2020 Tony Awards confusion: What’s going on with the musical categories?

Good News: The 2020 Tony Awards will be held virtually this fall, giving the shuttered Broadway industry a desperately needed shot of good will. Bad news: Only four new musicals opened before the new eligibility cut off date of February 19, 2019. The limited number of contenders has industry insiders scratching their heads as to what the musical categories will look like.

The four new musicals competing for the coveted Best Musical prize are “Jagged Little Pill,” “The Lightning Thief,” “Moulin Rouge!,” and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” Under the usual Tony Awards rules for show categories, there can only be three nominees for categories with four or five eligible contenders. So one of these four musicals will be left in the dust unless there is a tie for third place.

SEE 2020 Tony Awards: Which 18 plays and musicals are eligible for the autumn ceremony?

A huge question mark hangs over the Lead Actor in a Musical category. There are only two eligible contenders: Chris McCarrell (“The Lightning Thief”) and Aaron Tveit (“Moulin Rouge!”). In this setting, nominators will vote for both candidates via a yes/no ballot system which essentially gives them the option to nominate both, one, or neither of these men.

Option one is simply a two person category. This was the case in 1995 when Glenn Close (“Sunset Boulevard”) and Rebecca Luker (“Show Boat”) were the only eligible candidates for Lead Actress in a Musical. Both women were nominated and Close won the two person race.

Option two would eliminate the Lead Actor category this year. This would mean that a majority of nominators chose not to nominate either contender. This outcome previously occurred in the 1985 ceremony.

Option three is that either Tveit or McCarrell wins the race outright during the nominating ballot process. Say that a majority of nominators choose to nominate Tveit, but not McCarrell. In this scenario, Tveit would be the sole nominee and awarded the Lead Actor prize by default.

Yet, with no timeline set for nominations, a drastic change to category structure is still possible. Perhaps Lead Actor and Lead Actress in a Musical could be combined, into a single non-gendered Lead Performance in a Musical category. As it stands, there are only four women eligible for Lead Actress anyway: Karen Olivo (“Moulin Rouge!”), Elizabeth Stanley (“Jagged Little Pill”), Kristin Stokes (“The Lightning Thief”), and Adrienne Warren (“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”). Lumping the men and women together would mean there are six eligible performers, enough to fill out a four person category.

SEE 2020 Tony Awards: The show will go on virtually this fall

If the Tony Awards Administration opts for an all-gendered Lead Performance in a Musical category, one has to wonder if they would do the same with Featured Actor and Actress. Both races have early frontrunners, of course. Beloved Broadway veteran Danny Burstein could finally win after six previous nominations for playing Harold Zidler in “Moulin Rouge!” and newcomer Lauren Patten delivered the most talked about musical number of the season with her electrifying rendition of “You Oughta Know” from “Jagged Little Pill.”

There is a limited number of potential nominees who could join these tour de forces, however. By my count there are eight women eligible for Featured Actress in a Musical and nine men eligible for Featured Actor in a Musical. Many of the performances were outstanding: Sahr Ngaujah (“Moulin Rouge!”) has a ball as Toulouse, Kathryn Gallagher (“Jagged Little Pill”) was honored at the Outer Critics Circle Awards for singing an original Alanis Morissette song, and Ryan Knowles (“The Lightning Thief”) is an adept shapeshifter who uses a hysterical Paul Lynde impression to play the Greek god Hades. But many of the remaining featured contenders had roles with limited stage time, which makes predicting these categories difficult.

Oh, and as for Best Score? “The Lightning Thief” is the only tuner this season with original music (Morissette’s sole new number for “Jagged Little Pill” isn’t enough to qualify her for the category). If they don’t ax the race this year, “The Lightning Thief” will be joined by scores from plays. “The Height of the Storm,” “The Inheritance,” “The Rose Tattoo,” “Seawall/A Life,” “Slave Play,” and “The Sound Inside” all had enough original music to compete. If the so-so reviews of the songs in “The Lightning Thief” are indicative of a broader industry reaction, this could be the first time in Tony history that a play claims Best Score.

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