Commentary: The Tony Award nominations are out. Talk about bad timing

By Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Leave it to Broadway to put on a beauty contest in the middle of a famine.

Shuttered since March, Broadway theaters won't be reopening before June 2021, an unprecedented interruption that has left artists wholly dependent on unemployment insurance and the kindness of strangers.

Actors have had to give up their New York apartments; some have made the decision to abandon their careers. Stage managers, scrambling for work, have been forced to master the inner workings of Zoom. Designers, trying to stay sane, are channeling their creativity into nutty home projects.

In sum, a sizable percentage of the personnel of a billion-dollar industry is languishing on the edge of poverty.

Undeterred by the scale of the crisis, the American Theatre Wing announced Tony nominations for the abridged 2019-20 season on Thursday. Only 18 shows were deemed eligible. The slate of openings in the spring, when typically the most anticipated productions arrive, was canceled, leaving the pool of nominees conspicuously thin in key categories.

In theater, timing is everything, and the timing of these nominations is just plain embarrassing.


The pandemic, which has already killed more than 215,000 Americans, has showed signs of entering a much feared second wave, with bad news likely to accelerate as the cooler weather drives people indoors. The Senate is on the brink of confirming a Supreme Court nominee whose record casts a threatening shadow on issues of vital importance to the theater community, including abortion rights, marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act.

If that isn't enough, our democracy is hanging by a single thread. President Donald Trump has been working feverishly to delegitimize an election that's already underway, mustering the support of far-right groups and refusing to guarantee a peaceful transition of power.

Not the ideal moment perhaps to be doling out congratulatory Broadway bric-a-brac. If the American Theatre Wing was a little more on the ball, it would be using this moment for an all-star digital telethon for theater workers anxious about their next meal.

For the purposes of these awards, the season spans from fall 2019 through January 2020. Shows that opened later, such as Ivo van Hove's bracing multimedia revival of "West Side Story" and the new musical built around Bob Dylan songs, "Girl From the North Country," were deemed ineligible because not enough Tony voters would have had the opportunity to see these works.


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