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Moulin Rouge 2019 supplied image Broadway
Photograph: Matthew MurphyThe Broadway production of Moulin Rouge!

The final rules for the 2020 Tony Awards have been announced

There will be fewer lanes in several major races

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

Earlier this week, we took a deep dive into some of the questions about the 2020 Tony Awards that were at that point unanswered. As we noted, the Tony Awards Administration Committee was scheduled to meet this week to determine the answers to some of those questions, as indeed it has done. The shape of this fall's virtual edition of what is usually billed as Broadway's biggest night has just become somewhat clearer. 

A press release today announced several straightforward decisions about eligibility for the three shows that had yet to be discussed as of the Committee's last meeting. As far as the main prizes go, the takeaway is that A Soldier's Play's David Alan Grier and Grand Horizons's Jane Alexander and James Cromwell, who might have been candidates for the Best Actor and Actress categories, will instead be considered in the Featured categories.

But the bigger news was not included in the initial press release. When asked to clarify the status of the eligibility rules, the Tonys sent us this reply: "Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules have been adjusted for one-time only to ensure broad recognition of excellent work that occurred during the abbreviated Broadway season while also protecting the integrity of the Award. Performance and creative categories will be handled in a similar manner to how show categories have been handled in the past few years.”

What does that mean, when you get down to the nuts and bolts? Mainly, it augurs ill for The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. The Tonys are saying nuts to the bolts. 

Under ordinary circumstances, most categories have ceilings of four or five nominees (barring ties) but no floors—so if there are three or four candidates eligible, there would be three or four nominees. A different set of rules governs the four Best Show categories: When there are only four or five eligible shows, the category shrinks to three nominees—unless there's a virtual tie between the third and fourth candidates. But for this year, and this year only, the latter set of rules will apply to all of the categories. (Only 18 productions are eligible this season, which is roughly half of the number that qualified last season. Though both shows had opened, West Side Story and Girl from the North Country were declared ineligible because not enough nominators and voters had seen them in time; they will be eligible for next season's Tonys if they reopen.)

In practical terms, this change affects only the size of the categories for musicals, because there are only four eligible musicals this year: Moulin Rouge!, Jagged Little Pill, Tina—The Tina Turner Musical and The Lightning Thief. And of these four, The Lighting Thief received the least positive reviews; it also closed in January, whereas the other three plan to return to Broadway when the Street reopens for business. If there are only three nominees in most of the musicals categories—or, in one case, fewer—The Lightning Thief is highly likely to be the one that gets left out. Without these rule changes, The Lightning Thief would have been guaranteed a minimum of eight Tony nominations; now there is a fairly good chance it will get none. 

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical | Photograph: Jeremy Daniels

So let's take a more specific look at how today's news answers some of the nine questions we asked earlier this week.

1) What is the timeline for the 2020 Tony nominations and virtual ceremony?
There is still no timeline for these. 

2) What will happen to the Best Revival categories?
There will be a category for Best Revival of a Play; that category will have at least three nominees, or four if there is only a difference of 10 percent or less between the nominators' third and fourth choices. There will be no category for Best Revival of a Musical.

3) Will there be an award for Best Score?
Since the Tonys did not announce the elimination of this category, we can infer that it will not be eliminated. This represents one of The Lightning Thief's best chances for a nomination, since it is the only new musical this year with an original score. The other contenders in the category would be music from plays; The InheritanceSlave Play, The Sound Inside, The Rose Tattoo, Sea Wall/A Life and The Height of the Storm appear to be eligible.

4) What will become of Best Actor in a Musical?
The Best Show rules apply in a different way to this category, since there are only two potential nominees: Moulin Rouge!’s Aaron Tveit and The Lightning Thief’s Chris McCarrell. (The Tonys did not promote candidates from Featured as they might have done.) When there are three or fewer eligible candidates, the nominators vote for each candidate on a yes/no ballot. So the nominators have the option of either nominating both Tveit and McCarrell, awarding the prize to one of them by acclimation, or nominating neither of them and effectively eliminating the category. We won't know which route they take until the nominations are released.

5) Will categories be narrowed or combined?
As mentioned above, many musical categories will likely only have three nominees this year: Best Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Orchestrations, Best Choreography and the Musical divisions of Best Director, Best Set Design, Best Costumes, Best Lighting and Best Sound.

6) What about David Byrne’s American Utopia?
American Utopia remains ineligible for competitive Tony Awards (but remains a good candidate for a Special Tony Award.)

7) Which categories will probably not be affected?
As expected, the categories involving plays will not be affected. 

8) Will the portal system for Tony voters be maintained?
There has been no word on this yet.

9) What will the Tony Awards actually look like this year?
Your guess is as good as ours! But we look forward to finding out.

RECOMMENDED: Our latest day-by-day roundup of the best theater, opera and dance to stream online  

Slave Play | Photograph: Matthew Murphy

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