Photo: Ben Weiss
It would be a vast understatement to say the Covid-19 pandemic has left no part of life untouched. Every aspect of both our own daily routines and the wider world has been affected by the pandemic in some way; it seems like every day there is a new adjustment to make.
One specific part of society that has been greatly hurt by the national lockdown is the Broadway community. The once bustling and and dizzyingly-lit up streets of the Broadway theatres in New York City are now quiet, theatrical ghost towns. Just as many debut and revival shows were opening their doors for the upcoming spring season, Covid-19 slammed them shut again. Both seasoned actors and rookies making their debuts were forced out of their dressing rooms and into their living rooms.
The Tony Awards, which usually occur in the summer to bring recognition to all the hard work of the Broadway community, were postponed indefinitely. Additionally the requirements for a show to be eligible for a nomination were adjusted to only include shows that were able to accommodate enough Tony voters before Broadway shut down on March 12. In 2020, it was established that there were 18 eligible productions, compared to the 34 in 2019.
On October 15 the official Tony nominations were announced to the public, and although the categories for awarding plays were not really affected by the new rules, the categories meant for musicals were hit hard.
Of the 18 eligible productions, only four were full musicals: “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” Alanis Morrissette jukebox "Jagged Little Pill," Tina Turner jukebox “Tina" and “Moulin Rouge!” yet another jukebox musical. Rob Rockiki’s “The Lightning Thief” was the only musical with an original score this year. Rather than nominate all four musicals for all the musical awards though, the Tony nominators decided to limit each category to three nominees, effectively cutting off one musical from receiving any recognition.
In the category of “Best Musical,” the three chosen nominees are “Jagged Little Pill,” "Tina" and “Moulin Rouge!" These same productions are also nominated for the musical categories “Best Book,” “Best Scenic Design,” “Best Costume Design,” “Best Lighting Design,” “Best Sound Design,” “Best Direction,” “Best Choreography” and “Best Orchestrations.” A truly thrilling lineup.
For “Best Leading Actor in a Musical," the nominees, or rather, nominee, is Aaron Tveit for his performance as Christian in “Moulin Rouge!” Yes, there is only one nominee for this award and yes, Tveit will more than likely win by default. Tveit is a theatrical powerhouse, and while "Moulin Rouge!" performance was both riveting and Tony-worthy, his nomination acceptance was more of a victory acceptance, and leaves no excitement for competition. Many were also angered that Chris McCarrell of “The Lightning Thief” was not nominated for this award as well, considering him and Tveit were the only two actors eligible this season. Those who saw "The Lightning Thief" during its limited engagement run often credited the 29 year old with incredible skill in portraying a sarcastic, angsty, dyslexic and hyperactive 12 year old boy who belts rock ballads eight nights a week.
Perhaps inciting the most unrest was the “Best Score” category, in which all the nominees are plays with occasional and incidental musical components. The one category “The Lightning Thief” would have dominated was very much rigged against the show. This was very upsetting to patrons of "The Lightning Thief," considering Rokicki worked on composing the original rock score for “The Lightning Thief” for three years, not including the several tour workshops prior.
Photo: Joel Benjamin
Both devoted fans and one-time viewers of “The Lightning Thief'' were very angered by the show’s absence from this category. If a single actor could be the sole nominee for one of the most major awards of the night, why could “The Lightning Thief” not be the default winner for the one category in which it outshone all the others? Again, it was the only musical with an original score.
It is no surprise "The Lightning Thief" was the victim of this unique nomination system. If it were a normal theatrical year, this low-budget, indie-rock stage adaptation of the first novel in Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series probably would not have seen any nominations other than “Best Score.” However considering it was not only one of four eligible musicals, but also the only completely original musical, it is upsetting that it got cut off from what would have been the show’s only opportunity to be considered equal to more high-profile shows like “Moulin Rouge!”
Under the 2020 eligibility requirements “The Lightning Thief” would have been guaranteed eight nominations, and at least one big win, but now it will not even be acknowledged during this awards season and thus will have little hope making a return to a Broadway theatre.
The Tony's have had a long history with upsetting and unfair awards, and 2020 is simply just a reiteration of their elitist habits. “The Lightning Thief” may have received the least positive reviews from professional critics, but keep in mind that it was never meant to be a Broadway juggernaut like “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen." It was simply a fun, family-friendly show that created something real out of a book adored by millions of children and young adults alike. “The Lightning Thief” brought the beloved characters Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood to life on stage with music that, while maybe did not require extravagant orchestras, reflected the struggles of both the characters and the audience members.
Not to mention, it introduced a much younger audience to Broadway, which is exactly what “Hamilton” and "Dear Evan Hansen" were praised for doing. The lack of recognition “The Lightning Thief” received during the 2020 awards season shows how the business of Broadway often overshadows the real creative talent. It really is more about glitz and glamor than out-of-the-box thinking. In defense of “The Lightning Thief,” no other production team would have thought to create waves of water out of blue lighting and toilet paper rolls attached to leaf blowers.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Bitterness aside, this is just a reminder of how important it is to support the smaller theatres, casts and crews that truly diversify the Broadway experience. While high-profile shows like “Les Misérables” and “Wicked” are immensely enjoyable to watch, the smaller and less-celebrated shows such as “The Lightning Thief” can bring entirely new aspects to the theatre-going experience.
It is unfortunate this year's entire slate of spring openings was postponed, and that those theatres will remain collecting dust until it is safe for Broadway to reopen. We must remember that there are thousands of actors, playwrights, musicians and crew members that are currently living off the paychecks of their second and third part-time jobs who need our support more than ever right now.
In the words of Chris McCarrell, the original Percy Jackson himself, “the shows that were running got snubbed. Celebrate them now, and remind them what’s waiting. And buy tickets for when they come back. And scream your faces off like you did for us.”
Listen to the Original Cast Recording of "The Lightning Thief," plus top-secret cut songs, here!
A full list of 2020 Tony Nominations is here.
Here is a list of charities you can donate to in order to learn about and support many different aspects of the struggling Broadway community, including the Artist Relief Initiative, The Drama League and the Indie Theatre Fund.