This year’s Broadway season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, limiting the number of shows that were eligible for Tony Awards. However, Jeremy O. Harris, whose buzzy “Slave Play” shattered the record for most nominations for a new play, says that doesn’t make the nominees any less worthy of recognition.
“There are obviously going to be naysayers who comment, ‘Is this an asterisk year?’ No. The plays that were nominated were f—ing huge,” Harris tells Variety. “Moreover, most years where anyone wins is an asterisk year because it only favors white men.”
Tony nominations were announced on Thursday, with “Jagged Little Pill,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Slave Play” among this year’s most celebrated shows. “Slave Play,” a fiery look at race, sex, trauma and interracial relationships, was nominated for 12 awards, including best play.
“I think ultimately the work of ‘Slave Play’s’ ensemble was undeniable,” Harris said. “Broadway is always going to have its problems and the world is on fire right now and the community is in need of some joy. I feel honored that a sector of the community said, ‘We want to mark ‘Slave Play’ in this moment. That feels very good because it means people are trying to listen.”
Jake Gyllenhaal, who was nominated for the play “Sea Wall/A Life,” recognized the struggles facing Broadway amid the pandemic and encouraged everyone to vote in November’s presidential election.
“Being without theater right now has left a huge void in anyone who cherishes the communal experience of artists coming together to tell a story in front of a live audience,” Gyllenhaal said.
This year’s contenders were revealed on the heels of news that Broadway will remain dark through the middle of 2021. With theaters closed since March, it’s the longest period of time that the Great White Way has been shuttered. So the chance to applaud the best and brightest of the stage couldn’t have been more apt, says Mary-Louise Parker, who was nominated for her lead role in the play “The Sound Inside.”
“The timing was kind of perfect,” Parker tells Variety of nominations morning. “They just announced another understandable delay for Broadway. Everyone was mourning another year of being away, so it’s nice to celebrate something and connect with so many people who I consider my family.”
Amid the nominations, there are always the inevitable snubs. “I was sad ‘The Lightning Thief’ didn’t get anything,” Harris said. “It brought a lot of young people to the theater and had a social media presence that was invigorating.”
See reactions from this year’s nominees — including Gyllenhaal, Laura Linney and Diablo Cody — below:
Jake Gyllenhaal, actor in a leading role in a play for “Sea Wall/A Life”
I am deeply honored to be nominated today, but also recognize what an uncertain time this is for the theater world, and the world at large. So I encourage everyone first to VOTE and then, if you can, donate to The Actors Fund in support of the many amazing people who depend on live theater. Being without theater right now has left a huge void in anyone who cherishes the communal experience of artists coming together to tell a story in front of a live audience. I miss the incredible work of the theater community and I cannot wait to be back on stage with you all soon.
Mary-Louise Parker, actress in a leading role in a play for “The Sound Inside”
I moved to New York for Broadway; the theater is really my heart and soul. Theater is so full of imaginative people, so I’m looking forward to see what everyone will do to make the awards ceremony interesting. I’m just going to be happy to see everyone and cheer for everyone. Broadway means something different to me. It’s the only place I’ve ever felt I truly belong.
Laura Linney, actress in a leading role in a play for “My Name Is Lucy Barton”
I am so proud to be one of a small handful of great actresses representing the past Broadway season, truncated as it was. Now more than ever, we need to value the power and necessity of the performing arts, especially the theatre, in American Culture. I send my love and thanks to the Tony Committee and everyone involved with “My Name Is Lucy Barton.”
Diablo Cody, book of a musical for “Jagged Little Pill”
I’m honored to be nominated but I obviously wish the field had not been limited by current circumstances. With that said, I believe in my heart that art can heal; “Jagged Little Pill” was always intended as a balm in anxious times. I’m pleased that the Tonys are going forward, because I think it’s important to recognize not only the work that has moved us, but the beloved industry so many are determined to protect and resurrect. While the Tonys might not be a traditional celebration this year, I hope the show will be a memorable opportunity to express love for the theater and demonstrate solidarity.
Adrienne Warren, actress in a leading role in a musical for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”
During this time, I wasn’t sure how to feel about today…then my heart is exploded with pride for our entire show and everyone involved. Thank you to the nominating committee for this recognition! I am truly honored and grateful.
Matthew López, playwright for “The Inheritance”
I’m grateful to the American Theatre Wing for recognizing “The Inheritance” with 11 nominations today, including best play. The closing of Broadway theatres (indeed almost all American theatres) this year has left us without a vital resource to gather together and examine ourselves and our nation and has reminded us just how important live theatre is to our personal and civil lives. In its absence, I urge everyone in these next three weeks to channel their energies into electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And once theatres do re-open, I urge commercial producers and non-profit companies to listen to the voices of those who have been crying out this year for racial and economic justice in our country, in our cities, and in our arts organizations. One of the themes of The Inheritance is our responsibility to listen to each other’s stories and lift up our fellow citizens, rather than tearing them down. Theatre, at its best, helps call us to those better instincts of our nature. I look forward to the day we can all return safely, joyfully to those sacred spaces and to tell each other stories of our lives and of our nation.
