With the Broadway League weighing CDC recommendations for an additional four weeks of dark theaters, the likelihood of this year’s Tony Awards staying on schedule is shrinking daily, if not by the minute. Many theater insiders tell Deadline they are expecting the planned June 7 ceremony at Radio City Music Hall to be postponed – or even scrapped altogether – due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, the League, which presents the annual awards ceremony with the American Theatre Wing, had not announced nor confirmed changes to this year’s Tony calendar. CBS has broadcast the Tonys for 42 consecutive years.
The League, the trade organization representing theater owners and producers, confirmed yesterday that it was in discussions about new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control calling for the eight-week postponement or cancellation of gatherings of 50 or more people. An eight-week timeline would double the current monthlong Broadway shutdown that has performances returning April 13.
In a statement yesterday, the League said, “We are currently in discussions about the most recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and are prepared to follow the direction of any mandated closures from city, state, and health authorities. We continue to closely monitor the changing situation daily.”
Actors’ Equity was a strong and immediate supporter of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to close Broadway theaters for four weeks, calling it “an important decision to protect the health and safety of everyone who works in the theatre.” The union, which also is urging Congress and local governments to ensure paid leave, health care and unemployment benefits for the arts and entertainment sector, has not yet publicly endorsed an extension of the monthlong shutdown.
Even without a shutdown extension, a change to the Tony Award date or at least the nomination deadline and voting schedules seems all but inevitable. As it stands now with the April 13 Broadway return, the cut-off date for Tony eligibility is April 23, meaning productions must open on or before that date to be eligible for award consideration. Those productions must operate on a “reasonably conventional playing schedule” thereafter.
Furthermore, producers must issue preview invitations to Tony voters, as well as the Tony Awards Administration Committee, no later than the day before the Tony nominating committee holds its annual meeting just prior to the April 28 public announcement of nominees. That gives about 860 Tony voters a considerably shortened window following the April 13 re-opening to see as many as 15 new productions (not to mention whatever previously running shows they might have missed). Even for Broadway in the always-busy springtime, that timetable seems unfeasible for Tony voters (and critics).
(An earlier version of this story suggested that voters must see performances prior to the April 28 nomination announcements; to clarify, invitations must be issued before that date, but voters can attend performances until later in the voting process).
At least eight performances of a show must be made available to Tony voters, free of charge, to meet eligibility requirements. Productions that open prior to the cut-off date but close before voter performances can be deemed eligible if the producer made tickets available to Tony voters for at least half of all paid performances during the show’s run.
This season’s crop of spring shows forced to postpone previews or opening nights include some of the most anticipated productions of the 2019-2020 Broadway season. Six, the hit pop musical from London and Chicago about the wives of Henry VIII, was set to open on March 12, the day the shutdown was announced, and so had already completed at least some of the required preview performances.
Now-canceled press previews had been scheduled for late March and into early April for playwright Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, the Jerry Zaks-directed musical adaptation of Mrs. Doubtfire, director Sam Mendes’ The Lehman Trilogy and the Princess Di musical Diana.
Shows that either had not yet started previews, hadn’t officially opened or had not yet announced voter performances include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, directed by Joe Mantello and starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett; Company, the gender-switched revival of the classic Sondheim musical starring Katrina Lenk and Patti LuPone; playwright Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen; Plaza Suite starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker; the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical revival Caroline or Change; How I Learned To Drive, the Paula Vogel play starring Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse; David Mamet’s American Buffalo starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss; the Debra Messing-starrer play Birthday Candles; the Off Broadway transfer of New York Theatre Workshop’s musical Sing Street; the revival of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jesse Williams and Patrick J. Adams (previews now set to begin April 14); and Flying Over Sunset, a new musical by James Lapine, Tom Kitt and Michael Korie.
In addition to being Broadway’s ultimate marker of peer recognition, The Tony Awards are, by far, the industry’s most significant national promotional endeavor, with trophy victories often (but not always) leading to significant increases in ticket sales (and losses often resulting in near-immediate closing notices).
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