March 4: Broadway votes for last year’s Tony Awards — and Andrew Lloyd Webber announces a triple West End return in July

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Voting has just begun for last year’s Tony Awards. Yes, you read that correctly. And no, there is no date for the actual (or even virtual) ceremony yet. In the topsy-turvy world that COVID-19 has wrought upon us, we’re wrestling with all sorts of improbabilities and impossibilities, but few events epitomise the very strangeness of this time and its repercussions than this weird situation.

From the far-reduced slate of productions that managed to open ahead of the March 12 shutdown of Broadway last year — some 16 were still due to open at that point, including the transfer of Six from London that very night — a necessarily abbreviated (and inevitably less competitive) list of nominees emerged.

These included — in the category for Leading Actor in a Musical — just one nominee being put forward, namely Aaron Tveit [pictured above] for Moulin Rouge (though he could technically still lose it: Tony rules dictate if there is only one nominee in a category, that nominee must still collect 60% of Tony voters’ total ballots).

As for the two flagship categories of Best New Musical and Best Play: as Michael Paulson summarised it in the New York Times,

“The jukebox shows Jagged Little Pill, Moulin Rouge! The Musical and Tina — The Tina Turner Musical are competing for best musical, and hope to resume performances whenever Broadway reopens. All five of the best play contenders have closed. They 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.

In this strangest-of-all Tony competitions, the voting is disconnected from both the period being assessed, which ran from April 26, 2019, to Feb. 19, 2020, and the ceremony for handing out awards, which has not yet been scheduled.

In other words, we won’t know the results until — well, for a long time.”

Voting has to be completed by March 15. (Usually the date is just a few days ahead of the Tony Awards themselves, typically on the Sunday of the second weekend of June, enabling voters the chance to revisit some of the shows that opened earlier in the season if they wish). But this year the results will be withheld until a live ceremony can take place.

According to Paulson,

“It seems clear that the ceremony will only take place after live performance is allowed to resume in New York and tickets to Broadway shows have gone on sale.

That’s because the industry’s priority will be to use the ceremony to remind potential audiences that Broadway is back. The goal, said Heather A. Hitchens, the Wing’s president and chief executive, “is to be most helpful to the industry.”

Several producers and publicists say they are now thinking the most likely time frame is after Labor Day, a full year and a half after Broadway shut down.”

(Labor Day, which is a public holiday in the US, is the first Monday in September — this year September 6.)

All of this is inevitably imperfect, but it is at least represents the hope of a return to normality. There is, once again, a lot of hope about — on Monday, Andrew Lloyd Webber told BBC Breakfast, “We’ve got to get theatre open up and down the country everywhere, for all of the actors and musicians and technicians whose livelihood has been put completely on hold now for a year. I’m determined that we open; we’re going to open Jospeh and Phantom and Cinderella in July, whatever it takes, unless there’s some really good reason for us not.”

‘Whatever it takes’, according to a new story in the Daily Mail on Monday, includes an apparent threat to break the law. “We’re absolutely going ahead. It’s time, and we’ll just open and if they arrest us all, well, fine. They’re going to have to get an army to stop us now! I’m not going to keep my theatres closed any more. We will open!”

And he tells the Mail reporter Jane Fryer, it will be without social distancing:

“With performance like this, we have to be over 80 per cent capacity to even break even. I want to see the science behind keeping us closed and all this nonsense about social distancing when people are allowed to eat without masks in marquees in pub gardens. I feel very, very strongly about this.”

This is not so much LIBERATE MICHIGAN! in the infamous words of Donald Trump during the lockdown of that state last year as LIBERATE DRURY LANE!

Later, though, his tiggerish enthusiasm subsidises a little, and reality kicks back in:

“If we get a situation where, for serious medical reasons, we can’t carry on, then obviously we can’t. But this time I am not going to take it lying down. We’ve got to get moving again. That is my top priority,”

Lloyd Webber has always been a master (self) publicist, and has released regular feel good videos and social media posts throughout the shutdown. Three songs from Cinderella have already been released. And now the publicity machinery is gearing up for the actual show, with this behind-the-scenes video of setting up at the Gillian Lynne Theatre:

I truly hope that this rush to open is not an unrealistic expectation. The actors, musicians and crew don’t deserve to have their hopes dashed again. At the same time, at least they’ll have been salaried for a few weeks again.

Meanwhile, I’m also curious at the early schedule of kicking off rehearsals: most West End musicals rehearse for somewhere between four and six weeks, before preview performances begin. We’re now at the beginning of March. Lloyd Webber has stated that the show will open in July. That’s over three months away. So are these “rehearsals” just part of the PR offensive?

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