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What would the 2016 Tony nominations have looked like without Hamilton?

In a Hamilton-less field, Shuffle Along would have been the frontrunner with 10 nominations.

'Waitress' Broadway Opening Night - Arrival & Curtain Call
The cast of the new Broadway musical Waitress.
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The 70th annual Tony Award nominations are in, and, as most expected, Hamilton led the way, landing 16 nods and breaking the record for the most nominations ever captured by a single show. (The previous record, 15 nominations, was shared between two shows, 2001's The Producers and 2009's Billy Elliot.)

With Hamilton essentially occupying a cultural coup on Broadway, the race to secure a nod from the coveted Antoinette Perry Awards was a little less intense this year than it has been in the past.

But in a year that was unusually crowded with original new musicals and standout revivals, it's worth asking: Without Hamilton, what shows would have risen to the top?

Hamilton made its biggest dent in the acting categories

The most direct impact Hamilton had on the Tonys came in the acting categories.

Stars Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr each snagged a Best Actor nod, while three of the featured actor nominations went to supporting cast members Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, and Jonathan Groff. Meanwhile, both of the show's central actresses, Philippa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry, picked up nominations in the Best Actress and Featured Actress categories, respectively.

Without Hamilton on the boards, it's safe to say there are a few more shows that would have received a bit more attention in the acting categories and others this year:

  • Shuffle Along's star Audra McDonald, who already holds the record for the most Tony Awards won by a single performer, could easily have picked up a nomination for Best Actress in a Musical and a chance to make her six wins a decisive seven.
  • Jennifer Hudson's snub in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category — The Color Purple's nod in this category went to co-star Danielle Brooks — might have been rectified.
  • After Hamilton, Shuffle Along, an intriguing meta-commentary on vintage musicals that actually tried and failed to bill itself as a revival in anticipation of going head to head with Hamilton, received the most nominations in the musical categories. Had Hamilton not overshadowed it, most likely Shuffle Along and its primary competitor, Bright Star, a new musical about the vintage South, would have competed for the top prize. We speculate Shuffle Along would have won for Best Direction and Best Musical; however, since Shuffle Along's reliance on previously written musical material rendered it ineligible for the music categories, Bright Star would have been a shoe-in to nab Best Score and Best Book— a nice trophy for Steve Martin, who contributed to both along with singer-songwriter Edie Brickell.
  • The short-lived musical Allegiance, an Asian-American production about the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II, would have gotten considerably more love. We speculate it would have garnered nods for Best Score and Best Actor/Actress nods for stars Telly Leung and longtime veteran Lea Salonga. Headliner George Takei, whose own experience growing up in an internment camp partly inspired the musical, would almost certainly have gotten a nomination for Best Featured Actor, a category that would be considerably more open without its three Hamilton nominees.
  • Waitress likely would have received more attention in the Featured categories, with Kimiko Glenn or Keala Settle possibly picking up a nod for Featured Actress, while Drew Gehling faced off against co-star Christopher Fitzgerald in the Featured Actor category.
  • Tuck Everlasting's newcomer, 11-year-old Sarah Charles Lewis, might have gotten a Best Actress nod if the voters were feeling generous, while the production's lavish set and musical arrangements could have sneaked into the Best Scenic Design and Best Orchestration categories.
  • The short-lived fluffy revival Dames at Sea could have garnered a nod for Best Direction and Best Costume Design, if not a Featured Actress nomination for Broadway favorite Lesli Margherita.
  • The Deaf West Spring Awakening, which got noticed for Best Direction and Best Revival but only received one other technical award for Best Lighting, would probably also have made its mark on the other technical and acting categories. Stars Daniel N. Durant and Austin P. McKenzie would probably have picked up nods in the Lead and Featured Actor categories, respectively.

There are lots of good shows out there this year

While we'll never know what the 2016 awards season for Broadway would have looked like otherwise, we can hope that the excitement over Hamilton directs potential audiences to many of these other shows as well — the ones that haven't already closed yet, that is.

Though the Hamilton boom has swept New York City, it hasn't necessarily drawn much traffic to its competitors on the Great White Way.

Even without Hamilton, it's been a surprisingly strong year for musicals on Broadway — powerhouse Andrew Lloyd Webber ushered in a hit with his adaptation of School of Rock, while shows like Shuffle Along, Bright Star, Allegiance, Waitress, and the acclaimed revival of The Color Purple have all contributed to a surprisingly diverse acting lineup.

Female creatives have made their mark as well, with Waitress's all-female creative team, Tuck Everlasting's Claudia Shear‎ co-writing that show's book, and Edie Brickell co-writing the songs on Bright Star. And all in all, musical theater has turned out a nice mix, a range of shows offering family fun and serious treatments of social issues — all of which combine, of course, in Hamilton itself.

Let's hope the Tonys remind viewers that it's been a busy, diverse, and fascinating season on Broadway — even without a giant cultural juggernaut in its midst.