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An exercise in theatrical futility

The 80th Tony Awards will be held virtually this year, with a date and a host both yet to be determined. However, the few nominations were announced online by James Monroe Iglehart (who played Aladdin in the 2011 Broadway musical), on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Since the Broadway season for this year was set by the American Theatre Wing (ATW) and Actors’ Equity Association to be from June 10, 2019 to April 26, 2020, and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York called for a statewide lockdown (and suspension of Broadway performances) on the night of March 12, very few shows were able to open within the timeframe of eligibility and allow enough reviewers to see their shows. Therefore, a consensus among much of the theatre community is that hosting these awards this year is merely an exercise in futility.

The greatest example of this comes from the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, in which only one performer, Aaron Tveit (“Moulin Rouge”), was nominated. While the nomination was deserving—Tveit has been passed up for a Tony Award nomination twice (for “Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can”)—the award show lacks the competitive element that has been a trademark of the Tony Awards in the 73 years prior.

Since only one performer is nominated in their category, Tveit’s triumph is almost inevitable unless over 60 percent of the members of the ATW abstain from voting, which is unprecedented and very unlikely.

The consensus among the theatre community is that hosting this year’s Tony Awards is ultimately pointless. Many, including John Gielgud (“Hamlet” at the Old Vic Theater in London), have spoken out against award shows because art, such as theatre, is subjective, and awarding one over the other does nothing but give the winning production more prestige and attention.

The Tony Awards have previously faced criticism for awarding the Best Musical to productions that merely convey popular messages instead of earning better reviews. For instance, in 2004, “Wicked” was awarded despite many reviewers  famously giving the production horrible reviews when contrasted with those of another contender, “Avenue Q.”

Also, During a time when performers and crew members have been out of work and gone several months without pay, the Tony Awards seem even more unnecessary. Money would be spent on lavish displays to laud the few shows that managed to be eligible rather than used to help unemployed performers through the Actors’ Fund, for instance. To compare, the 2019 Academy Awards was reported to have cost a total of $44 million, according to ABC News.

Lastly, there was only one original musical to open within the window of eligibility: “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.” Then, in a stunning display of overshadowing on the part of the ATW (the organization that nominates Broadway performers and crew members), the production was not even nominated. Although it did receive mediocre reviews, the production should be nominated, since no other original musicals managed to be released. In fact, this is the only year where the nominees for Best Score were all plays and not musicals. That fact is so unprecedented that the committee had to rename the category.

In conclusion, as Robert Manion of Team Starkid said on Twitter, the ATW should postpone the Tony Awards, or cancel them altogether, and give the money they would utilize for it to the performers and crew members who need it. Instead of parading the few nominees for no reason whatsoever, the ATW should use their lofty and financially sound platform to help those in need.

 

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