Alex Timbers, direction of a musical for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”
I’m so excited and honored to be nominated alongside such incredible directors I admire and for “Moulin Rouge,” a show I love so much. There’s obviously great sadness right now, and the fact that we’re in a period without plays and musicals in New York can feel like an incomparably small part of that. But “Moulin Rouge” itself is a musical about “show people” and their resilience in times of struggle and I take inspiration from it every day and the knowledge that Broadway will be back — and that we’ll all be reunited with our own “show families.” It’s wonderful that the American Theater Wing and Broadway League have made the choice to celebrate the theater industry and a season that we all felt very lucky to be a part of.
Sonya Tayeh, choreography for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is made up of one of the hardest working teams I’ve ever been a part of, both on stage and off. It is a show where the craft of dance is celebrated and honored. Our beloved ensemble fires off an electricity that echoes, and I’m so grateful to them. As an Arab-American queer choreographer, it has been an honor to work on a show that celebrates otherness and a freedom for all humanity. Even though unpredictability abounds for the arts in this uncertain time, I am proud to celebrate this year with my fellow nominees. This moment serves as a giant reminder that we’re still here and of just how vital the arts are — as the heartbeat of New York City, and beyond.
Elizabeth Stanley, actress in a leading role in a musical for “Jagged Little Pill”
When I began the lab of “Jagged Little Pill” three years ago — almost to the day — I couldn’t have even dreamt that it would lead to this morning. Cue me today…finally getting cell service at the end of an off the grid hike squealing into the Colorado wilderness with joy for the acknowledgment that our show has received (the wildlife was terrified). Thank you, thank you, American Theatre Wing, I am honored. Bringing the role of Mary Jane to life has absolutely been the highlight of my career. The entire experience has taken me to the depths of my soul and taught me so much. I am continually in awe of our generous creative team, and I have been humbled each night by my incredible cast mates—every one of whom poured their beautiful hearts in to creating each track with vulnerability and integrity. I am humbled to be telling the messy story of a fierce mother, a fighter, a survivor, and an addict. I’m thrilled that our show has been recognized, and I feel very proud to be a part of a production that is doing what I think art does best: helping us see ourselves and encouraging us to heal—which feels more necessary than ever. Immense gratitude to the many, many people who have shared your personal stories with me as I studied to play this role with respectful accuracy and tenderness.
Anthony Van Laast, choreography for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”
I didn’t even know there were going to be Tony nominations; I heard the news half an hour ago. I was so shocked and excited. Broadway is the mecca of musical theater, and to be acknowledged by the Broadway community is about as good as it gets. It brings tears to my heart because it’s been desperate times not being able to do what I love doing. To get an accolade like a Tony nomination just suddenly fills your soul again. Someone said to me the other day they were looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. I say: We can’t be looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. We should be casting our light around inside the tunnel now to see what we can do now make the journey, a good one, rather than just waiting.
Lauren Patten, actress in a featured role in a musical for “Jagged Little Pill”
I am incredibly grateful for this Tony nomination, which is made so much more special for me because I share it with my entire “Jagged Little Pill” family. I am deeply proud of our show and everything that it stands for. I can’t wait until we are all able to return safely to our theatres to share the brilliant work of the shows that opened, and the shows that were not able to open because of the coronavirus pandemic. As a country and as an artistic community, we are going through deeply difficult times, and I hope that this moment of reflection and celebration can fuel and inspire us to return to Broadway stronger, and with true equity and justice for our entire community.
Bess Wohl, playwright for “Grand Horizons”
I am incredibly honored that my work and that of our entire company and crew was recognized, and am deeply grateful to Williamstown Theatre Festival and to Second Stage for producing “Grand Horizons.” At the same time, my heart is with the countless arts workers who are currently unemployed or have been otherwise devastated by the pandemic. Wear a mask. Vote. And I look forward to when we can all gather together again on Broadway.
Daniel Kluger, sound design of a play for “The Sound Inside” and “Sea Wall/ A Life” and original score for “The Sound Inside”
I’m so surprised and honored by the nominations. We’re all mourning the loss of live theater right now, but more importantly, let’s fix our government and society! It doesn’t have to be like this, let’s elect leaders at all levels of government who will fight for working people. The theater won’t come back until we can solve big problems together.
Katori Hall, book of a musical for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”
Being nominated this year is a bittersweet honor. The intermission our industry is experiencing is unprecedented and its impact will undoubtedly be felt for years. But the curtain being down has allowed many to lift the veil on the pervasive and stubborn roots of racism that still infect our nation. In this dark moment, we are plagued by the virus of COVID-19 and the virus of racism. But both Goliaths can be slain. I feel so blessed to have laid my hands on a musical about a woman who slayed—who conquered the Goliaths of domestic abuse and industry-wide sexism and racism. The story of Tina Turner is truly an inspiration for these dark and turbulent times, and I’m so proud of our team for bringing “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” to the world.