From delayed openings and an expanded nomination window to recognition of the season’s historic Black playwrights and major celebrity snubs, here are some of the ways the pandemic impacted the list of Broadway’s biggest play and musical honorees.
by Abbey white
The list of 2022 Tony Awards nominees — announced early Monday morning — is a picture of pandemic theater.
Following a truly unique season on the Great White Way, Tonys voters largely shirked spring celebrity this year — including acting nods for Plaza Suite‘s Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Macbeth’s 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 nearly two years.The 2022 nominees landscape includes early openers like Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s one-man show Lackawanna Blues and the rock concert-esque retelling of the lives of Henry VIII’s wives SIX: The Musical — runs that not only beat back big-named competition and pandemic-weary audiences on their way to earning nominations but navigated the season’s strictest version of health protocols (currently being rolled back) while defying a potential short-term memory advantage held by voters for spring shows.
Representing up to around 600 days of (paused) creative work, around half of this year’s nominees had already debuted in early 2020 before the industry’s stages went dark at 5 p.m. on March 12. Among those shows that opened or were in previews during the 2019-2020 season when the pandemic swept the globe are 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.
Flying Over Sunset, which received four nominations, was even slated to begin previews on the exact day of the shutdown, while others, like the Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse How I Learned to Drive, which scored three nominations, were on their way to opening later that spring.
Post-return, out of almost 30 productions nominated for the 2022 awards, around half opened, were scheduled to open or began previews between Broadway’s official reopening night on Sept. 14, 2021, and Feb. 1, 2022. That includes The Lehman Trilogy, SIX: The Musical, Girl From The North Country, MJ, The Music Man, Clyde’s, Trouble in Mind, Caroline, or Change, Diana, The Musical, Lackawanna Blues and Mrs. Doubtfire.
Several of these were omicron debuts — or any shows that ran previews between mid-November and early February when the original version of the variant swept through Broadway. That’s when revival and box office juggernaut The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, opened to previews at the Winter Garden Theatre before having to cancel more than a week of performances after both stars contracted COVID-19.
The time between Thanksgiving and early February was one of the most difficult of the season, hitting productions significantly harder than the late August and September delta wave productions faced. The COVID-19 variant’s high transmissibility resulted in a string of cancellations that brought saw nine separate Broadway productions shutting down for single or even multiple performances in one week alone, during one of the busiest — and most financially lucrative — times of the year.
For Skeleton Crew, Dominique Morisseau’s third entry in her acclaimed Detroit cycle (it received three nominations including best play), previews were even pushed into early 2022 during its limited-engagement run at the Manhattan Theatre Club. With its official opening delayed several times, Skeleton Crew is one of a handful of nominees, which also includes musicals Mrs. Doubtfire, SIX and Music Man, whose show openings and schedules were directly impacted by the winter holiday omicron surge. More than 10 out of the 29 nominated productions running through spring experienced COVID-related show cancellations due to breakthrough cases of a day or more.
Omicron-fueled shutterings — which included previous Tony nominees and winners Jagged Little Pill, Ain’t Too Proud and Waitress — are also represented in this year’s nominees pool. Despite weathering a nearly two-year production pause, Lucas Hnath’s reconstruction of his mother’s kidnapping, Dana H., is among this year’s Tony nominees that represent the season’s pandemic-impacted closures.
While other shows like Trouble in Mind and Take Me Out, which both scored four noms each, are limited runs, Dana H., for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Flying Over Sunset all closed early, with some citing COVID impacts or low ticket sales during a complicated season.
Two Tony nominees also showcase how producers took unprecedented steps during the season (after others received grant funding through the Save Our Stages Act to relaunch) in order to keep their productions going despite closures. Girl From the North Country — which earned seven noms including best musical directing and best orchestrations (another major nod for duo Conor McPherson and Simon Hale following a Grammy nom earlier this year) — and Mrs. Doubtfire, which earned one honor for the musical’s leading actor Rob McCure, took hiatuses. These official closings, with the intent to reopen post-omicron, saw the latter even change theaters to make a spring comeback.
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 deceased Alice Childress at Charles Randolph-Wright’s direction, debuted their work not only in one of the riskiest times on Broadway but in the same season — a historic high. Half of those productions — Lynn Nottage Clyde’s, Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues and Childress’ Trouble in Mind — received a total of 13 nominations. (Nottage garnered five, Childress four, Morisseau three and Santiago-Hudson one.)
Meanwhile, 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, underscored that celebrity is still good for business on Broadway, racking up noms in major leading and supporting actor categories for both musicals and plays.
Musical A Strange Loop, which counts Don Cheadle & Bridgid Coulter Cheadle, RuPaul Charles, Alan Cumming, Ilana Glazer, Jennifer Hudson, Mindy Kaling and Billy Porter among its Hollywood-heavy list of producers, garnered the highest number of nominations for a total of 11. That includes nods for best book of a musical, best original score, best leading actor in a musical, best direction and best musical.
But the snubs of Parker, Broderick and Craig — all three of whom missed performances due to COVID-19 diagnoses ahead of the nomination deadline that 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 live performance, regardless of who you are.