Coming Attractions: The 2020 Tony Awards Go Virtual


Photo by BigStock/MiaStendal

A few months ago we saw one of the first major televised events produced since the COVID pandemic, however completely virtual. The 72nd Primetime Emmy awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, was well received and praised for shifting such a high profile event and making it work.

Now it’s time for the theatre community to take center stage. The nominations were announced on October 15, to honor a Broadway season that was cut short due to the pandemic. Currently, Broadway is shut down and has been since March 12—and will most likely be until at least June 2021. However, as theatre people we know, the show always goes on.

So the Tony Awards are taking a page out of the Emmy awards script and choosing to do a virtual ceremony this year. The nominations were just announced a few weeks ago with no set date on the actual ceremony yet. Many expect it to happen sometime in December or January as the Broadway League scrambles to finish the planning of it.

In this unprecedented year we will see a ceremony unlike any we’ve ever seen. The timing is the first thing that throws this ceremony a bit off. In August of this year, the Tony Awards Administration Committee met and ruled that a total of 18 shows were eligible for nominations. Shows that ran from April 26, 2019 through February 19, 2020 could vie for an award. That means both Girl from the North Country and West Side Story were eliminated from consideration.

I’m just a single person which is why I wanted to ask some others in the community their thoughts on the Tony Nominations and future ceremony. First up was Devon Cox, Associate Producer and Director of Theater Marketing for Artistry Theater. As someone who had seen some of the performances nominated, I asked her if there were any surprises or snubs that she wanted to comment on. Her answer left me in tears from laughing so hard.

“I was at the final performances of The Inheritance (if you read Matthew Lopez’s Vogue piece where he mentions the woman sobbing in the mezzanine at the end of part one – THAT WAS MY MOM!) and it was one of the most powerful theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. It got plenty of Tony love, and I was glad to see Andrew Burnap (Toby Darling) get a best actor nod—but disappointed that his on-stage counterpart, Kyle Soller (Eric Glass), was left off.

Soller’s deeply vulnerable, understated, sensitive work grounded the seven-hour epic as a whole, and the un-showy, utterly generous way he played the final moments of part one was incredibly important to eliciting such a strong reaction from the audience—including my mother, as now chronicled in the pages of Vogue forevermore.”

In a year where racial inequality and marginalized groups of people have been thrust into the spotlight, I wondered if the Tony Awards would take note. Some say the Tony’s are a little bit more progressive than other award shows in the field of acting (we all remember Oscars So White), but overall they all could use some work. Brooklyn based playwright and filmmaker Conlan Carter hopes that the Tony Awards will lead other virtual award shows to focus more on these groups, especially people of color.

“Broadway isn’t coined ‘the Great White Way’ for its marquees alone: an overwhelming majority of actors on Broadway are white (and the numbers are worse for playwrights and directors). Conversations in smaller, off-Broadway companies are frequent, but real change has yet to be seen in the 2019-2020 Broadway season.

It’s remarkable and a good sign that Slave Play has garnered a record number of well-deserved nominations, and Jeremy O. Harris’ initiatives to make the Broadway production more accessible to [people of color] and lower-income audience members are a great example of what every theater should be doing anyway. Art should be for the people, not just the predominately-white Tony voter.”

A particularly interesting and uniquely 2020 situation is the category for Leading Actor in a Musical, which has a nominee of one. That’s right, Aaron Tveit is the lone actor in this category for his role in Moulin Rouge!. The first question out of everyone’s mouth is does he win by default? Reese Britts, a Twin Cities based actor thinks so.

“I think that Aaron will still win. I don’t necessarily agree with him being the only nominee but I’m happy that the Tony Awards are still happening.”

While this is true, according to many Broadway news sources while Tveit is the only nominee in this category, he must still get support of 60% of the ballots cast to win, There is almost more pressure on him to win now being the only nominee in his category.

As mentioned earlier, the Tony Awards have yet to announce a date of the ceremony. Be sure to follow their social media to be the first to know when that date arrives and follow me on Twitter for my live reactions during the ceremony at @BrettDBurger.

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