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Snubs and Surprises: The Tonys Point a Middle Finger at The Lightning Thief

In other news, it's a good day to be Aaron Tveit.

A scene from The Lightning Thief, snubbed in all categories.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

Well, the 2020 Tony nominations are out.

If you've been following the prognostications, there were no major shocks. In fact, given the condensed nature of the season (this year's cut-off was February 20, excluding West Side Story and Girl From the North Country), the list got a lot of things right, and is peppered with deserving talent that probably wouldn't have been there if the full season had taken place.

Of the 18 shows eligible, 15 were recognized in some capacity. Given how much the world loves Succession, it's mildly surprising to not see Brian Cox up there for his LBJ in The Great Society. It's even more surprising that Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, titans of the British stage, weren't recognized for their work in Florian Zeller's The Height of the Storm.

But the play categories are always very tight. Even in a condensed season, the idea of placing the three central performers of The Inheritance — Kyle Soller, Andrew Burnap, and Samuel Levine — in the Best Actor in a Play category was still a Bad Idea, with Soller, the ostensible star who won an Olivier for his performance in London, getting shut out alongside Levine, and Burnap scoring the slot. I would have loved to have seen Paul Alexander Nolan get a nod for his work in Slave Play, but I can't argue with the actors from that show who were: Joaquina Kalukango, Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Chalia La Tour, and Annie McNamara. In a longer season, that most definitely would not have happened, and they are incredibly deserving.

A scene from Slave Play, the most nominated play in history.
(© Matthew Murphy)

There are other huge bright spots: Slave Play has the most nominations of any play in history. The entire principal cast of Jagged Little Pill got nominated. National treasure Lois Smith could win her first Tony at the age of 90 for her sterling work in The Inheritance. Danny Burstein! Adrienne Warren! And I was so glad to see Christopher Nightingale nominated for A Christmas Carol, even if I would have had him in the Orchestrations category, and not Score.

The biggest snub, of course, is The Lightning Thief, a YA musical that defied the odds (and the reviews) by getting to Broadway last year for a limited holiday season run. The Lightning Thief was eligible in all the categories open to musicals — in fact, it was the one new musical eligible for Best Score — and it got completely shut out in a way that was one of the most obvious eff-yous I've seen in decades. (We call a lot of things a snub, but our favorites not getting nominated for things aren't snubs. This is a snub.)

Now, I know that the Tonys aren't participatory awards, and I know most people didn't really care for it, but from a larger perspective, this nominating committee went out of its way to snub them. A pre-shutdown me probably would have guffawed, but now, I just think about the future.

What kind of message does it send to the industry and the future musical-theater writers of the world that the one (1) original musical-theater score to have opened this "season" wasn't recognized? What kind of message does it say to the show's astonishingly large and young fanbase, the kind of people who could be turned on to a love of theater from this show, that the gatekeepers didn't care? It's just sad.

Danny Burstein, Karen Olivo, and Aaron Tveit are among the nominated stars of ''Moulin Rouge!"'
(© David Gordon)

It did, however, pave a way for Aaron Tveit to be the only nominee in the Best Actor in a Musical category. It's a great day for him — he just got his first-ever Tony nomination as the star of Moulin Rouge! — but whenever the Tonys are presented, that day could become mighty embarrassing. Tveit isn't a default winner. Sixty percent of the voters have to vote for him in order for him to actually win the thing, which means there is still the remotest of remote possibilities that he could actually lose.

And that idea — that the one person nominated in a category can actually lose to no one — is most emblematic of the absurdity of presenting Tony Awards now, more than a year after most of these shows closed, in the midst of a contentious election cycle, in the midst of a global pandemic that shut down the industry we're supposed to be celebrating and put all of these nominees out of work.

So I leave you with this. Cast your ballot, the only one that truly matters, anyway. And for heaven's sake, wear a mask, so all of these deserving talents can be back onstage again sooner rather than later, and we can all once again return to celebrating at the Carlyle in June, instead of in our basements in December.

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