Does anyone really care whether “Moulin Rouge!” wins the 2020 Tony Award for Best Musical over “Jagged Little Pill” over “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”? Or if Aaron Tveit (“Moulin Rouge!”) loses Best Actor in a Musical to – never mind, Tveit is the only nominee in the category.
Following months of indecision and delay, the 2020 Tony Awards will finally be held on Sunday night at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. For a while, it was unclear how the organizers of the Tony Awards would recognize the severely truncated 2019-2020 theater season, which ended on March 12, 2020 with the pandemic shutdown.
In October 2020, seven months into the shutdown, the nominations were announced, with the Alanis Morissette musical “Jagged Little Pill” receiving 15 nominations, followed by “Moulin Rouge!” at 14 and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” at 12.
The awards will serve two functions. The first involves looking backward, remembering and recognizing the shows and artistic achievements of the 2019-2020 Broadway season, which dates all the way back to a revival of “Frankie and Johnny…” starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon that opened in May 2019. The other involves looking forward, namely promoting and publicizing the return of Broadway following the shutdown.
I think it is fair to say that virtually everyone – including members of the theater industry and theatergoers – is more interested in looking ahead, as clearly reflected by the fact that only three awards (Best Musical, Best Play, Best Revival of a Play) will be announced during the two-hour telecast on CBS beginning at 9 p.m. hosted by Leslie Odom, Jr. All the other awards will be given out during an earlier two-hour ceremony airing on the streaming platform Paramount+ beginning at 7 p.m. hosted by Audra McDonald.
Under normal circumstances, theater journalists such as myself would be making Tony Award predictions. This year, however, I can barely bring myself to make any predictions due to the amount of time that has elapsed since the shutdown .I saw most of the nominated shows two years ago in the fall of 2019.
The slate of nominations is also particularly weak, an unfortunate result of the limited number of shows that were able to officially open before the shutdown. No less than 16 shows had been scheduled to open between March 12, 2020 and the end of April 2020 including “Six,” “Company,” “Diana,” Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Lehman Trilogy,” “Plaza Suite,” and “Flying Over Sunset” – which have all been shifted to the current season.
The most acclaimed musical of the 2019-2020 season, “Girl from the North Country,” was unfortunately not deemed eligible for nominations, even though it officially opened a week prior to the shutdown, because an insufficient number of Tony nominators were able to see it in time. (It will instead be considered for the 2022 Tony Awards.) The same thing happened to “West Side Story,” which otherwise would have been the only nominee for Best Revival of a Musical.
The primary reason to watch the main telecast (which is titled “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!”) would be for pure entertainment value, including performances from the three nominated musicals (all of which will reopen on Broadway in the coming weeks) and of classic Broadway songs by well-known theater artists, who will be appearing from a Broadway theater rather than Radio City Music Hall.
In an ideal world, the 2020 Tony Awards will make people excited about seeing live theater again and persuade them to buy theater tickets, thus helping to ensure that Broadway will survive the post-pandemic transition and thrive once again. Hopefully we can celebrate that achievement in June at the 2022 Tony Awards.