Theater Update: 2020 Digital Tonys; NBC Special; New Apples
By: David Sheward
August 22, 2020: Like a child late to a birthday party, the Tony Awards are finally arriving at the accolade-dispensing festivities. The 74th annual Tonys will be presented digitally in the fall. There were no specific dates or details on the platform in the press release issued by the Broadway League, the organization of theater owners and producers which co-presents the ceremony with the American Theater Wing. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters closed, cutting short the season and the number of shows eligible for prizes. While all the other NYC theater awards including the Drama Desks, Outer Critics Circle, Obies, and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, presented their trophies either online or by press announcements through May and June, the Tonys stayed mum.
The question now is how will the Tony voters will be able to make fair and accurate judgments. Many Tony voters are out-of-town road producers who don’t see all the nominees until after the nominations are announced in early May. Since the shows are all closed many of the electorate won’t even be able to view all the candidates. At the time of the pandemic shutdown, only a handful of new musicals and one musical revival (West Side Story) had opened. Of the five new musicals, one (Girl from the North Country) had only just opened. The other four are Jagged Little Pill, Lightning Thief, Moulin Rouge and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. David Bryne’s American Utopia did not invite Tony voters and was not eligible. There is more variety and scope in the play division with ten possible new candidates and four revivals. Of the new play potential nominees, none were running at the time of the shutdown. Only The Inheritance had been playing relatively soon before the shutdown. Matthew Lopez’s two-part update of Howard’s End closed on March 11 and the theaters all went dark on the very next night. There is speculation West Side Story and Girl will not be eligible since they opened so close to the shutdown and not many voters got to see them. (See the list below for a complete list of the truncated 2019-20 Broadway season).
In other news, the New York Post‘s Page Six announces that NBC will be broadcasting a big splashy special touting the shuttered Broadway productions in October. The paper reports the network has reached out to all the Broadway shows running at the time of the shutdown to have excerpts performed live. But reactions have been varied. Some financially-strapped producers are cautious about spending the necessary cash to mount the numbers from the shows. In addition, cast members are scattered across the country and will require rehearsals and possible new costumes since they may have gained weight during the lockdown (I know I have). The TV special’s objective appears to be to say “Don’t forget Broadway, America. It will still be here when this pandemic is over.” But theaters probably won’t be re-opening until at least March 2021 when the first shows have announced previews. Many insiders speculate the re-opening will be even later if a vaccine or treatment is not discovered. Will America remember after a stretch of several months?
While the stages are dark, theater has gone on Zoom. One of the most popular digital productions have been Richard Nelson’s two Zoom-based plays about the Apple Family, What Do We Need to Talk About? and And So We Come Forth, presented in April and July respectively. Now a third work about the clan in upstate New York will complete the trilogy. Incidental Moments of the Day: The Apple Family: Life on Zoom will premiere on Sept. 10 on YouTube at 7:30pm and will be available until Nov. 5. Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett, Sally Murphy, Laila Robbins and Stephen Kunken will reprise their roles along with new cast member Charlotte Bydwell.
2019-20 Broadway Season
A Christmas Carol
The Great Society
The Height of the Storm
The Inheritance, Parts One and Two
My Name Is Lucy Barton
Sea Wall/A Life (Off-Broadway transfer)
Slave Play (Off-Broadway transfer)
The Sound Inside
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Girl from the North Country (transfer from Off-Broadway)
Jagged Little Pill
Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical (previously presented Off-Broadway)
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune
The Rose Tattoo
A Soldier’s Play
West Side Story
Derren Brown: Secret
Harry Connick Jr.–A Celebration of Cole Porter
The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays
Kristin Chenoweth: For the Girls
Slava’s Snowshow (revival)