The 2020 Tonys: How A Live Theater Show Will Go Virtual

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After the COVID-19 pandemic caused Broadway doors to shutter, there were questions about what would happen to this year’s Tony Awards. By its very nature, it’s a live event. While a ceremony like the Oscars actually loses quite little by going virtual, an awards show for live theater is left missing a core aspect of the medium. So how will the 2020 Tonys handle a remote setting and how will it manage with a drastically changed eligibility period?

What Will the Ceremony Look Like?

Putting on a virtual version of an iconic annual live-show is not a small undertaking. Luckily, the show’s likely producers will bring some recent experience in the show. Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss are the duo responsible for each year’s ceremony. Though they have yet to be announced as this year’s producers, it can be assumed they’ll be attached. 

Good choice, since they just had a huge opportunity to show off their virtual-event chops when they put on the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The DNC was fluid, polished and powerful, boding well for the virtual Tonys. As an interesting aside, the producers of the Republican National Convention are also first level talent. They produced “The Apprentice.” Those production differences speak volumes about our current political landscape.

The live acts that usually make up the Tonys also remain up in the air. Conceivably, casts could just tape a performance in their empty theater venue. However, they might not chose that option for a couple reasons. First, the casts haven’t performed or even rehearsed since March. Shooting a Tonys number would require a lot of re-rehearsal. And second, it might not be worth the cost for producers. Usually, the Tonys offer producers their only opportunity for widespread television promotion. Often, a production will score and choreograph a mash-up number, showing off a few of the songs and scenes from the show. This is costly and time consuming. But, at this time there’s no end in sight for the Broadway shutdown, begging the question: why would they bother promoting closed theaters?

Are Eligibility and Categories Impacted?

The fact that theaters have been closed for months will undoubtedly impact the nominees as well. Only shows that opened before February 19th will be in the running. This unfortunately means “Girl From the North Country” and the highly original production of “West Side Story” are out of the race.

Still, impressive contenders like “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Slave Play” and “The Inheritance” are still in.

Special awards and honors will likely have to wait for next year. David Byrne’s “American Utopia” is very likely to win him a lifetime achievement award, but that might happen in 2020. Overall, the categories will likely remain the same, but there will be far fewer contenders in each. That might mean that with spillover from 2020 shows, next year’s competition will be even more fierce,

What About Voting?

Because the season was so truncated, the voting pool will be much smaller. This is because in order to vote in the Tonys, one has to prove they saw every single production. That’s why “West Side Story” isn’t in. Though it opened before the March 12th Broadway shutdown, not many people got a chance to see it. 

Usually, the Tonys allow at least 800 people to submit their proof of viewership through a portal. That number will be hard to reach given the shortened season. And the more exclusive voter pool will probably have some statistically significant impact on the voting process. Every vote will hold much more weight.

When and Where Is This Happening?

The awards show was scheduled for June 7th, but it moved back out of respect for the George Floyd protests. A new date has yet to be set. Though, it’s expected to be sometime this fall.

The show will likely be airing on CBS and CBS All Access. The network has officially announced a special in the spring, or whenever theaters reopen, which will offer productions their much needed promotional time.

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