“Lower your expectations.” That was the message James Corden was giving to fans last week ahead of his debut as host of the Tony Awards Sunday night.
After the world woke up to the horrific news of the deadliest mass shooting in recent American history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the morning of the annual tribute to all things Broadway, Corden’s job became far more difficult that he could have ever imagined.
The British-born Late Late Show host, virtually unknown to most of America before his Carpool Karaoke segment became the biggest thing to hit YouTube in years, previously said he would be directing his opening numbers at “the theater kid who lives in Michigan or Nebraska, who just dreams of being on a stage.”
“For them, this night being on TV is everything,” he added, “and I wonder if we can open our show for them.”
A visibly shaken and “very, very nervous” Corden echoed this sentiment on the red carpet before the show on Sunday, wondering aloud whether or not the “funny and irreverent” opening he has been working on for weeks would still be appropriate in light of the tragedy. “Time will tell if we’ve pulled it off,” he said.
Instead of opening the show as he had planned, Corden stood on a bare stage, speaking directly into the camera.
“All around the world people are trying to come to terms with the horrific events that took place in Orlando this morning,” Corden began. “On behalf of the whole theater 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 right now. Your tragedy is our tragedy.
“Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved,” he continued. “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!”
From there, the host turned things over to the cast of the Hamilton, which performed a parody of that record-breaking musical’s opening number with new lyrics about Corden instead of the founding father. Then came some requisite jokes about #OscarsSoWhite (“Think of tonight as the Oscars, but with diversity”) and the Republican presidential nominee (“It is so diverse that Donald Trump has threatened to build a wall around this theater”).
And finally, as promised, Corden delivered an elaborate, celebratory opening number that traced the history of Broadway, from Les Miserables through Phantom of the Opera and beyond, arriving at this empowering message to all those kids watching at home: “To the theater kids from any place with stardust in their eyes, of every color, class and race and face and shape and size. To the boys and girls, transgender too, to every Broadway would-be. Don’t wonder if this could be you. It absolutely could be.”