2020 Tony Award nominations seem to fall a bit flat

Katrina Sanville, Arts Writer

The Tony Awards have become a quintessential part of a theatre fan’s year. However, with the global pandemic, an in-person ceremony had been deemed unsafe. To most people, this meant no ceremony. The shows qualifying this year would carry over to the next award ceremony. To the committee, this meant a joke of an online awards ceremony.

The nominees for the online Tony Awards were released on Oct. 15, and there had been mixed reviews amongst Broadway fans—myself included. Only four musicals qualified for the awards this season: “Moulin Rouge!,” “Tina—The Tina Turner Musical,” “Jagged Little Pill,” and “The Lightning Thief.” Only one of these shows, “The Lightning Thief,” features an original score, and only “Jagged Little Pill” features an original story.

“Jagged Little Pill” leads the pack of musical nominations with 15 nominations, followed by “Moulin Rouge!” with 14, and “Tina” with 12. Jeremy Pope’s “Slave Play” also received 12 nominations, making it the most nominated play in Tony Awards history.

Already, before the nominations even came out, it seemed ridiculous to have an award show with only four shows, especially when these shows lack the imagination that past winners like “Hadestown,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” or even “Hamilton” had. Once the nominations went live, the backlash only increased.

Of the four eligible musicals, only three had been nominated. “The Lightning Thief” had not been nominated for any awards, despite being the only musical with an original score, and the only other musical with a leading actor (currently, the only person in the Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical is Aaron Tveit for his performance as Christian in “Moulin Rouge”).

However, there has been good to come out of this scenario. Theatre fans will get an award show like supporters of any other form of art, even if it isn’t ideal. There is also the possibility of live performances from the nominated shows, which always draws in new possible fans to these shows, though there may not be a red carpet. Any of the three shows nominated deserve to sweep – where they take home all or most of the awards they had been nominated for – since they are all interesting and “good” shows in their own ways.

Even with the good, it can be hard to deny all the poor parts of this year’s award ceremony. The Best Original Score category, which usually caters to musicals, has been modified this year to be called “Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre.” While this normally would not be a problem if the only musical with an original score had been included in the nominations, “The Lightning Thief” had not received a nomination in this category. What should have been “The Lightning Thief’s” pity nomination, or at least it’s one nomination to keep fans happy, had been modified to exclude the musical.

In addition to this, Chris McCarrell, who played Percy Jackson in “The Lightning Thief,” had not been nominated for Best Leading Actor, either. In a normal year, this would have been fine, because there would have been other actors alongside Aaron Tveit in the category; however, Tveit is all alone, and the lack of a nomination can feel like a slap in the face. Not to mention, Tveit may not win the Tony award that supposedly appears to be a default win, due to the Tony Awards’ rules and regulations. To win the award, Tveit must receive a vote of sixty percent from the Tony voters. Though he had to receive fifty percent of the votes in order to be nominated, there is still the chance of that not occurring.

There has been plenty of speculation amongst “The Lightning Thief” fans as to why the musical had not been nominated. Limited-run musicals that closed in January, like “The Lightning Thief,” have a history of being snubbed during the Tonys, as seen with “Head Over Heels” in 2019. While this isn’t a set cause, this is one of the main causes many fans are pointing towards.

Fans have also speculated that “The Lightning Thief” had not been nominated due to the show being below the standards of the Tony Awards committee. “The Lightning Thief” is geared at families and children, much like Disney musicals are. These shows, while making theatre accessible to families, can often be looked down upon as “commercialized” and “lesser than” normal pieces of theatre like plays such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” or musicals such as “Chicago.” However, this has all been speculation, and nothing specific has come out from the Tony Awards team.

There is also the blatant transphobia of “Jagged Little Pill,” and in turn, the Tony committee.  While blatant transphobia can be seen as a bit of a stretch, “Jagged Little Pill” has received plenty of outrage due to its casting choices. In the Boston run of “Jagged Little Pill” at the American Repertory Theatre, Jo had been written as a non-binary character. When the show transferred to Broadway, Jo was rewritten to be a cisgender female. Many articles, as well as Lauren Patten, who played Jo in both productions, have denied Jo’s gender identity.

Many fans – or just those who happened to catch wind of this information – had been outraged by this erasure, especially when Ezra Menas, who understudies Jo, is transgender and non-binary. Once the Tony nominations came out, and Patten had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress, this outrage only continued. This, and the fact that “Jagged Little Pill” had three nominations in this category when “The Lightning Thief” had none, and the other two shows only had one nomination per show, left fans fairly upset.

It’s uncertain what will happen with the 2020 Tony Awards, or even if they’ll happen. Some fans of musical theatre have been left overjoyed, others irritated. The show doesn’t have a host, or a date, for that matter. All that is known for sure that it is definitely going to be one interesting show.