The Tony Awards had a choice regarding two pandemic-truncated Broadway seasons. The Broadway League could have waited and combined the 2019-20 season with the current one, and turned the ceremony into an extravaganza of talent in June 2022.
But the Tonys opted for the alternative, announcing the nominees on October 15, 2020 and now presenting a rather anemic lineup of potential winners nearly a year later in a truncated ceremony from the Winter Garden Theatre to air on CBS on Sunday, September 26.
Just how anemic? Essentially by default, Aaron Tveit wins the best actor in a musical, for “Moulin Rouge!” I would have gone with Isaac Powell in the “West Side Story,” but the show was deemed ineligible since not enough Tony voters had seen the revival during its short run between the official Feb. 20 opening and the shut down of theaters on March 11, 2020. Here’s a relevant Broadway factoid: Despite getting to sing “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “Maria” and other classics, no actor playing Tony in “West Side Story” has ever been nominated for a Tony.
More head-scratching is the best original-score category. Not one of the three shows nominated for best musical (“Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge!,” “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical”) boasts an original score, meaning that this award will probably go to a musical not otherwise nominated for any other major award: “A Christmas Carol,” a limited holiday engagement on Broadway featuring a score by movie-composer Christopher Nightingale. Since cast albums have not been released of the other nominees for best original score, does any Tony voter actually remember what music accompanied the nonmusicals nominated in this category: “The Inheritance,” “The Rose Tattoo,” “Slave Play” or “The Sound Inside”?
Where the awards are not a flat-out embarrassment is in Best Play. Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play” should and probably will win, but unlike many other Broadway seasons, the other contenders have considerable merits, especially Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside” and Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons” but also Simon Stephens and Nick Payne’s “Sea Wall”/“A Life” and Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance.”
Robert O’Hara should win for his sharp direction of “Slave Play.” Then again, the Tony voters are notoriously Anglophilic and may pick Stephen Daldry for his bombastic direction of “The Inheritance.”
Look for “Slave Play” to continue its winning streak with Ato Blankson-Wood winning best featured actor and Joaquina Kalukango winning best actress over veterans Laura Linney (“My Name Is Lucy Barton”), Audra McDonald (“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune”) and Mary-Louise Parker (“The Sound Inside”). Who can argue with a win for the talented Blankson-Wood? But I found John Benjamin Hickey’s turn in “The Inheritance” a real stand-out. Among a dozen or so over-the-top performances in Lopez’s two-part extravaganza, Hickey managed to resemble a human being on stage.
For best actor in a play, Tim Hiddleston in “Betrayal” looks likely to win over Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge in “Sea Wall”/“A Life.” No problem there, although “Linda Vista” star Ian Barford may actually have been the best actor. In 2019-20, he achieved the most with the weakest material in a comedy by Tracy Letts.
Expect “Betrayal,” by Harold Pinter, to win best revival of a play and legend Jane Alexander to win best featured actress in a play, “Grand Horizons.” Not only a sentimental favorite, Alexander proved extraordinarily memorable in the Wohl drama.
The musical categories are much more problematic — especially since a glut of productions were due to open last March and April until the pandemic brought down the curtain
The overwrought Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill” is likely to outperform the overstuffed “Moulin Rouge!,” winning Best Musical, as well as best book (by Diablo Cody) and best featured actress, Lauren Patten, who belts out “You Oughta Know” and manages to sound as one would expect that creature popping out of an astronaut’s stomach in “Alien” to sing.
There’s so much direction in “Moulin Rouge!” that Alex Timbers might edge out “Jagged Little Pill” helmer Diane Paulus, who already has a Tony, for “Pippin” in 2013. And Danny Burstein, after seven nominations and no wins, could break that curse for his turn as the roué host of “Moulin Rouge!” Burstein’s competition, however, is fierce. Daniel J. Watts delivers a riveting Ike Turner in “Tina – the Tina Turner Musical.”
Adrienne Warren is a shoo-in for her awesome star turn as Tina Turner. Karen Olivo might have given Warren some pause — until she withdrew from “Moulin Rouge!,” lodging a public complaint against toxic Broadway producer Scott Rudin, who has nothing to do with the show.