“Moulin Rouge,” adapted from director Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 cinematic extravaganza, is in the running with only two other entries for best musical: “Jagged Little Pill,” based on the music of Alanis Morissette, and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” Another anomaly in the 74th awards: Because none of these shows feature music written expressly for the stage, the five productions vying for best score are — for the first time ever — all plays. Still, with so few options and so many categories to fill, the three musicals accounted for a whopping 41 nods: 15 for “Jagged,” 14 for “Moulin Rouge” and 12 for “Tina.” (In 2016, by contrast, “Hamilton” garnered 16 and won 11.)
The best play category is richer, with a full roster of potential winners. Jeremy O. Harris’s scalding “Slave Play” leads the field, with 12 nominations, followed by Matthew Lopez’s two-part “The Inheritance,” with 11. The others are Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons,” Simon Stephens and Nick Payne’s “Sea Wall/A Life” and Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside.” Only three plays were cited for best revival: Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play.” Best revival of a musical was eliminated altogether.
As a result, this year’s awards may go down in history as the taken-with-a-grain-of-salt Tonys. The pandemic that shut down Broadway on March 12 meant that some of the most interesting shows of the season could not be considered: Not enough Tony voters had been to the haunting Bob Dylan musical “Girl From the North Country,” director Ivo van Hove’s radically rethought “West Side Story” or the bubblicious new musical “Six,” which was forced to shutter in previews, just as critics were pressing the “send” buttons on their reviews.
That no date has been set for distributing the awards reveals the extraordinary dilemma facing the curators of the Tonys — the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. In normal times, the awards, given out in June, are the biggest promotional night of Broadway’s year. Box offices have been known to go crazy on the morning after big Tony wins and well-received excerpts from nominated musicals. With covid-19 shuttering the 41 theaters of Broadway until at least Memorial Day and perhaps a lot longer, the Tonys have nothing to sell. Indeed, only a few shows that are in the running have plans to return.
CBS traditionally broadcasts the ceremony from Radio City Music Hall, but Broadway insiders report that no agreement on a media partner has been reached.
This, of course, does not erase the value of the awards, especially to the nominees and winners. The playwrights contending for best play are all fresh faces on Broadway; the recognition burnishes their reputations. And a number of other worthy actors, designers and directors heard their names announced by Iglehart.
Notable nods include those for Adrienne Warren, the odds-on favorite for best actress in a musical, for her electrifying turn in “Tina”; Mary-Louise Parker, for her tour-de-force work in “The Sound Inside”; Sahr Ngaujah, the Toulouse-Lautrec of “Moulin Rouge”; and Lauren Patten, whose dynamite delivery of “You Oughta Know” is the standout moment of “Jagged Little Pill.”
The lead acting categories for plays feature some of the more competitive contests: Laura Linney for Rona Munro’s monodrama, “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” vying with Parker, “Slave Play’s” Joaquina Kalukango, and the oft-nominated Audra McDonald for “Frankie and Johnny.” The scrum for best actor in a play is the most crowded, with six contenders: Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge for “Sea Wall/A Life”; Tom Hiddleston for “Betrayal”; Blair Underwood in “A Soldier’s Play”; Andrew Burnap for “The Inheritance”; and Ian Barford, who in Tracy Letts’s “Linda Vista” offered one of the season’s less heralded but most acutely sculpted turns.
Of course, for lovers of Broadway, even an under-trafficked red carpet in Times Square would represent a welcome mat. With the 2020-2021 Broadway season a washout, we will, it seems, have to wait to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Tonys until 2022.