When the Broadway community announced the nominees for its 74th annual Tony Awards this week, it may have come as little surprise that theatrical veteran Aaron Tveit was named a contender for best leading actor in a musical. His performance in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” the show based on the 2001 Baz Luhrmann movie, had already garnered praise from audiences and critics alike.
The surprise was that Mr. Tveit has the high-profile category all to himself, with nary a single competitor.
It is still a contest, awards officials explain, because Mr. Tveit must earn approval of 60% of Tony voters to win the coveted statue. Meaning—he still might lose a one-man race.
“I guess Aaron is in a class all his own,” said “Moulin” lead producer, Carmen Pavlovic.
Mr. Tveit might have had some competition, but the nominating committee decided not to nominate the only other actor who qualified: Chris McCarrell, the male star of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.”
Broadway fans and professionals can’t quite make sense of the matter. Some think it might have been better for the Tonys to cut the category completely. Others say that the best leading actor and actress categories could have been combined to allow for a true competition.
The topsy-turvy Tonys are a result of Broadway being shut down for months due to the pandemic. Theaters closed mid-March, with reopening dates pushed off multiple times and now slated for the end of May 2021 at the earliest. The situation has left the industry, which employs about 97,000 directly or indirectly, in shambles, with some actors leaving New York as they wait for shows to resume.
“There’s nothing normal about anything happening in 2020,” said Jamie DuMont, one of the hosts of a Broadway-themed podcast.
There was a much smaller number of productions to consider than usual—18 compared with the 30-plus in seasons past—because of the curtailed calendar.
Whatever the outcome, Mr. Tveit has already made history: Tony officials say there has never been an instance of an acting category with a sole nominee in the Tony’s 74-year history.
Mr. Tveit, who had failed to earn Tony recognition for his previous Broadway performances, said, in a statement, “It’s a huge honor and I am so grateful to be nominated!!” Mr. McCarrell couldn’t be reached for comment.
“The Lightning Thief,” a musical based on Rick Riordan’s popular young-adult novel, failed to earn a single nomination, even given the limited competition.
In addition to the snub in the lead actor category, “Lightning Thief” also wasn’t recognized in the category of best original score, even though it was the only musical eligible for the contest.
Youthful fans of “The Lightning Thief” say the show was, well, robbed.
“Surely, some aspect of it is worthy” of a nod, said Julia Savoca Gibson, a college student in Virginia who saw the musical during a pre-Broadway national tour.
“We didn’t create the show for the Tony nominating committee. We created it for the legions of fans who love it,” said Michael Harrington, executive director of TheaterWorks USA, the nonprofit company that helped develop “The Lightning Thief.”
The situation of a lone nominee has come up in at least one previous Tony year, according to awards officials. That was in 1995, when the musical “Sunset Boulevard” was the only nominee in two categories—best book and best original score.
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The race for best lead actor in a musical is typically competitive. It is a category that has seen Rex Harrison, Zero Mostel, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Orbach, Kevin Kline, Nathan Lane and Hugh Jackman win in previous years.
Tony organizers haven’t yet set a date for the awards show, which is traditionally held in June. Officials with the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing, the two industry groups behind the awards, declined to comment about plans for the show.
Some in the industry think they may be holding off until closer to when Broadway theaters can reopen, since the awards typically provide a box-office boost to shows. Otherwise, it feels as if there is no point to the Tonys, said Mike Rafael, a Broadway ticket-sales consultant. “It’s a great marketing tool if you have someone to market to,” he said.
Mr. Rafael also wondered if shows would be able to present staged excerpts, which have always been a highlight of past Tony presentations. “Nobody wants to see the cast of ‘Moulin’ singing on Zoom,” he said.
The category for best revival of a musical was eliminated altogether because virtually no shows were eligible— either they hadn’t opened or, in the case of a “West Side Story” revival, it hadn’t been open long enough for a sizable number of Tony voters to see.
“Jagged Little Pill,” the musical, featuring songs from the 1995 Alanis Morissette album of the same name, that opened in December to mixed reviews got 15 nominations. That not only made “Jagged,” which Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout described as “a cliché-prone chronicle of suburban spiritual emptiness,” the most nominated show of the season, it also put it in the league as such blockbuster Broadway musicals as “Hamilton” (16 nominations in 2016, the record) and “The Producers” (15 in 2001).
“Moulin” was recognized with 14 nods, including the one for Mr. Tveit.
Ms. Pavlovic, the “Moulin” lead producer, woke up in the middle of the night at her home in Australia to catch the nominations news. She said she is grateful not only for the nominations, but also for the fact the industry is forging ahead with the awards.
“It’s very clear there will always be an asterisk next to this year’s Tony Awards,” said theater writer and critic Rob Russo.
The nominees counter that every edition of an awards show brings its share of controversies and questions. “I think it’s all asterisks,” said Arvind Ethan David, a lead producer of “Jagged.”
Mr. David couldn’t celebrate with the cast members because they have dispersed during the Broadway shutdown. So, he planned to send them bottles of wine. “This year we’ll take the wins we can get,” he said.
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Appeared in the October 17, 2020, print edition as ‘Broadway Turns Tony Award Race Into One-Man Show.’