Up”
If you follow any celebrity on Instagram, in all likelihood, you’ve seen a picture of the Hamilton playbill or marquee. After wrapping up a sold-out Off-Broadway run at The Public Theater in early 2015, the show opened on Broadway this past August, not only to great critical acclaim, but to massive, widespread hype. Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the “ten-dollar founding father without a father,” and takes the audience through the events of his life, from before the Revolutionary War to his final duel with United States Vice-President, Aaron Burr. Written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also stars in the show), Hamilton uses hip-hop to tell Hamilton’s, and essentially America’s, story. Additionally, all of the principle actors in Hamilton are people of colour (including Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo and Jasmine Cephas Jones, pictured above), with the exception of Jonathan Groff, who plays the antagonistic King George III. In Hamilton, minorities are the majority, and history belongs to those who are typically excluded from its telling. This makes Hamilton especially poignant in a time where racism is such a prominent social issue.
Watch clips from Hamilton here
- Deaf West’s Spring Awakening paves the way for more accessible theatre
It can generally be said that deaf people are not among the target audiences of Broadway musicals. However, Deaf West Theatre, a theatre company based out of Hollywood, is striving to break that mold and prove that live theatre can be accessible to all. This past September, Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening transferred to Broadway, where it was met with positive critical and commercial response. The cast was made up of both hearing and non-hearing actors, and was presented simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language. None of the characters in the canon of Spring Awakening are deaf, however in this production many of them are being portrayed by deaf actors, with other actors playing their “voices”. Broadway is no stranger to beautiful, tragic, wheelchair bound characters or “comical” caricatures of disability, all of which are usually played by able-bodied actors. However, having disabled actors playing characters who were written as being able-bodied brings a true awareness to the issue of ableism. That newfound awareness, as well as the opportunities being given to talented disabled actors, is what made this particular production noteworthy. Spring Awakening closed on January 24, 2016 after its limited run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, however given the success it achieved, hopefully there is more from this company on Broadway in the future.
Watch a performance from the cast of Spring Awakening here
- Kelli O’Tony
Kelli O’Hara’s status as a Broadway leading lady has been cemented for a very long time. O’Hara has also been referred to as “the Leonardo DiCaprio of musical theatre”* for quite some time as well. For every production she’s been in since 2005’s The Light in the Piazza, O’Hara has been nominated for a Tony Award, and every year, she has lost out on winning the statue. However, at the 2015 Tony’s, O’Hara finally won the Best Leading Actress in a Musical award for her portrayal of Anna in The King and I. Theatre fans everywhere rejoiced as O’Hara delivered a funny, touching speech that has been ten years in the making.
Watch Kelli O’Hara’s Tony Awards acceptance speech here
*: Leonardo DiCaprio has since won an Academy Award. Atta boy Leo.
Sydney Grant is a full time student at Humber College, studying Public Relations. She enjoys theatre, the colour pink, and changing this by-line