The list of nominees for the 2022 Tony Awards – announced early Monday morning – is a picture of pandemic theater.
After a truly unique season on the Great White Way, Tonys voters have largely avoided spring stardom this year – including nods to Square Suiteby Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Macbeth’by Daniel Craig and funny girl‘s Beanie Feldstein – in favor of honoring many of the season’s fall and early winter shows, which took the plunge and reopened New York’s theater district after COVID-19 shut it down for almost two years.
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The 2022 nominee landscape includes early openings like Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s one-man show Lackawanna Blues and the rock-concert account of the life of the women of Henri IIIV SIX: The Musical — races that not only fended off big-name competition and pandemic-weary audiences on their way to earning nominations, but navigated the (currently canceled) season’s strictest version of health protocols while challenging a potential short-term memory advantage held by voters for the spring shows.
Representing up to around 600 days of creative work (on hiatus), around half of this year’s nominees had already debuted in early 2020 before the industry stages went down at 5pm on March 12 . Among the shows that opened or were previewing during the 2019-2020 season where the pandemic swept the globe is Company, The Lehman Trilogy, The Music Man, Hangmen, American Buffalo, Take Me Out, Caroline or Change, Diana, The Musical, The Minutes, Mrs. Doubtfire, Plaza Suite, Clyde’s and Dana H.
fly at sunsetwhich received four nominations, was even scheduled to start previews on the exact day of the shutdown, while others, like Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse How I learned to drivewhich scored three nominations, was set to open later this spring.
After the return, of nearly 30 productions nominated for the 2022 awards, about half opened, were scheduled to open or begin previews between Broadway’s official reopening party on September 14, 2021 and February 1, 2022. This includes The Lehman Trilogy, SIX: The Musical, Girl From The North Country, MJ, The Music Man, Clyde’s, Flying Over Sunset, Trouble in Mind, Caroline ou Change, Dana H., Skeleton Crew, Diana, The Musical, Lackawanna Blues and Mrs. Doubtfire.
Several of these were omicron debuts — or shows that aired previews between mid-November and early February when the original version of the variant swept Broadway. It was then that the revival and box office juggernaut The music manstarring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, opened previews at the Winter Garden Theater before having to cancel more than a week of performances after both stars contracted COVID-19.
The period between Thanksgiving and early February was one of the toughest of the season, hitting productions much harder than the delta wave productions of late August and September. The high transmissibility of the COVID-19 variant has led to a series of cancellations that have caused nine separate Broadway productions to close for one or even multiple performances in a single week, during one of the busiest times – and the most lucrative – of the year.
For Skeleton crew, Dominique Morisseau’s third entry in her acclaimed Detroit cycle (it received three nominations including Best Play), previews have even been pushed back to early 2022 on her limited-engagement tour of the Manhattan Theater Club. With its official opening delayed several times, Skeleton crew is one of the few nominees, which also includes musicals Mrs. Doubtfire, SIX and music man, whose show openings and schedules were directly impacted by omicron’s push during the winter break. More than 10 of the 29 nominated productions in the spring have experienced COVID-related show cancellations due to one-day or longer breakout cases.
Formworks powered by Omicron – which included former nominees and Tony winners Jagged Little Pill, ain’t too proud and Waitress – are also represented in this year’s nominee pool. Despite a nearly two-year production hiatus, Lucas Hnath’s re-enactment of his mother’s abduction, Dana H.is among this year’s Tony nominees who represent season closures affected by the pandemic.
While other shows like mind problem and take me outwhich both marked four names each, are limited series, Dana H., for Girls of Color Who’ve Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enough and fly at sunset all closed early, with some citing the impacts of COVID or low ticket sales during a complicated season.
Two Tony nominees also show how producers have taken unprecedented steps this season (after others received a Save Our Stages Act grant to relaunch) to keep their productions going despite the shutdowns . North country girl – which earned seven nominations, including Best Musical Direction and Best Orchestrations (another major nod to duo Conor McPherson and Simon Hale after a Grammy nomination earlier this year) – and Mrs. Doubtfire, which earned an honor for the musical’s lead actor, Rob McCure, took breaks. These official closures, with the intention of reopening post-omicron, even saw the latter changing theaters to make a spring return.
Another way the 2022 Tony nominations captured the unique nature of the pandemic season is through its recognition of black playwrights. Eight black writers, including the late Alice Childress under Charles Randolph-Wright, debuted not just in one of Broadway’s riskiest periods, but in the same season — an all-time high. Half of these productions — Lynn Nottage Clyde’sby Morrisseau Skeleton Crew, Santiago Hudson Lackawanna Blues and Childress’ mind problem — received a total of 13 nominations. (Nottage had five, Childress four, Morisseau three and Santiago-Hudson one.)
Hollywood names – including nominees Ruth Negga, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Williams, Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, Mare Winningham, Uzo Aduba, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Phylicia Rashad, Ron Cephas Jones and Rachel Dratch, among others – have pointed out that fame is always good for business on Broadway, racking up names in major leading and supporting acting categories for musicals and plays.
But the snubs of Parker, Broderick and Craig – all three of whom missed performances before the nomination deadline which was ultimately extended due to COVID-related opening delays – as well as Feldstein, funny girl co-star Jane Lynch and Company‘s Katrina Lenk, shows that this season is a more complicated and unpredictable version of performing live, no matter who you are.
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