The long-delayed Tony Awards, honoring the last set of shows to open on Broadway before theaters went dark, finally have a plan: The ceremony will take place on Sept. 26, timed to bolster a pandemic-hobbled industry as shows begin to reopen.
Three of the 25 competitive awards — best musical, best play and best play revival — will be presented live during a television program, broadcast on CBS, that will primarily be a starry concert of theater songs. But the bulk of the awards, honoring performers, writers, directors, choreographers and designers, will be given out just beforehand, during a ceremony that will be shown only on Paramount+, the ViacomCBS subscription streaming service.
The organizers’ current expectation is that the event — awards and performances — will be live and in-person, taking place inside a Broadway theater.
The three jukebox shows vying for best musical — “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” — will each be invited to perform on the television broadcast. Many details — like which theater will be used, whether there will be a host, and who will perform — have not been determined.
The two-platform structure, running a total of four hours, was arrived at during lengthy negotiations between the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing — the two organizations that present the awards — and CBS, which has broadcast the ceremony since 1978. CBS pushed to emphasize entertainment value, particularly in a year when viewership has plunged for many awards shows; the theater organizations wanted a way to honor the artistry of the abbreviated 2019-2020 season.
“The ground was shifting under our feet the entire time, but our goal was to get as much celebration of the community and all the nominees as possible,” said the League’s president, Charlotte St. Martin.
In a joint interview, St. Martin and the Theater Wing’s chief executive, Heather Hitchens, said they were pleased with the outcome.
“Everybody wanted to create something that would celebrate the community, help sell tickets and be appealing to a national audience,” Hitchens said. “There were really good, thorough and passionate discussions about how best to achieve those three things.”
They noted that it has been years since all Tony Awards categories were viewable nationally. For six years, starting in 1997, some of the awards were presented on a PBS special that would air just before the CBS broadcast, but in recent years, many of the design and writing awards have been presented off the air.
“One of the things we’re proudest of is we got Paramount+ for all of our awardees, and the celebration of these awards on a major platform is a huge achievement,” Hitchens said. “That’s something we’ve wanted for years.”
The broadcast segment is being described in a news release as “a live concert event, featuring superstar Broadway entertainers and Tony Award winners reuniting onstage to perform beloved classics and celebrate the joy and magic of live theater.” Asked for more detail, Hitchens said, “It’s going to be jam-packed with entertainment that is about Broadway. More to come on that.”
The two-platform plan is similar to that used by the Grammy Awards, at which the majority of the prizes are announced at a preshow ceremony, followed by an entertainment-focused television broadcast. Some of the Tony Award winners named during the streaming ceremony will also be acknowledged during the TV portion.
The ceremony, originally scheduled for June 7, 2020, will take place in September as part of an effort to reinforce the marketing message that Broadway is back in business — in fact, the show is being titled “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” Broadway’s 41 theaters have been closed since March 12, 2020; at the moment, the first show planning performances is “Hadestown,” on Sept. 2, followed by “Chicago,” “Hamilton,” “Lackawanna Blues,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked” on Sept. 14 and at least two dozen more over the fall and winter.
“To have tickets on sale, to have shows announcing their openings, and to have an announcement about the Tony Awards, feels exhilarating, and hopeful,” St. Martin said.
This year’s awards ceremony — formally known as the Antoinette Perry Awards — will be the 74th such event and will recognize work performed on Broadway between April 26, 2019, and Feb. 19, 2020. The Tony Awards retroactively set that eligibility deadline after determining that too few voters had seen a revival of “West Side Story” and a new musical called “Girl From the North Country” that opened in the final weeks before the pandemic arrived; those shows are expected to be eligible to compete for awards next year.
The nominations for this year’s ceremony were announced last October; 15 shows managed to score a nod.
The five contenders for best play are “Grand Horizons,” by Bess Wohl; “The Inheritance,” by Matthew López; “Sea Wall/A Life,” by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne; “Slave Play,” by Jeremy O. Harris; and “The Sound Inside,” by Adam Rapp.
The winners have already been determined, although the results are unknown: the 778 Tony voters — producers, performers, directors, designers and others associated with the industry — were invited to cast their ballots, electronically, in early March. The results have since been safeguarded by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP.
The streaming portion of the Sept. 26 Tony Awards ceremony is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Eastern; the broadcast show, which can also be streamed live and on demand on Paramount+ and the CBS app, is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern. As in years past, the Tony Awards show will be put together by the producers Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment; Weiss will be the show’s director.
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