After silence on the radio for months about whether there would be Tony awards for last season’s work, the nominations seemed deaf to the circumstances. Along with the insistence on keeping all categories equal to those of recent history, we received the news that the follow-up ceremony would take place in “early December”. Well, guys? The beginning of December has passed and there is still no news on the date of the ceremony.
This weekend, I used a website called Zazz Generator, created to promote the Netflix movie The Prom to quickly make a handful of memes to spill tea. I played them on social media knowing that they had the ability to get a reaction. However, I was surprised that the most controversial was not the statement “the Broadway industry is racist” (which it is), but that “this year’s Tony Awards are a joke”.
Let me be clear with my sentiment: the artists nominated for this year’s Tony Awards are not a joke. The artists chosen for their work in the three musicals celebrated by Tony’s Nominating Committee have created remarkable art. I liked the Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and Jagged Little Pill, and I’m happy to see each production celebrated with nominations for our industry’s greatest tribute. Artists like Robyn Hurder, Celia Rose Gooding and Daniel J. Watts deserve to be recognized for their remarkable work. My argument is that the Tony Awards dropped the ball in recognizing them the way they deserve.
Why announce a ceremony without a clear plan to facilitate it? Grace must be granted to reflect that circumstances have changed as COVID cases have reached their highest level. I would be very happy to know that these industry leaders are spending their time making concrete plans to open cinemas during the awards ceremonies.
But can the Tony Awards be the 2020 Tony Awards if they don’t take place in 2020? I spent much of this fall watching and analyzing Tony Awards broadcasts dating back to 1976. The tone of the ceremony has certainly changed over the years. What was once an educational celebration of America’s native art form has clearly become a two-hour commercial for potential ticket buyers. However, wherever each ceremony reaches this spectrum, they still seem monumental and important.
But at this point, what can these Tony Awards be if not an afterthought? If the ceremony is purely an artistic celebration, it will be broadcast almost a year after the shows paused their performance (and months after other theater awards were able to gather their acts to announce the winners). And if it is a commercial, they will be compared to the remarkable success of NBC’s One Night Only.
A Tony Awards during a pandemic didn’t have to be a joke, but without a clear public plan this is what they’ve become. Broadway artists seek guidance from the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing. Almost a year after the closing, theater lovers will not be appeased by another Zoom concert. But with so little transparency about their plans, we can only assume that it will be more of the same.