While Broadway shows are returning, opening, and premiering premieres, audiences – and businesses – will never be the same again.
The community has lost members like actor Nick Cordero and Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally to the coronavirus. At least seven plays written by black artists are expected to open on Broadway stages this season. And the industry doesn’t know if the public is comfortable enough to sit side by side in a theater, even vaccinated and masked.
The Broadway League and the American Theater Wing are looking to the 74th Tony Awards, which will take place at the Winter Garden Theater on Sunday, for their contribution. Originally slated for June 7, 2020, awards have been delayed – and delayed again, after the nominations were announced last October – in a bid to bolster an industry hampered by a pandemic. Here’s a look at how we got here after so much uncertainty.
It’s been over a year and a half since that fateful day – March 12, 2020 – when the curtain fell on the 31 plays and musicals that aired on Broadway. Originally supposed to last only 32 days, the suspension canceled 16 openings scheduled for spring 2020, from March 12 (“Six”, which was only a few hours from its opening night) to April 23 (when “Take Me Out ”was supposed to open).
As it became clear that the coronavirus was going to be with us for a while, the Tonys were postponed indefinitely, until Broadway reopened. (Our chief critics still gave out their own awards, finding something to celebrate.)
Almost a month after closing, Broadway’s reopening date was pushed back to June. Then in August came the announcement that the Tony Awards would take place, albeit online. Awards administrators debated the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season combination for a televised ceremony in 2021, but decided not to do so for fear that it might not be fair to open shows in 2019. (Of course, they didn’t know yet there wouldn’t be to be a 2020-21 season.)
The nominations were announced in October 2020, with “Jagged Little Pill”, Alanis Morissette’s jukebox musical that New York Times chief critic Jesse Green called “heartfelt without syrup, catchy and real” and “Slave Play,” Jeremy O Harris’ portrayal of race and gender in America which Green called “one of the best and most provocative new works to appear on Broadway in years,” receiving the most appointments. “Slave Play”, which has 12, has become the most nominated song in Tonys history.
But then came November. And then December. And then a new year – and still, no ceremony.
Tony’s voting plans were announced in January, though organizers didn’t commit to an event until Broadway returned. In March, 778 voters made their choice, more than a year after seeing numerous broadcasts. Then on May 26 the real plan, what’s really going on, was announced. And here we are.
Who is eligible for a Tony?
This year’s ceremony will recognize shows that opened in any of Broadway’s 41 theaters from April 26, 2019 to February 19, 2020. A few, like Ivo van Hove’s cover of “West Side Story,” which is not returning to Broadway, and “Girl From the North Country,” which returns on October 13 and was the last Broadway show to open before closing, are not eligible because the League determined that not enough of its constituents had the chance to see them before closing it.
The reduced number of qualifying productions – 18, down from 34 at the 2019 ceremony – has also led to some quirks in the categories this year. Best Cover of a Musical was dropped because no show had opened by the February 19 deadline (“West Side Story” opened February 20), all nominees for best score are plays and Aaron Tveit of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is in a solo race to be the lead actor in a musical category, though he could still lose if he fails to convince 60% of voters he deserves a statuette.
How to watch the rewards
Despite the fewer nominees and categories, this year’s Tony Awards will last four hours and be split into two parts, which will air back-to-back on Paramount +, CBS’s digital streaming platform, and then on CBS, which airs the ceremony. since 1978. (If you don’t have a Paramount + subscription, which you’ll need to watch the first 22 prices, the service offers a one-week free trial.)
Starting at 7 p.m., actress Audra McDonald, winner of a Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award, who is in the running for her seventh Tony for her work in the revival of McNally’s play “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Moon “, will host the live presentation. Tony Awards on Paramount +, during which all prizes, except the first three, will be presented.
At 9 pm, Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor Leslie Odom Jr. will host a special two-hour concert, “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” , Which will air on CBS and available live and on demand. on Paramount +.
What can we expect to see?
It will include performances from the three shows nominated for Best Musical (“Jagged Little Pill”, “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” and “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”) and two shows receiving special Tonys, “Freestyle Love Supreme” and “American Utopia”; appearances by Lin Manuel-Miranda, André De Shields (a Tony winner for “Hadestown”) and “Dear Evan Hansen” star Ben Platt; and the presentation of the first three prizes: best play, best cover of a play and best musical.
Notable contenders to watch out for: Harris from “Slave Play”; Adrienne Warren, who may well win her first Tony for her powerful turn in the title role of “Tina”; Lois Smith, 90, could receive the first Tony of her career for “The Inheritance”; and Danny Burstein, seven times nominated, could win his first statuette for “Moulin Rouge!” Musical comedy.
These nominees could make history
McDonald’s could break its own record for most Tony’s won by a performer for her work in a revival of McNally’s play “Frankie and Johnny in the Moonlight”. And if Harris won for “Slave Play,” he would become the first black playwright to win that honor since August Wilson in 1987 for “Fences.”
“Slave Play” is also nominated for Best Director, Robert O’Hara; lead actress, Joaquina Kalukango; star actors, Ato Blankson-Wood and James Cusati-Moyer; and starring actresses, Chalia La Tour and Annie McNamara.
Possible first Tony winners?
David Alan Grier now has four Tony nominations to his name, the most recent for his role as a tyrannical sergeant in the revival of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play”. Grier’s castmate Blair Underwood, who plays a military lawyer investigating a murder, could get a lead actor statuette in a play.
Other nominees in this category include first-time nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, who is set for his role as a young husband and father in Nick Payne’s “A Life”, a solo tragicomedy of love and loss that starred as part of a double bill with Simon Stephens’ “Sea Wall”, starring Tom Sturridge, who is also nominated.
Lauren Patten was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical Category for her breakout performance in “Jagged Little Pill”. She plays a high school student whose heart is broken, which leads to an electric interpretation of “You Oughta Know” in the second act of the series.
And the Tony special goes to …
Three special Tony Awards, which recognize work outside the traditional categories, will be presented Sunday night, including one for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, an organization founded five years ago by a group of actors and others as a tool to work to dismantle racism through theater and storytelling. The other recipients are David Byrne’s “American Utopia,” an intricately choreographed concert by Talking Heads singer Ben Brantley called “the cloudy high of a touring show,” and “Freestyle Love Supreme,” a performance by Talking Heads. mostly improvised hip-hop. which was created, in part, by Lin-Manuel Miranda.