notebook of criticism
If the list of Tony Award nominees announced on Monday seems even weirder and more random than usual, well, the season has been weird and random. Besides, it wasn’t even really a season. The glut of nods — many categories that typically feature five nominations this year feature six or seven — pale in comparison to the breadth of eligible productions, the first of which (“Girl From the North Country”) won. opened in March 2020, just before the pandemic blew an 18-month hole on Broadway. If my calculations are correct, that was 100 years ago.
The pandemic that skewed the season also skewed the awards process. Of the 34 productions the 29 nominators were allowed to consider, 15 opened in April – six in the last week of that month alone. It must not have been easy. I know for critics it was a maddening game of Whac-a-Mole, trying to hit each show as it appeared before suddenly disappearing, riddled with stoppages and star absences. In the end, I missed two: “Mr. Saturday Night”, which received five nominations, and “The Little Prince”, which was ineligible and obviously unintelligible.
The nominators presumably missed none, and of those 34 eligible productions, they honored 29. This a Room,” found themselves overlooked. Was it because they were among the first to intervene in the post-Covid reopening of Broadway which began in August? Having opened perhaps too early, they definitely closed too quickly.
But these shows are also more cutting-edge than commercial awards usually know how to handle, using downtown theatrical formats to present challenging dramatic material. (“Pass Over” is a surreal look at violence against young black men; “Is This a Room,” an oral transcript of an interrogation on government secrecy.) The nominations suggest a willingness to accept just one of these challenges – just as, at the other end of the spectrum, they seemed ready to accommodate plays overused in form or in content, but not both. Neil Simon’s revival of “Plaza Suite,” starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, received a nomination, for costume design by Jane Greenwood.
Yet, examining my personal Tonys spreadsheet, which I keep in a special air-sealed safe along with my original cast vinyl recordings and my papyrus-printed Playbills, I am impressed by the nominators’ determination to spread the richness.
There are plenty of household names, of course, including previous Tony winners Mary-Louise Parker, LaChanze, Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, Phylicia Rashad and Patti LuPone – the latter two superlatives in supporting rather than leading roles. plan.
But there are also a lot of revolutionary names. The contest for best performance by a lead actor in a musical will likely pit Broadway newbie Myles Frost (“MJ” star) against Jaquel Spivey (“A Strange Loop” star) — not to mention Jackman or Billy Crystal in the same category. First-time nominees Sharon D Clarke (“Caroline or Change”) and Joaquina Kalukango (“Paradise Square”) are also the pair to beat for best performance by a lead actress in a musical — not to mention Foster.
The fact that these four main contenders are black underscores that the Tonys, like the season itself, are making progress in their push for greater diversity. By my count, more than a third of the 136 total nominations honored shows and people you might not have seen much before on the Great White Way – who I think we can finally stop calling by this name.
Not that you “see” all this diversity even now. We also benefit from the diversity behind the scenes, including many of the directors, designers and choreographers behind “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”, “Paradise Square” and “The Skin of Our Teeth”. Inclusion is insufficient if it is simply about facing the public.
Much of this new talent on Broadway has arrived not individually but in droves, thanks to black writers, directors and producers who have made diverse hiring a priority. One result is that it was a season of ensembles, including the six “thoughts” featured in “A Strange Loop”, the seven abstract nouns represented by the cast of “Thoughts of a Colored Man ” and the seven colors of “For Colored Girls”. .”
In some of these shows, as well as ‘Six’, ‘The Minutes’, ‘Clyde’s’, ‘Skeleton Crew’ and ‘POTUS’, there is no lead role; the group is the star. When that’s the case, it can seem perverse to single out a single artist from a carefully balanced company, though the nominators did so with their nods to Kenita R. Miller in “For Colored Girls,” Rachel Dratch and Julie White in “POTUS”. ”, and John-Andrew Morrison and L Morgan Lee in “A Strange Loop”.
These artists deserved their nominations, but so did many of their castmates; for this reason, as critics and others have repeatedly argued, the Tonys should create a pair of best ensemble categories, for musicals and plays, to reward when it makes sense. This year especially, it would have made sense.
That’s not what Tony nominations usually mean. I’m not one for rebuffs, except the time I wasn’t invited to my own birthday party, but the inherent randomness of a process involving so few nominators covering so much territory leaves me with feelings mixed about the effort.
I’m of course delighted to see so much great work, much of it really new, being noticed in the nominations. But even for a crisp reviewer, excellence doesn’t seem like the only important metric right now. As pollyanish as it sounds, I think whatever managed to open during this turbulent, often terrifying season, and everyone who took the stage before an audience of bright but masked faces, deserves, if not a nod, a hello.
Even, I guess, “Diana.”
May 9, 2022
An earlier version of this article misrepresented the opening month of “Girl From the North Country”. This was March 2020, not February 2020 (when the show started preview performances).