Tony Awards administrators have decided to hold an online ceremony this fall to honor shows that opened before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered Broadway.
The American Theater Wing and the Broadway League — the two organizations that present the awards — announced the decision Friday morning.
Twenty plays and musicals opened on Broadway during the abbreviated 2019-20 season, but only the 18 shows that opened before Feb. 19 will be eligible for Tony Awards. A revival of “West Side Story” that opened Feb. 20 and the new musical “Girl From the North Country,” which opened March 5, will not be eligible because too few nominators and voters saw them before Broadway shut down March 12.
The decision comes after months of uncertainty over whether and how to recognize the work that was staged on Broadway between May 2019, when a revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opened starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon, and March 2020, when the pandemic forced all 41 Broadway theaters (along with most others across the country) to close.
The awards administrators debated combining the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons for one televised ceremony next year, but decided against that over concern that it would not be fair to shows that opened in 2019.
“Though unprecedented events cut the 2019-2020 Broadway season short, it was a year full of extraordinary work that deserves to be recognized,” Charlotte St. Martin, the Broadway League president, and Heather Hitchens, the American Theater Wing president, said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled not only to have found a way to properly celebrate our artists’ incredible achievements this season, but also to be able to uplift the entire theater community and show the world what makes our Broadway family so special at this difficult time. The show must go on, no matter what — and it will.”
Tony administrators and rule-makers will meet next week to discuss what to do about categories — like original score, and leading actor in a musical — in which there are few eligible competitors, because awards officials want to be sure they are recognizing merit. Based on both precedent and the awards rules, options could include: allow the nominators to choose fewer nominees, or even eliminate categories; and/or require that a certain percentage of voters support a nominee, even in a non-contested category, for them to win an award.
The award administrators are hoping to be able to stream a ceremony in late October, but the date remains uncertain, as do many other specifics: What site will it stream on? Will there be a socially distanced in-person ceremony, or will it all be remote? Will there be a host? Will there be performances? Will there be noncompetitive honors for individuals or shows? And how will the ceremony be financed, given that most of the traditional revenue sources (ticket sales, sponsorship and licensing fees) are gone?
Other entertainment industry awards shows have also been grappling with the impact of the pandemic. Both the Emmy Awards and the Country Music Awards are scheduled to take place in September, and Tony officials will watch to see how those shows are handled. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in June that it would extend the eligibility window for next year’s Oscars, and delay that ceremony, to April from February.
The Tony Awards were established in 1947, and had been broadcast on CBS since 1978. This year’s ceremony was originally scheduled to to take place on June 7 at Radio City Music Hall.
The Broadway shutdown has thrown thousands of people out of work, and has upended the financial fortunes of many shows.
Sixteen plays and musicals were slated to open between the March 12 shutdown — a British pop musical, “Six,” was scheduled to open that very night — and April 23, the eligibility cutoff date. Two shows that were in previews but never opened — a new Martin McDonagh play called “Hangmen” and a revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” — have said they will not attempt to open after the shutdown; the others are expected to try again next year.
Producers have said they would refund all tickets purchased for performances through Jan. 3, and some shows have announced an intention to open as soon as next March, but some industry leaders believe theaters will remain dark even longer.
Looking even further ahead: the status of the 2021 Tony Awards depends on when Broadway reopens. Both “West Side Story” and “Girl From the North Country” would be eligible to compete in next year’s awards if they resume performances and once again invite Tony nominators and voters.